“Revered lobbyist” is usually an oxymoron, but not when applied to Ken Plante, who died last night of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
As the tributes pour in, it is hard to believe there was ever a time when Plante was not beloved of government reformers and their cheerleaders on Florida’s editorial boards. But that’s how it was in 1976, when Plante was the lead plaintiff in a court challenge to Florida’s Sunshine Amendment.
The amendment had been championed by Gov. Reubin Askew and was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the wake of a series of shenanigans that had forced a number of elected officials and judges from office.
Plante thought the amendment went way too far in its requirement for financial disclosure. He believed there were better ways of keepin’ ’em honest than the broad disclosures the Sunshine Amendment required of public officials. After losing the lawsuit, Plante gave up his seat in the Florida Senate and spent the rest of his professional life demonstrating that lobbyists can be successful, respected, and scandal free all at the same time.
The corruption that shocked Askew and inspired the Sunshine Amendment was small potatoes by 21st century standards, and in their emeritus years, Plante and Askew were united in the belief that the influence of money in the political process was out of control and a real threat to democracy.
In her definitive obituary for the Tampa Bay Times, Lucy Morgan reports that before their final illnesses, Plante and Askew worked with like-minded members of Florida’s greatest political generation to try to craft a constitutional amendment to limit that influence.
“With the death of Askew a year ago and Plante’s illness, the effort foundered and died,” Morgan wrote.
One by one, they are leaving us, these smart and independent thinkers who could and did have differences of opinion and play them out in epic court battles and still be friends.
Their memory is for a blessing, and their work goes on.