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While Rome burns, Mike Haridopolos fiddles (actually, he throws a football)

By on February 10, 2012

The image of Senate President Mike Haridopolos tossing a football on the lawn outside the Senate Office Building – a pastime the Merrit Island Republican engages in while the business of the Florida Legislature proceeds on without him – is a telling reminder that this was not how it was suppose to work out for Haridopolos.

By this time in his term as Senate President, Haridopolos should have been taking victory laps around the Old Capitol.  He should have leveraged his platform as one of the three most important people in state government into the GOP nomination in the race for the US Senate seat.  His legislative priorities should have been passed and signed into law on the first day of last year’s session, rather than them languishing as they do in this year’s.

It should have all been so different.

Instead, as Rome burns, the emperor fiddles.  Or in this case, as the Legislature moves on, Haridopolos tosses a football.

The Senate President can’t even get claims bills — legislation authorizing payouts to victorious lawsuit plaintiffs — for the charismatic Eric Brody or the deserving William Dillion passed.

Imagine the Jeb Bartlett moment if Haridopolos got behind Brody’s wheelchair and pushed that courageous young man across the fourth floor to the doors of Dean Cannon to ask the Speaker why he won’t let his bill move forward?

Instead, Haridopolos is fighting the fight for what? To privatize prisons in South Florida? To create an independent polytechnic university for JD Alexander?

Those are the issues his Senate Presidency is about? Those are the issues in the last chapter of whatever legacy will be written about Haridopolos’ term?

There are several, if not countless, theories why Haridopolos’ tenure has been, not a disaster per se, but a disappointment.

This is the nature of the modern day Legislature, some say and I tend to agree with that.  There once was a time when a legislative leader would serve his time and then be lofted off to a golden lobbying perch, where he would be regarded and respected as a wizened elder statesman, almost as if he were a general who had fought the good war and had retired victorious from the battlefield.

Former House Speakers and Senate Presidents would spend their post-legislative days serving on corporate boards and think tank panels.  They would be asked to serve “of counsel” at prominent law and lobbying firms.  Their names would adorn university buildings.

No longer. Not after the run of legislative leaders who bestrode Tallahassee in the ’90s and early ’00s.  Not after Johnny Byrd and Tom Feeney and Ray Sansom.  Today’s legislative leaders are not the emperors their predecessors were.  The possibility of seeing another Mallory Horne, a man who served as both Speaker of the House and President of the Senate, is not likely.

Another theory I place some faith in about why Haridopolos’ time has turned out to be a disappointment is the question about who are his allies in the Legislature?  Who are his guys? I watched the video of the press conference from yesterday with Haridopolos flanked by JD Alexander and I couldn’t help but think that this was Alexander’s Senate Presidency, not Haridopolos’.

Haridopolos also made a mistake by not doing something — anything — to mollify the moderate wing of his caucus.  Instead, he just let Paula Dockery, Mike Fasano, Dennis Jones and Co., act like Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition rather than part of the Republican caucus.

Haridopolos also made a major tactical mistake not addressing head-on the Jack Latvala situation.  As a friend allied with Latvala explained to me, Latvala, who wants to be Senate President after Don Gaetz serves his two years at the helm, is the de facto Senate President now.  Not that he is by any means in charge.  Nor is he more powerful than Alexander or Andy Gardiner or John Thrasher.  But Latvala is the shareholder with just enough stock to block the legislative priorities of the leadership.

Latvala presents an interesting conundrum for Gaetz and the Republicans in the Senate.  It’s obvious the impact Latvala, the Dark Star of the Florida Senate, has had these last two sessions, but what happens to Gaetz’ tenure if Latvala doesn’t become the Senate President Designate.  Jack Latvala ain’t gonna sit in a corner and sulk, that’s for sure.  I wonder if Gaetz might swing Latvala’s way away from Gardiner, just to make peace for the next four years?

But wait, this post was suppose to be about Mike Haridopolos and here I am talking about Gaetz and Gardiner and Latvala.  That’s because, like most of Tallahassee, we’ve moved on from this Senate President and are ready for the next.

It’s telling that, after the picture of Haridopolos tossing the football was published, no one was up in arms. The Capitol Press Corp ho-hummed.  The Democrats did not pounce on it as an example of Haridopolos not taking his job seriously.  No one seemed to mind.

Maybe Rome isn’t burning.  Or maybe no one cares if the emperor is fiddling?

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