I'm reminded of a story U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel once told me that shows the difference between legislators and the unfortunate folk who have to live with their handiwork.
As a state representative, Frankel worked hard to bring home the bacon. In one case, she voted for an economic stimulus plan that would expedite street improvement projects.
Once she became mayor of West Palm Beach, she realized her legislative zeal had become an administrative nightmare. The city's downtown had become gridlocked by street repair.
"In local government, it's like you're on the ground and you're doing the work," she told me. "You're so impacted by these laws. Now you realize: 'My God, there was no common sense'."
So there you have it. Legislators get to make things up as they go along, and sometimes there's no common sense. I guess that's why they're called lawmakers.
The rest of government, whether it's a small town mayor or the president of the United States, are left to carry out what state and federal legislators produce. It's one of those things that makes America great – well, sometimes.
It's also what brings me to a more recent example involving the man responsible for Florida's Stand Your Ground law, state Rep. Dennis K Baxley. The Ocala Republican knows something about making things up as he goes along. Truth is, he's good at legislating.
Baxley has represented his central Florida district for more than 10 years, and he currently chairs the influential House Judiciary Committee. a coveted spot for anyone interested in making laws.
A funeral director in real life, Baxley's profession has morphed into one of the Legislature's best nicknames, "The Undertaker." He picked that up after years of using his influence to kill bills he opposes. The tales of woe from South Florida Democrats are legend.
His track record is undeniably conservative. Baxley led the charge to stop a judge from ordering the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. He later sponsored an election-reform bill he said would prevent fraud but his opponents believed would suppress votes.
Baxley is also the sponsor of the 2005 bill that became Stand Your Ground. The law gives people the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if the individual reasonably believes it's necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.
Baxley stands by his bill, but he's concerned about how others are interpreting the law.
In an Ocala Star Banner interview published this week, Baxley insists the self-defense gun law was never meant to provide lawbreakers with immunity from prosecution, and he wondered why state attorneys weren't prosecuting drug dealers and other convicted felons who shoot someone and then claim self-defense.
"Stand Your Ground was written for law-abiding citizens who are doing nothing wrong," Baxley said. "I think it's perfectly clear that this doesn't apply if you're doing something illegal."
The case that upset Baxley involves Tyrone Pierson, 17 year-old from Ocala who fatally shot Julius Jacobs, a 40 year-old man who had threatened to beat Pierson and his friends with a stick. Witnesses said Pierson jumped from his truck and rushed the group. The other boys ran, but Pierson stood his ground and later claimed self defense.
The state attorney's office agreed with Pierson, even though carrying a concealed firearm without a permit and possession of a firearm by a minor are illegal in Florida. Baxley, the lawmaker, believes that should be enough for a prosecution. Not so, say the proescutors.
Ric Ridgeway, the chief assistant state attorney, told the paper the law is clear that individuals can't claim self defense after committing a "forcible felony." Carrying a gun is not a "forcible felony," he said.
What seems crystal clear in a legislative chamber can get awfully muddled in a courtroom where laws are argued.
There seems to be enough common ground for the two lawmakers to at least talk and figure out a fix.
The folk stuck with the responsiblity of carrying out the law could use the help.