For those who follow Florida politics, it’s hard to know what to be more frustrated by: the depravity of the Florida Republican leaders, or the breathtaking incompetence of the Florida Democratic leaders.
If just one of these two major parties could clean up its act, this would be a political paradise, at least relative to today’s grim predicament.
As the Republican leader of the Florida Senate, JD Alexander is one of the most powerful figures in Tallahassee. Alexander is term-limited, so in this session we’re getting a glimpse of his real reasons for getting into office.
Before we reveal those truths, let’s consider a best-case scenario. Imagine if this Polk County Republican was a conservative in that retro-chic, William F. Buckley sense. Then this would be the term where Alexander actually followed through on shrinking the government by going after Medicaid and Social Security — two programs that are hugely expensive and much loved by the tea party “patriots” who vote for Republicans.
Typically, the GOP doesn’t meddle with those programs. Because no matter how much tea partiers bitch about bloated government, lots of them enjoy milking Medicaid and Social Security for all they’re worth. It’s better than having to get a real job.
Florida gets about $20 billion in Medicaid every year — and an estimated $2 billion of that is lost to fraud. Even though it’s a federal program, Alexander has the power on a state level to strengthen enforcement that would recover more funds lost to fraud.
Given how brazen the fraudsters are, this would be simple work. It’s a matter of giving local cops an extra detective or two, to be dedicated purely to busting Medicaid fraud. Based on the performance in pilot programs, one detective’s salary brings back millions in recovered funds.
What “true” conservative wouldn’t appreciate that?
Next, consider that states run the Disability Determination Services offices that have the all-important task of deciding who is eligible to receive disability payments from the Social Security Administration. Alexander has the power to make that qualification process much more rigorous. The government could catch more people who are faking injuries because they want to get paid without having to work, again saving millions in tax dollars lost to fraud.
Still, most Republicans don’t care for this reform, because even though it’s the right, sensible thing to do, it doesn’t poll well. Partly, because so many Republican voters have a heavy conscience when it comes to the government checks they cash.
There are other policy areas where conservatism intersects with altruism, but Alexander isn’t much interested in those. Rather, he has devoted his farewell tour to more selfish pursuits.
Last week we learned that $34.7 million had been crammed into the state’s transportation budget to pay for the design of the Heartland Parkway, a Central Florida road project that could dramatically enhance the value of the ranch Alexander owns near the proposed corridor.
Alexander has denied knowledge of that detail in the budget. He’s merely the Senate budget chairman, so how can we expect him to know?
Make no mistake, this is a legislator who keeps close tabs on how state policies will affect his wealth, estimated at around $10 million. While liberals may have been proud of Alexander for casting a no vote last year on a punitive bill to crack down on illegal immigrant labor, his primary motive seems to be the cost of paying workers to pick his blueberry crop. Some maverick.
God only knows what Alexander has to gain from the creation of Florida Polytechnic, an indepenent university in Lakeland. A cushy chancellor’s job? A bronze statue? Whatever it is, Alexander wants it so bad, he’s willing to take the University of South Florida’s pharmacy program as his hostage.
So here’s a Republican who wastes tax dollars on pet projects and is soft on immigration. Sounds like a talk radio caricature of a Democrat, doesn’t it?
Oh yeah, Democrats! The state party whose candidates get trounced even after Republicans like Alexander abandon their conservative ideals. There may be no act of hypocrisy, no act of corruption by the GOP that’s spectacular enough to vault the Democrats into control of the legislature.
This state party couldn’t even beat a gubernatorial candidate like Rick Scott who had been linked to a colossal health-care fraud case. Scott is one of the nation’s least popular governors, and yet there’s no sign of a plausible Democratic challenger in 2014.
It’s so bad that the party may actually be recruiting Charlie Crist to register as a Democrat and run against Scott. Gross.
If we’re going back to the future, I’d much rather dig up Lawton Chiles, the last Democrat to win a gubernatorial race. He’s been dead since 1998, but if Florida voters can be tricked into voting for a monster like Rick Scott, why not a zombie Lawton Chiles?