By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Used to be a time when politicians could simply forget or deny the embarrassing-word-once-uttered.
These days, chances are that every word is recorded on video or audio, in a letter or transcript.
So in early 2009, when Congressional Republicans almost unanimously derided the $787 billion economic stimulus package, you knew someone would be checking to see if those words would come home to roost in a nest lined by stimulus greenbacks.
Sure enough, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization Center for Public Integrity did indeed keep track. They did a review of requests sent by legislators to federal agencies for stimulus money. And – you can probably already guess where this is going – some of the loudest stimulus opponents were at the front of the feeding trough.
Including some notable Florida Republicans.
The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, working with the Center for Public Integrity, examined the phenomenon at the state level and found some absolutely breathtaking examples of audacious requests.
My favorite example was U.S. Sen. George LeMieux.
Because he was an appointee of Gov. Charlie Crist, LeMieux was not in the Senate in time to vote against the stimulus. But he said he would have. And he made the fight against increased federal spending a major goal of his.
All while fighting to get billions for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, $65 million for a bus and train center in Jacksonville, $55 million for an overpass at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, and $96 million for an intermodal transportation center in Miami, and an untold figure for the Gateway Harbor Walk in Charlotte County.
Now that’s chutzpah.
The senator’s spokesperson, Jessica Garcia, prefers to call it advocacy.
“The difference is between fighting to prevent the spending in the first place and advocating for your state’s fair share once the money is sent out of Washington,” she told Francis.
Which is kind of like saying you’re a vegetarian – unless somebody else starts to eat meat.