Sunshine State News
“Is the ‘Legislative Process’ Really More Efficient Today?”
August 31, 2015
By Lloyd BrownDespite reflections recently about the “good old days” in Florida government, I’m not sure there ever was any such thing.The most that can be said is that things change. But have legislative changes improved life for most Floridians?How would you even measure that? It is all subjective.It is different today but, contrary to what liberals think, different is not always better. Liberals tend to measure by quantitative analysis anyway: how many bills passed and how much money was spent.Is the process more efficient? Are the right things being done at the right cost? If you like to argue, those would be two good starting places. Also important is what periods are compared.Liberals seem to think the world has gone to hell in a hand basket since the good old days when Democrats had complete control of the Legislature.That was the case when I started covering the annual sessions on a full-time basis for the Jacksonville Journal in 1973.But the same media people berating the Legislature today were berating it then — despite the fact that the Florida Legislature only recently had been singled out for praise by Professor Alan Rosenthal of the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University, who had studied eight state legislatures and apparently had some methodology for assessing performance.As I recall, Florida got high marks for efficiency and transparency.It was the time when leaders like Dempsey Barron, Don Tucker, Ralph Turlington, Dick Pettigrew, Lawton Chiles and others stood out from the crowd.Barron ruled the Senate and for some reason took a liking to me. The day before each session, he would give me a rundown of what was coming up – which bills were likely to pass and fail, and why, and which personalities to watch. He was usually right on the mark.Fast forward 25 years, and I was in the office of Senate President Ander Crenshaw and he couldn’t tell me what his herd might do in the coming 60 days.In the ’70s, we thought it remarkable that you could find out the status of bills from computer terminals in the hallways. In previous days, no one knew where a bill was or what it currently said, except perhaps the sponsor – who may have carried it in his coat pocket.I sat with veteran reporters like John Van Gieson and Sam Miller in what the politicians called “the buzzard’s roost” above the chambers in the old Capitol, and later in the fancy new digs. Pages would run messages back and forth to members or the indispensable House Clerk Allen Morris.In addition to the mundane droning, there was occasionally some stirring debate from people like Turlington, Rep. Marshall Harris or Rep. Bill Birchfield.There was a lot of work, but also play – parties held by lobbyists, visits to the Trailers for steak dinners, and the local pubs and restaurants such as the Silver Slipper, where dozens of deals were made each night.Would they have been better deals if they had been consummated on live television, with all Floridians watching? Who knows?It is possible that all the restrictions and regulations piled on the process have helped, but I would have to see scientific proof, especially for any claim that term limits have helped. As for external pressures leading to improvement, I would credit agents such as Florida TaxWatch and the James Madison Institute more than the media.All in all, my sense is that the process may have changed but it will never be any better than the people involved, or the people who choose them.Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as a policy analyst for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.Article: