Frank Artiles is a south Florida man who grew up big and strong only to embarrass himself and his community. An apparent racist, bully and misogynist, his actions over several years while serving as a state representative and later state senator in Tallahassee have been, to say the least, deplorable. Elected to serve his constituents, this bully of a man instead beat up people, insulted legislators who dared oppose him, and threatened and insulted women, while pretending that the crude language of the ‘hood’ was OK while carrying out the people’s business inside Florida’s capitol.
Also, closer scrutiny of how Artiles spent (and reimbursed himself) money collected during his high profile senate campaign last year revealed that there was much more than the voters’ interest in the former state senator’s lust for political office.
Words and actions, no matter how powerful one thinks he or she is, do matter. And Artiles paid the price last week when he was forced to resign as state senator from southwest Miami’s District 40 — a position he had won after a dirty and contentious campaign in 2016.
Artiles is just one example, not the reason for this column. He is simply one of many possible answers to the often asked question: “Why are voters participating less and less in our democratic process?” People are in fact fed up with lying and cheating politicians whose only interest seems to be themselves — not the people they were elected to serve. And yes… there are many elected leaders who work hard, are honest and try to do what’s right, but they are slowly being trampled over by the likes of politicians like Artiles.
A Miami Herald article that appeared more than a week ago titled “Are legislators ‘hijacking’ the will of the voters?” is another example of why voters don’t care. The disrespect shown by elected leaders towards constituents have led many to simply give up on the system.
Mary Ellen Klas, the article’s author, explains that “Five amendments to the state Constitution relating to the environment, solar power, education, redistricting and medical marijuana are getting a rewrite as lawmakers — mostly in the House — attempt to revise what voters approved with their own ideas of how the amendments should work.”
In other words, the politicians are not in agreement with what the voters want. Therefore, they’ve taken it upon themselves to alter the demands of who are, in theory, their boss — the voting public. The fact is, though, that there’s a new (really the same old…) boss in American politics. Special interest is its name. The money they shell out in the halls of power — both in Tallahassee and Washington — overwhelms the will of voters, who are busy trying to make a living, while special interest, through their lobbyists, spends millions wining, dining, and filling politicians’ coffers (both legally and illegally) and tipping the scale of power their way.
For example, Florida voters last year voted overwhelmingly (71.3 percent) to legalize medical marijuana in the state. A Republican-controlled Tallahassee disagrees. And as Klas writes, “The proposal to expand access to medical marijuana … is being used by the House sponsor to inject provisions sought by opponents of the amendment.”
What does it mean? That the rules being written to implement this amendment are being redacted by persons who spent millions opposing the amendment last year.
But it’s not only marijuana.
“The amendment to allow tax breaks for businesses that install solar panels,” for example, “approved by voters in August with 72.6 percent of the vote — is now a vehicle in the House to add consumer protections on solar financing and impose new barriers to all rooftop solar installation.”
Florida Power & Light (FPL), who has an almost monopolistic stronghold on energy provision to Floridians, was not pleased with the fact that they might be losing customers in the future because of solar panels. So they’ve made sure to inject new rules making it difficult to apply what almost 73 percent of Florida voters wanted. And they are able to accomplish this because… they have quite a few Florida legislators in their pockets.
None of this is recent, I understand. I remember 1986 and how they sold us a bag of goods with the Florida lottery. Gambling was not popular in Florida. But it was sold to voters as a way to increase the money available for Florida education. It’s the reason that the lottery passed.
How was it implemented? We were snookered, once again… The state’s budget was manipulated. Legislators took money that went for education to provide tax breaks for big business, and substituted them with dollars provided by the new lottery pool.
Results have seen a decrease proportionally in what education receives in Florida. A 2014 report placed Florida 40th in educational spending. Florida spent $8,371per primary and secondary school student in fiscal year 2012, considerably less than the national average spending of $10,607. As for teacher pay, which is historically bad everywhere, Florida ranked 28th nationally. Let me put it another way. Florida, the 4th largest state in the nation, ranks in the bottom 20 percent of spending on its students, and pays its teachers worse than half the other states. Shameful!
Are there solutions for the problems of bad leadership?
Yes, I believe there are. And one is to do the opposite of what many decide when they get sick of what’s happening.
I am referring to participation and voting. We must vote in large numbers. It is the only way to rid ourselves of the so many bad politicians and political leaders we have today.
And here’s a warning. The bad guys, the Frank Artileses of the world, want us to do exactly what too many are doing. The less we vote, the easier it is for them to manipulate the system in their favor.