Florida Descending into Theocracy and Chaos

We do not understand what’s going on in Florida. Not at all. But we’ll tell you what we see, and then you can help us figure it out. Let’s take it step by step.

First, as we all know, there is a totally crazed creationist and theocratic faction in the state, which is very well represented in the state legislature. We all remember the creationism wars of 2008, led by rapturous Ronda Storms. That madness is ongoing, but as yet unsuccessful (see Florida’s First Creationism Bill for 2011).

But it’s not just an insane craving for creationism. No, there’s also an all-out move toward theocracy, as can be seen by the current effort to enact what might become Florida’s Theocratic Constitutional Amendment. That amendment would remove the state’s current constitutional ban on governmental funding of religion. If the amendment is adopted it would be catastrophic — for those who think churches shouldn’t be forcibly subsidized by taxpayers.

We’ve been following the news on that proposed amendment, and from what we can see there just isn’t any. Floridians are either so stupid that they don’t understand this amendment, or so ignorant that they see no problem with it. Either way, the conclusion is inescapable — Florida is in deep trouble, and they’re diving deeper. The theocrats are making a grab for their wallets, and nobody cares.

That’s bad, really bad. But that’s not all. Now we see the unmistakable signs of even further disintegration, another step toward what seems to be an inevitable collapse of civil society in that state. Take a look at this article in the St. Augustine Record: District hires lobbyist for Capitol. It has an even more ominous subtitle: “‘Critical position’ to aid district influence legislators.”

We are forewarned at the threshold that something unusual may be going on here. A school district is hiring a lobbyist? Maybe it’s commonly done, but we’ve never heard about it before. Why should that be necessary? Don’t the citizens of that county elect people to represent them in the legislature? Let’s see if we can figure out what’s going on in St. Johns County. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

St. Johns County schools will have an advocate in Tallahassee and with local government following the hiring of a coordinator of governmental relations. Beth Sutkowy Sweeny has been named by Superintendent Joe Joyner to the post.

A county’s schools will have their own lobbyist. We understand that the teachers’ union has lobbyists, but why the district itself? Let’s read on:

“We created this post to align with objectives of the 2010-15 Strategic Plan,” Joyner said Friday afternoon. Those objectives include having more influence on policy and funding with legislators. Joyner called it a “critical position.”

That sounds like bureaucratic gobbledegook. What’s really happening? We continue:

For the last couple of years, public schools have found themselves facing increasingly tight budgets and teachers and school officials have found themselves often in the cross hairs of state legislators.

Ah, because funding is tight, they’ve decided to spend some of their scarce resources on a lobbyist. And we can’t help wondering — if the legislators are doing the job for which they were elected, why should some special interest — a governmental unit — lobby against the wishes of the people’s representatives? Let’s read a bit more:

Sweeny [the lobbyist] has been a legislative aide for state Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, whose district includes parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties.

Aaaargh!! Now the light dawns. See Ronda Storms, Ronda Storms, and see also Buffoon Award Winner — Ronda Storms. Moving along:

“Beth is a perfect fit to accomplish the objectives of our Strategic Plan in the area of governmental relations,” Joyner said. “She has a strong background and the needed connections to influence public policy for the benefit of the children in St. Johns County.”

Beth Sweeny has been working with Ronda Storms, so she’s got all the right connections — creationist connections. Yeah, she’s a perfect fit. One more excerpt:

Her job includes acting as liaison, coordinator and spokesperson with media, citizens, community groups and several government agencies. In addition, she will be presenting bills for passage before Senate committees, conducting detailed research and analysis on a wide variety of topics with a focus on policy items, as well as coordinating programs, projects and special events, according to the press release.

Again, we point out that Florida already has legislators who are supposed to do those things. If all school districts routinely hire lobbyists, then maybe we’re ringing the alarm bell unnecessarily, but we see no rational need for this, and no good that can come from it. Given all the other craziness in Florida, this looks like more of the same.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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5 responses to “Florida Descending into Theocracy and Chaos

  1. There has been a major swing within the most vocal of the right toward theocracy. If you want this to stop, the moderate right and the secular right have to become far more vocal.

    Just look at who the GOP has for presidential candidates, religious loons and panderers. The sane right has no one in that group.

  2. Don’t they realize that federal law supersedes state law? As soon as a Christian church gets state money and a Jewish or Islamic church doesn’t, there will be some very, very large lawsuits that go straight to the supreme court.

    Oh, and I agree with b-sharp, no sane right candidate. sigh…

  3. When in doubt, I look to the Governor’s office. Florida’s Rick Scott is one of the least popular governors in the country, with an approval rating hovering around 29% – so he has no mandate to do anything controversial or overtly indulgent. He’s nebulously Christian (raised Methodist, attended a Presbyterian church until 2006, now defines himself as non-denominational), but admits to being “sympathetic” to creation. Reason for concern, but perhaps not a flaming loon – as yet. (Florida has a large Jewish population, so he may be playing his cards close to the vest.) My friends in Florida tell me he’s NOT to be trusted. Their track record is good, instinct-wise; that’s good enough for me. Your raised red flag is fully justified.

  4. Advance apologies for a longer than usual post.

    I think there’s a less ominous reason for this. According to a little quick Googling, in early 2011 St. Johns looked set to lose a little more than $16 million. At the same time, they’re apparently doing well in the state’s comparative evaluation program. (Links below.) The district’s administration has a huge incentive to go direct to the legislature. If they’re budgeting $80,000 for lobbying (I have no idea what they’re spending), it’s still pretty cheap at about 0.5% of the expected cut. The expense pays for itself if they get back just a fraction of the expected loss in funding.

    At least in D.C., it’s not unusual to find a revolving door between legislative staffs, whose members tend to be making poverty wages by Washington standards, and lobbying. I can’t speak to how they do it down in Tallahassee or why they’d hire the particular lobbyist they did, but she’s probably connected to the movers and shakers who do these things down there — which probably includes Ms. Storms.

    Whether all or any of this is good, on any level, is something different. But they’re pretty rational choices from the district’s point of view.

    Link to article on cuts: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2011-02-13/story/first-coast-school-districts-jarred-rick-scotts-budget-proposal
    Link to article on district’s standing: http://staugustine.com/news/local-news/2011-06-06/fcat-scores-incredible#.TkdYm5mJdg4

  5. I suppose a lobbyist makes an odd sort of sense if the local school system thinks they can get legislatures to change appropriations that way. But it’s a shame that a school district feels it has to do this.

    And while I think OgreMkV is right about this repeal not allowing them to do what they really want to do, I don’t think it’ll slowly wind its way to a superior court – I think the legislators will fix it before the courts need to. After all, the world-wide Scientology HQ is in Clearwater. The moment they use the loophole to spend tax dollars on Scientology, Florida’s Christian legislators will execute a u-turn on church-state separation so fast it’ll make your head spin. If there’s one thing fundies hate worse than secularism, its another religion muscling in on their territory.