Best seat in the House 

For years, the Golden Rule in politics has been thus: "He who has the gold, rules." Indeed, it has been customary, especially in the mainstream press, to spend more time reporting upon a particular candidate's real or potential bankroll than in a careful consideration of the aspirant's political agenda or past performance.

Of course it's a lot easier -- and lazier -- merely to lift the donation numbers from the public records than it is to delve into the arcane issues by which we are supposed to choose those who would lead us into our collective future. In point of fact, the candidate with the most money usually, but not always, does come in ahead of the pack. The exceptions merely exist to prove the general rule.

Certainly, when I was running for Congress -- and trying desperately to advance the issues I cared most about via the local daily -- I was more often reminded in articles covering my candidacy of how little money I had raised in order to upset a well-endowed incumbent with a virtually unassailable bank balance.

I, of course, knew how much money I had, and I naively thought that the matter was really only of great importance to me, inasmuch as I could spend only what I had deposited, and no more, without incurring the wrath of the vendors to whom I funneled my meager contributions for postcards, yard signs, phone calls and the like.

Clearly, however, the totals were of surpassing importance to the newspaper. Let's face it, the editors were saying, how can someone have any good ideas or even deign to run for public office if he isn't rich -- or, likely to raise a bucket of cash from the usual suspects in support of his nomination?

At one point, I began to think of my own campaign (as well as all others) as a waste of valuable time and energy. Let's just give whatever office is up for grabs to the guy with the most money, I surmised. After all, if the Golden Rule was so hardy and impregnable, why go to the trouble of actually going out to vote?

Well, last week, the Fourth Estate went even further into the realm of anti-democracy with the Orlando Sentinel's banner headline of March 22: "Senate hands Feeney his district." Let me say it again because I believe -- with this pronouncement -- we have clearly passed a defining moment in the devolution of representative government in our commonwealth: "Senate hands Feeney HIS district!"

Now, for those of us who follow the legislative session each spring and can actually stomach the stench wafting down the state from Tallahassee, the reality that Speaker of the Florida House Tom Feeney was going to be the "recipient" of a new congressional district in which he would be able to mount a credible campaign was a foregone conclusion. But HIS district? Isn't that a bit much?

To be sure, during a session in which nothing much of any import was accomplished -- including the passage of the state's $49 billion budget, action on the governor's education package or reform of Florida's unsteady sales-tax base -- what we political junkies all knew for sure would happen did happen. The legislature divvied up all the state's house, senate and congressional districts among the most powerful incumbents of the state's majority party: the Republicans.

Just as predictable was the hue and cry from the Democrats -- and their promise of quick court challenges to the Republicans' unabashed carving up of the political map. The Democrats, of course, want to further their own hold on power both within the state and in Washington, D.C.

But I don't think that anyone could have guessed that Florida's newest congressman would actually be proclaimed outright -- "Senate hands Feeney HIS district" -- without having to hold an election,or waiting to see how much money our new national rookie will realistically raise between now and November!

What to do? Should the Democrats find themselves a strong, articulate, credible challenger to the seat's pretender -- a candidate they will back with all their party's resources and funds? Or, should we all simply kowtow to the incredible arrogance of one of the state's most immature and obstructionist ideologues as he prances his merry way to higher office, bypassing all the norms of democracy's core principles?

For, as Tom Feeney already showed in Florida's contested presidential debacle of 2000, it doesn't matter who gets the most votes. Political offices can always be taken another way. After all, it's already HIS district, isn't it?

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