Last week, as my family gathered around a perfectly cooked turkey with crispy, garlic-rubbed skin and moist white meat, I gave thanks.
For my family. For our health.
And for Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes.
Why that last one? Because that chapter — Florida’s public-records statute — helped expose state legislators as big fat phonies who waste millions of your tax dollars.
Most of us already knew as much. It’s just nice to have written proof.
Last week, a judge ordered the release of hundreds of previously hidden emails that showed how political operatives helped rig congressional and legislative districts to keep the vast majority of them tailored for Republicans.
While legislators were crowing about transparency, their staffs and proxies were secretly working to rig districts for their party and their buddies — violating the Florida Constitution, as a judge would later rule.
Public records also reveal how much these schemes are costing you: $6.2 million. That’s how much legislators have spent on legal costs, trying to defend their schemes.
And the taxpayer tab could be much higher — as much as $30 million.
This should be a crime. In Florida, however, it is standard operating procedure.
To fully understand how badly you and your tax dollars have been used and abused, we have to go back to the 1970s — when disco was hip, lapels were wide and Democrats controlled state politics.
Back then, Democrats were power drunk. So they gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts to make sure they never had to sober up.
Newspapers exposed their tactics and screamed bloody murder. But the Democrats were unrepentant — until a Republican wave swept the country in the 1990s and the GOP took over Florida … and then immediately started doing the same thing.
Except the Republicans put gerrymandering on steroids. They sliced cities in two, three and four. They jammed black Democrats into a handful of districts, so that many more of the surrounding districts would be whiter and more conservative.
It worked — so well that Florida gained notoriety as one of the most gerrymandered states in America.
Finally, voters had enough. In 2010, more than 60 percent of Floridians voted to insert a “Fair Districts” amendment to the Florida Constitution — to ban politicians from either party from ever again using politics to gerrymander districts.
Well, the politicians hated the idea of playing fair. So they started using taxpayer dollars to fight Fair Districts in court.
When I first discovered this taxpayer-subsidized slush fund in 2011, I learned that legislators were paying lawyers $300 an hour.
Back then, they had spent $700,000. All of it your money. All of it trying to overturn your vote.
Since then, they have kept spending. And spending. And spending.
Much of the recent spending went toward failed legal defenses that tried to argue that snake-like districts weren’t gerrymandered.
Nobody bought it — including a judge. It was like pointing to a boa constrictor and asking people to believe it was a kitten.
WFTV-Channel 9 recently pulled the records and found that legal spending had climbed to more than $6 million — money for attorneys, hotels, air travel and expert witnesses.
More than $2 million of that went to GrayRobinson — the Orlando-based firm that the Legislature began paying when former GrayRobinson attorney Dean Cannon was House speaker.
Really, though, $6 million may be just the tip of the iceberg. It’s hard to track it all. And the Sentinel previously forced legislators to admit they had set aside as much as $30 million for legal bills.
The spending of tax dollars on failed legal strategies started with Speaker Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos. It continued with Speaker Will Weatherford and President Don Gaetz.
Now, Speaker Steve Crisafulli and President Andy Gardiner are in charge.
If these two leaders are half the statesmen they claim to be, they will stop.
No more lawyers. No more appeals. No more tax dollars. No more gerrymandering.
Basically, no more public money trying to thwart the public will or defend the indefensible.