Are All Legislators Crooks?

For those who don’t follow Florida politics (and, why should you?), former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Ray Sansom, who is still a House member, is facing some legal trouble.

Sansom was in line to be appointed Speaker last year, which already gave him a lot of political clout.  Last year he steered $25.5 million to Northwest Florida College, which is in his district, and another $6 million for an “education building” at an airport 15 miles from campus, which as it turned out was to be an aircraft hangar for the use of one of his friends.  On the day he took over as Speaker, he was also appointed to a $110,000 a year job at Northwest Florida College.

A state attorney saw enough evidence of misconduct in all this to bring Sansom’s case before a grand jury, at which point (and under pressure) Sansom stepped down from the Speaker’s position, but kept his seat in the Florida House of Representatives.  Now he’s been indicted by the grand jury, and will come up for trial, both on charges of official misconduct, and on perjury charges, because the grand jury says he lied to them when he told them the aircraft hangar was an educational building.

That’s just background.  What I really wanted to say is, my own state Senator Al Lawson, commenting on this case, said, “Ray hasn’t done anything everybody else hasn’t tried to do.  That’s just the way it works.”  Taking Senator Lawson’s comments at face value, it appears that if the grand jury knew what Lawson and the rest of his colleagues were doing, the whole legislature would be indicted for official misconduct.  Myself, I’d be slow to come right out and say that everyone in the Florida legislature is a crook, but when a state Senator says so, it gives the accusation some credibility.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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