Mike Haridopolos: The worst Senate President of the modern Republican era

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Ander Crenshaw. Jim Scott. Toni Jennings. John McKay. Jim King. Tom Lee. Ken Pruitt. Jeff Atwater. Mike Haridopolos.

These are, of course, the Republicans who have served as President of the Florida Senate since the GOP drew even and then took over from the Democrats in 1992.

Say what you will about what has been accomplished or not accomplished by the Senate during this time. And judge how you will the impact of who was Governor during each Senate President’s term, but has there been a worse Senate President during the modern Republican era than Mike Haridopolos?

It brings little joy to write this, but someone has to be the recognized as the “best” and someone has to be the “worst.”  It’s also important, for history’s sake, for those to be judged as such, so as to serve as an inspiration and as a warning to those who follow.

For that reason alone, Mike Haridopolos’ beautiful head belongs on a proverbial pike.

Of course, Johnnie Byrd is universally regarded as the Worst Speaker Ever.  And, perhaps, not just of the modern Republican era.  Dante has a special circle of hell reserved for Byrd, as punishment for how he ended the 2004 legislative session.

Yet, Johnnie Byrd serves one useful function.  He forever will be the Boogie Man of Florida politics, about whom lobbyists tell their children bedtime stories so that they might do better in their American government classes.  Similarly, future legislative leaders will be, at their worst moments, reminded gently by their advisers to ‘stop acting like Johnnie Byrd.’

Going forward, future Senate Presidents will be mindful of becoming ‘another Haridopolos.’

It just has been that bad the last two years.

Why? Here are but five reasons.

The hubris

“I think you’re seeing right now the most conservative Senate … in your history,” is what Haridopolos promised, thereby needlessly raising expectations for Republicans, while scaring the pants off the rest of the state.

Yet, Haridopolos failed to deliver, thwarted by a band of Republican moderates who were likely offended by the Senate Presidents saber rattling.

Unable to deliver on promises of immigration reform, prison privatization and school choice, it is conservatives who should be among the most disappointed in Haridopolos.

The meltdown

Just as there is no crying in baseball, tears should not be shed by the Senate President during the last day of 2011 session (unless its a benediction to your wife and family).  Yet, there was Mike Haridopolos on the verge of tears before and after he gaveled the Senate to adjournment.

Asked that March how he would like to be judged as Senate President, Haridopolos said “I think I’ll be judged on how I do my current job. My job is to be the spokesman and keep the trains running on time.”

The trains most certainly did not run on time.  In fact, even by his own standards, the 2011 session was a train wreck. “To end this way is a major disappointment to me personally,” Haridopolos said after the long budget battle with the House finally ended. “I’ve had far from a perfect session. I’ve learned a lot in the last 60 days. … I’ll try to do my best to do better next year.”

Unfortunately, next year was not much better for Haridopolos. But a disappointing legislative session would seem like a walk in the park compared to what Haridopolos went through on the campaign trail.

The other meltdown

It’s difficult to believe, but when Mike Haridopolos decided to abandon his bid for the US Senate, he was still the fundraising front-runner.

Yet, Haridopolos struggled to catch fire with grassroots conservatives, writes Marc Caputo. He lost a Space Coast Tea Party straw poll in his own backyard. Before that, a conservative radio show host hung up on him when he refused to say whether or not he’d vote for the Congressional Republican plan to reform and cut Medicare. After three tries, his campaign finally released a statement saying he’d oppose the so-called “Ryan Plan” — the only Republican Senate candidate to do so.

“It became increasingly clear to me, and those around me, that the responsibilities I was managing on both fronts are in conflict,” Haridopolos said. “I truly believed I could handle both jobs, but I was wrong.”

Of course, Haridopolos was not the first legislative leader who attempted to leverage the platform into statewide office.  Often, though, the results are disastrous (Byrd and Tom Lee are just two examples).  Yet, there are those, like Jeff Atwater, who have pulled it off.

Yet as Caputo observed, Haridopolos should have known that he couldn’t juggle both jobs. He emphasized that very point in an electronic book he published this year under the title Florida Legislative History & Processes.

“Perhaps the most critical personal lesson that campaigning has taught me is this:,” he wrote, “a campaign cannot be compartmentalized.” Haridopolos repeating that last line in the book.

Haridopolos beget JD Alexander

If Haridopolos is the worst Senate President of the modern Republican era, what can you say about some of those who served as his deputies?

Most heinous of all of them — Mike Bennett and John Thrasher are otherwise good men who have suffered two of the worst years of their respective political careers — is JD Alexander, who essentially held the entire Legislature, if not the entire state government, hostage this past session. Well, JD Alexander is not in a position to do this without Mike Haridopolos enabling him.

Redistricting failures

The rejection by the Supreme Court of the Florida Senate’s redistricting plan lies mostly to blame on Don Gaetz’ shoulders, but, Haridopolos deserves his share of blame for the manner by which the Senate has conducted itself throughout the entire redistricting process.

Unlike the Florida House, with its embrace of technology and transparency, the Senate has appeared to be drawing its new map with the use of abacuses and all of the transparency of a monk’s inn. Those decisions could have been rectified by an engaged Senate President.  Unfortunately, Haridopolos had little interest in the reapportionment process and that is why the exact boundaries of the new Senate districts are still in doubt.

These are but five of the most glaring reasons why Haridopolos should (and likely will) be regarded as the Worst Senate President of the modern Republican era.  And yet not mentioned are any of Hardiopolos disastrous public relation failures, such as being paid $152,000 to write that book for Brevard Community College or his ethical lapses, albeit minor ones.

What should be mentioned, although it is unsure just how much of problem the situation will create, is a judge’s declaring unconstitutional a law passed in Haridopolos’ Senate to require state employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay toward the pension program.

The ruling leaves a potential $1 billion hole in the state budget for the 2011-12 budget year and another $1 billion hole for the 2012-13 budget year. It also has a $600 million impact for counties whose employees are in the Florida Retirement System.

If this ruling does stand and all Haridopolos did was kick the billion dollar can down the road, then how can anyone argue about the Haridopolos’ place in history?

Regardless, Mike Haridopolos should be grateful Johnnie Byrd moved to Florida from Alabama all those years ago and decided to take up politics.  Otherwise, he’d be the cautionary tale told to children at bedtime.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.