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Thomas Michalski
There’s little respect for politicians
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Politics is a dirty word. Citizen approval for the U.S. Congress has dipped to just 9 percent, down from 14 percent scarcely five months ago. It is the lowest in the history of the Gallup Poll.

President Obama, once believed by some to be the nation’s savior, now has an approval rating of just 41 percent. That figure is expected to slide further as Obama continues to stumble aimlessly through the nation’s maze of economic, social and other challenges.

The state level numbers aren’t better.

Gov. Rick Scott, who reportedly will be spending $100 million of his own money to support his re-election campaign, shows an approval rating of around 30 percent, depending on the poll. He is pitted this November against former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican turned Independent turned Democrat who has a record of flip-flopping or simply dodging issues.

The Florida Legislature should be hiding their collective heads in shame for their own measly average approval rating. Like their federal counterparts, home-grown lawmakers have a reputation for allegedly being bartered by big business and special interest groups.

Do Florida lawmakers accept money for their favors? All you need to do is visit the Florida state campaign database at election.dos.state.fl.us/campaign-finance/contrib.asp to see what state representatives are accepting in exchange for their considerations.

I will not pinpoint any particular policymaker, but what you will find by entering a name in that database is bound to shock you. The total “contributions” amounted to staggering sums for the 2012 general election. No doubt money is being exchanged for the 2014 contests.

There are reasons why contributors to Pinellas County lawmakers come from places like Fort Myers, Ocala and Jacksonville, along with donors from New Orleans, Indiana, New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania.

Donors embody law firms, utilities, insurance companies, and the health care, agricultural, pharmaceutical, finance, political organizations and many other special interest groups and lobbyists. Included in the list is American Traffic Solutions Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz. ... the very same folks who bring us all those nifty red light cameras that have sprung up in various municipalities under the guise of traffic safety.

And if you don’t believe that red light cameras are all about filling municipal coffers, visit www.atsol.com. Right on the front page of the ATS website it clearly states, “Learn more about the economic benefit red-light safety cameras can bring to your community.”

Note the words “economic benefit.”

Florida’s red light camera law, officially known as the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, faces legislative challenges this spring. Although previous attempts to eliminate or harness the cameras have failed, some state lawmakers are again attempting to repeal the law that governs them.

During one five-year period (2006-2011) ATS handed out more than $240,000 to candidates for state office and another $1.3 million to lobby state and municipal governments, much of that in the Sunshine State. Florida legislators later killed red-light camera proposals.

It should be interesting to see what happens this year.

What it all boils down to is that we need new blood in municipal, county, state and federal offices. The same ole, same ole politicians, some of whom bounce from one public office to another over their lifetime, should be replaced by individuals with integrity, openness and unsullied initiatives for Florida’s future. The political machine of this state and country needs to stop being oiled by special interests with deep pockets ... so it grinds to a halt and becomes a part of history.

Tom Michalski, a retired Tampa Bay Newspapers editor, can be reached at thomasamski@yahoo.com.
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