As much as we would like to think otherwise, in politics, not everyone can be a winner.
To put it another way, as Judge Smails did in the eminently quotable Caddyshack: “The world needs ditch-diggers, too.”
Few will disagree that 2015 was a particularly fertile political year, one that produced a bumper crop of political disappointments – that’s what we get when the Legislature meets almost unceasingly in special session because it cannot agree on much of anything.
Of course, the key word in this analysis is “disappointing.” One cannot disappoint if they were not held in some regard beforehand.
So you won’t see U.S. Alan Grayson on this list, despite his year of bizarre statements and reports, such as the recent one that showed he profited from investing in a firm doing Iran oil deals while hitting Iran oil profiteers, revealing the “Senator with Guts” to be no more a gaping hypocrite.
Nor will you see state Rep. Frank Artiles, who by punching a college student, sponsoring discriminatory legislation targeting transgender Floridians, and boasting about wanting to kill bears, assembled a year of buffoonery seemingly designed to generate negative publicity.
Several other Florida pols could have made the list, especially two A-listers, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster; Atwater for his Hamletesque flirtation with running for the U.S. Senate and Webster for his quixotic pursuit of becoming Speaker of the U.S. House. But there was some nobility in both men’s ambitions, and both enjoyed otherwise strong years, so we’ll avoid, as Teddy Roosevelt warned against, pointing out where strong men stumbled.
So here is my list of the year’s most disappointing Florida politicians, in ascending order of disappointment.
Alvin Brown – Republican Lenny Curry is now so firmly in control of Jacksonville’s City Hall that it’s easy to forget that Brown, a Democrat with national cred and connections, entered 2015 with a double-digit lead in his re-election campaign. But Brown ran for a second term as he governed in the first, letting down too many of the moderate supporters who propelled him into office in 2011.
Don Gaetz – A case could be made for including the entire Florida Senate on this list. For so many reasons, Andy Gardiner‘s Senate has been so dysfunctional and inefficient, it’s made former Senate Mike Haridopolos‘ look like a modern-day Marcus Aemilius Scaurus. A case could also be made for specifically including Bill Galvano on this list as he has, step after step, bungled or stymied the court-ordered effort to redraw the state Senate districts. But it is Gaetz, a former Senate President, who best symbolizes the worst tendencies of the upper chamber. It’s because of Gaetz that the Legislature finds itself in court over those Senate districts. And when Gaetz took to the floor of the Senate, invoking a point of personal privilege, to personally attack another colleague, he plunged the Senate into one of its lowest points. In the past, we’ve held Senator Gaetz in high regard, but his actions this year remind us that legislative leaders are better off heading off into the sunset than sticking around after they’ve held the rostrum.
The Florida Cabinet – There may have been no sadder moment this year in Florida government than when the Florida Cabinet met at the state fair and did nothing to rebuke Governor Rick Scott for his illegal dismissal of FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey. A lawsuit alleging Scott and Cabinet members sidestepped the state’s Sunshine Law in the way they handled Bailey’s dismissal was settled, which led to one of the year’s best moments: Pat Gleason, the special counsel for open government in Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office, giving Scott and Co. a 90-minute lecture on Florida’s broad public records and open meeting requirements.
Bob Buckhorn – The day after the 2014 elections, Hizzoner held an impromptu press conference and all but declared that he would run for governor in 2018. In fact, the Tampa mayor entered 2015 as the de facto frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. That was then; this is now. After a series of troubling scandals, including revelations that his police department disproportionately targeted black residents and that one of his chief political advisers, Beth Leytham, is nothing less than the Rasputin of Riverwalk, many Democrats now wonder if Buckhorn will even run in 2018. Meanwhile, his lackluster fundraising for his political committee, expected to be a vehicle for a 2018 run, isn’t inspiring much confidence.
Jeb Bush – Not since Willie Mays stumbled through the outfield during his last season of baseball as a New York Met have we witnessed a modern figure once so mighty laid low by the effects of time. Faced with higher expectations than the Uber IPO but with the financial resources of a small country, Bush went from presidential front-runner to cautionary tale in six months. His downward trajectory is not all his fault, as the GOP electorate appears more interested in electing a carnival barker than a president, but Bush is still mostly responsible for his single-digit standing. At times, the man who once bestrode Florida’s state government like a colossus, has struggled to assemble the most basic of responses, all while getting muscled out of the race by political neophytes (Donald Trump and Ben Carson) and his protege (Marco Rubio). Had Jeb Bush lived during the Elizabethan era, he certainly would have starred in one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.