Never let it be said that public service, most notably in the Florida Legislature, the best little whorehouse in Tallahassee, isn’t its own very handsome reward.
At first blush, especially if you are a bigger chump than Bullwinkle J. Moose, you might stand in awe of the state’s 160 pole dancers masquerading as lawmakers in the House and Senate. Oh, the sacrifices they make — months away from home toiling in a remote, inaccessible capital for a mere, lousy $29,697 a year in compensation with little more than a lobbyist or two, or three, to offer companionship.
But Tallahassee is a magical place, where money does grow on trees and its blooms have a way of falling into the laps of your elected legislative harlot.
As the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau’s Michael Auslen has reported, of the 160 Minnie the Moochers in the Florida Legislature, 114 of them have managed to goose their personal wealth while in office. Indeed, Auslen noted that on average a Tallahassee lawmaker has more than doubled their net worth from their first term in office through 2014.
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Incomes for Florida legislators have increased an average of 63 percent. That’s just an average. Some have seen multimillion-dollar boosts to their net worth. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, it is good to be a Tallahassee trollop.
It is nothing short of a miracle that at the same time millions of Floridians were struggling to make ends meet coming out of the great recession, Florida legislators were doing just fine, and thanks for asking.
Consider that when he was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2010, Republican Jamie Grant of Tampa had a net worth of $5,780. Today he claims a net worth of $146,327. Republican Rep. Patrick Rooney of West Palm Beach has seen his net worth grow from $418,000 in 2010 to $7.8 million. Work, work, work.
It is entirely possible that the good financial fortune that has blessed these folks has no connection to their elected perches of power. Take Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Nose To The Grindstone. When he was first elected to the Florida House in 2000, he earned $50,000 from the Apopka Chamber of Commerce.
Seven years later, as he was preparing to run for the Senate, Gardiner had doubled his paycheck. And last year, the Senate president collected $297,282 as a vice presidential flack for Orlando Health, which might suggest Gardiner is capable of cranking out some serious flackery.
Gardiner told Auslen he believed his role as president of the Florida Senate, one of the most powerful offices in the state, had absolutely nothing to do with quadrupling his income. And Gardiner expressed hope that when his time in elective office concludes that Orlando Health will still value his services as an employee. That’s so sweet.
In fact, the honchos at Orlando Health would have to be certifiably bonkers not to retain Gardiner since his years in the Legislature have nicely positioned him to become a lobbyist for the company. That $297,282 pay stub has been nothing more than a modest down payment in furthering Gardiner’s future as a lobbyist.
To be sure, there are a few members of the Florida Legislature who come to Tallahassee as people of modest means and pretty much leave that way.
But the financial opportunities that await a majority of lawmakers only serve to A: compromise their integrity and/or B: distance themselves from the everyday concerns of the very people they are sent to Tallahassee to represent.
There is a solution to reducing the sense of entitlement that pervades Tallahassee, although it might seem counterintuitive.
If the goal is to have a genuine citizen legislature, make a seat in the House or Senate a full-time job paying, say, $125,000 a year. Prohibit all outside income. Require members to place all their financial holdings in a blind trust. And ban any member from the House or Senate from engaging in any form of lobbying for at least five years after leaving office. Do you suppose the Andy Gardiners, the Jamie Grants, the Patrick Rooneys of the world would still want a job with so few future possibilities?
A system such as this would attract more teachers, more low and middle income people, more minority residents, more everyday people who could afford to serve. Isn’t that what a representative form is government is supposed to look like? What a democracy ought to look like?
© 2015 Tampa Bay Times