Juan C. Zapata, a Republican, is the state Representative for District 119 and chair of the Miami-Dade Delegation. This op-ed originally ran in the Miami Herald:
This week Floridians got to see Tallahassee at its worst. I thought I had seen it all during my eight years in the Florida House, but what happened this week in Tallahassee was not only disappointing but embarrassing and shameful.
We have always had a tradition in this country and in this state of casting aside partisanship in moments of crisis. But instead of rising to the occasion, we put on a display of politics at its worst. The members of the Florida House, the people’s House, is the body closest to the people. It should be the place where Floridians rest their hopes and aspirations. Inaction should not be an option.
So why didn’t the House act when the majority of the members were in favor of putting a constitutional amendment banning oil drilling off Florida’s waters before the voters? Blame it on a broken system brought about by term limits and the growing influence of special interests in Tallahassee. What you saw was the members of the House of Representatives forced to submit to the wishes of a few.
The sad, unspoken truth is that a small group of six or seven people control the Florida House and its 120 members. Legislators are intimidated, threatened and punished when they are not willing to follow the leadership’s wishes. Retribution is rampant.
Whether you agree with Gov. Charlie Crist in calling the special session to put the drilling-ban amendment on the November ballot or take the cynical position of calling it grandstanding, no one can deny that his actions spurred both the House and Senate to begin taking action and float proposals.
The unfortunate highlight of the special session was the House speaker’s diatribe directed at the governor. Speaker Larry Cretul, who has only visited the Panhandle once, has refused the governor’s calls, rebuffed Senate President Jeff Atwater’s suggestions and appointed six work groups in the House headed mostly by freshmen members, none of whom are from the Panhandle. He owes the people of Florida much more. His arrogance cost the people of Florida a great opportunity to have a voice on this issue and receive some desperately needed relief.
The House leadership spent most of regular session trying to figure out ways to embarrass the governor. That continued this week, and I don’t expect anything different when the Legislature meets again in September.
The time has come for Tallahassee to put people before party and principle before politics.