Florida’s Public Policy Vacuum

(Originally published 5/4/10 on Freedompub.org)

Allow me to talk shop a little bit to set up my point.

My job in Florida is to promote free market reforms to the property insurance system that Charlie Crist largely socialized when he became governor in 2007. Without entering into specifics of his ill-conceived reforms, Crist basically imposed a “public option” type system of property insurance on Florida that essentially transferred massive liabilities from private property insurance companies to the state-run property insurance company. This means Florida taxpayers have assumed those massive liabilities.

Just like Obama’s true motives were to drive health insurance companies out of business when he tried to impose a public option on the country’s health insurance system, Charlie Crist’s public option has driven away most of the state’s large private insurance companies. Coverage by these has largely been replaced by the underfunded state-run insurer and small, untested, fly-by-night insurance companies most of which are sure to go bankrupt if even as much as a weak hurricane hits the state. In short, Florida is one hurricane away from either going bankrupt or facing the very real possibility of having tens of thousands of its storm-ravaged citizens not having their claims paid.

Think about that for one second: the state goes bankrupt and/or an entire region of the state can’t recover from a storm because claims can’t get paid, which eventually also bankrupts the state.

The good news is, the legislature is beginning to notice the importance of this issue, and there have been attempts by statesmen to address it (yes, some politicians are actually statesmen).
The bad news is, as usual, Crist.

Last year the Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have largely addressed Florida’s insurance crisis. Among other things, it would have allowed companies to charge rates based on the free market and risk. Opponents demagogued it saying that it would drive up rates, obviously omitting the fact that it would lure more competitors into the market, spread the risk, and ensure solvency so people could actually get their claims paid after the storm. Crist’s response: he vetoed it.

This year, a similar bill, albeit a weaker version of last year’s, was moving through the legislative process. The bill was changed to address the concerns Crist had raised in last year’s so-called “veto message.” But as anyone in Florida’s legislative process can attest, any “substantive” reasons Crist may cite in a veto message are mere excuses used to justify a veto done only to score cheap political points with the interest group or demographic du jour.

Crist acted like a grade school student who stuck his fingers in his ears and repeatedly yelled “rate incrase rate increase!” as others were trying to reason with him.

In short, there has been a complete lack of public policy gravitas in the governor’s office since Jeb Bush’s departure. For Crist, no serious policy issue is serious, no potential consequences are of consequence, and every official decision that has to be made must be weighed against the interests of his own political career. Anything that is bad for Charlie in the short-term must be treated as bad policy and must be rendered moot no matter how vital or beneficial it is to the state and its citizens in the long-term.

Issues unrelated to property insurance do not deviate from that narrative. For example, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 6, a teacher merit pay bill favored by many teachers, legislative leaders, Jeb Bush, and education reformers nationwide, but vociferously opposed by the teacher’s unions. As the bill moved through the legislative process, Crist had explicitly indicated he would sign the bill through personal conversations with legislative leaders and even through public declarations by his official representatives at hearings where the bill was being debated.

Despite his stated support for the bill, Crist vetoed it after the loud minority opposition reached a fever pitch. Devoid of a core support base, Crist killed the bill hoping the teacher’s union would fill the void Republicans across the state left when they abandoned him after years of throwing in with Democrats on issue after issue. He hedged his bets and figured the union would rescue his fledgling US Senate campaign. This morning I saw an ad paid for by the Florida Education Association (the state’s teacher’s union) thanking him for vetoing SB6.

This is the Florida of Charlie Crist’s cyncism and opportunism, where an outright and proven lie in the form of a veto earns him in-kind paid media today, and another veto will plunge the state into an unprecedented financial catastrophe that will adversely impact every Floridian tomorrow when Crist is not around to deal with it. Both, however, are the result of Charlie Crist’s desperate confusion about his role as governor as he continues in his schmaltzy dither to govern with his eye on the next office.

Veto illustrates Crist’s self-serving, deceitful nature

For the record, I favored the passage of Senate Bill 6, the so-called teacher “Merit Pay” bill, also known as “SB6.” However, I will not get into a policy discussion or any of the particulars of why I supported it. Instead, let’s pretend for the remainder of this column that I opposed SB6 and wanted the bill to never become the law in Florida.

With that said, I am happy that Governor Charlie Crist vetoed the bill.

But that’s it.

I’m not going to organize a rally in his honor at my local high school during school hours before throngs of gushing parents, teachers, and students eager to skip an hour of class. I’m not going to put one of his bumper stickers on my car. I’m not going to donate to his campaign. And I certainly am not going to vote for him in the August primary or in the November general, should he decide to run as an independent, NPA, or so-called “Independent Republican.”

To do any of those things requires a certain level of admiration or respect for the man, of which I have none.

I opposed SB6 and favored its veto, so I’m happy Crist decided to veto it. But do not confuse my happiness over the death of a certain piece of legislation with admiration for the person who killed it. Would you love your sworn enemy just because he killed another one of your enemies? You may be happy at the outcome, but it wouldn’t change the fact he’s still an enemy.

Someone just doing something that I happen to like or favor does not earn that person my admiration or respect, especially if they did it for the wrong reasons. And Crist certainly vetoed SB6 for the wrong reason: political expediency.

Although I am happy Crist vetoed SB6, I also realize he lied to lawmakers while the bill was being debated and moving through the legislative process. Not only did he personally assure lawmakers in private conversations that he would sign it into law, but his chief-of-staff did too. And the reason we can rest assured these claims are true is because Crist’s official education policy advisor from Crist’s own Executive Office of the Governor went on the record as supporting SB6 during committee hearings. So while I’m happy Crist vetoed SB6, I can’t admire nor support someone who gives his word about something so important and then lies like he did.

He’s a liar, plain and simple. I can’t admire or support a liar.

Furthermore, I also understand that Crist had ample opportunity to threaten to veto SB6 or otherwise express concerns with provisions in it while it was still being debated in the Legislature. Had he done so, the bill likely would not have gotten very far. Instead, Crist and his representatives expressed support for the bill.

The fact he didn’t express any concerns while the bill was being debated proves to me that he really didn’t care about the particulars of the bill or its policy implications, but rather vetoed it only out of political expediency thinking that those of us who wanted him to veto the bill would come to rescue his failing US Senate campaign. In short, he views us as a bunch of malleable, useful idiot footsoldiers.

Sorry Charlie. Although I’m glad you vetoed the bill, I know you didn’t do it for the right reasons. Although I’m glad you vetoed the bill, I can’t overlook your horrible–or nonexistent–record as governor. Although I’m glad you vetoed the bill, I know that if the bill were popular or would have earned you political points, you would have signed it instead of vetoing it.

And most importantly, Charlie, if you betrayed so many of your friends and longtime loyal supporters in the legislature and in your party, I know you will not hesitate to betray those of us who are happy that you vetoed SB6 the moment it suits you.

In short, Charlie, you are nothing more than a self-serving political opportunist, and the how and why of this veto illustrate it. So although I’m happy you vetoed SB6, I still can’t support you because my word, my loyalty, and my principles can’t be brokered.

Unlike yours.