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My Turn
Other Views from Those in the Know
State Sen. Nan Rich
leader, Florida Senate Democratic Caucus
Birds of a Different Feather

Poor Big Bird.

The gentle creature of Sesame Street fame is on notice his days are numbered. Mitt Romney, if he has his way, is ready to pull the plug on the yellow giant - and with that, the generations of children Big Bird has taught and they, in turn, have come to love.

Big Bird’s crime? The beloved character beamed into our homes via Public Broadcasting, a – gasp! – liberal media outlet, according to Republicans - is a primary culprit driving up the national debt!

Aside from the absurdity of targeting a muppet as an example of government largesse, Gov. Romney’s decision to pick on such an affable character offers a window into the true agenda of not only this would-be president, but that of the Republican elitists running Florida for the past 14 years.

And it’s not a pretty sight.

As Florida’s unemployment rate skyrocketed, foreclosures soared, bankruptcies multiplied, and more and more Floridians were forced to turn to Tallahassee for emergency help, what was the Republican response?

They cut unemployment benefits and turned a deaf ear to the abuses of predatory lenders and foreclosure mills. Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican legislature cut deeply into safety net programs and university operating funds, but continued to dole out tax cuts to some of the world’s biggest corporations. They rejected billions in federal funding for a state-of-the-art high-speed rail system – and the tens of thousands of much-needed jobs that money would have brought to Central Florida – but willingly gave the green light and our tax dollars to CSX in a deal that saddled every Floridian with liability in the event of an accident. They also rejected millions of our hard-earned tax dollars we sent to Washington and which Washington was returning to help fund proven health programs, yet gladly accepted federal money for largely discredited abstinence-only programs. They attempted a hostile takeover of public education by for-profit management companies, placing a "For Sale" sign on our schools, our children and our teachers. And they tried to hand off public safety to large private prison companies.

Do we see a pattern here?

Because the same pivoting persona we see in Mitt Romney is a reflection of the two-step trot the GOP has been so adept at here in Florida. They talk about small businesses, but coddle the big ones. They talk about not raising taxes or “extracting a single dollar” while they gleefully sign off on $2 billion in new fees. They tell us all about the family talk around their kitchen tables, when the real talks that affect real families are the ones going on behind closed doors in Tallahassee. They talk values and principles and getting government out of our lives, but won’t let women alone to make their own personal decisions based on their own values and principles without politicians' interference. They rail against voter fraud as an excuse to crack down on Democratic-leaning voters, but turn a blind eye to absentee ballot abuse or the wide-scale fraud allegations involving one of their own GOP voter registration contractors.

The Republican party of today is a far cry from the one of just 30 years ago. Even Ronald Reagan recognized the inherent unfairness of his initial tax cuts for the wealthy - and set about closing loopholes that "made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary, and that’s crazy."

But rather than step up for real values and principles, for real working people and real small businesses, it’s easier to use them as props in campaign ads, while deferring to special interests when it’s time to make real policy decisions. Rather than actually listening to the people before delivering crushing budget cuts impacting their lives and their communities, it’s easier to "listen" after the damage is done – witness Gov. Scott’s much ballyhooed “educational tour” that turned out to be little more than a publicity stunt with pre-screened parents, and teachers. The listening should have begun before he recommended taking a 10 percent chunk out of public schools, and before he approved a $1.3 billion cut to public education.

Like Gov. Romney, it’s easier to pick on a harmless puppet than the real culprits driving the lopsided priorities the Republicans have protected for years. It’s easier attacking the defenseless than standing up to those with deep pockets and armies of lobbyists intent on preserving the status quo.

It’s easier to unplug Big Bird than to admit you’re Chicken Little.

State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, is the leader of the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus through the 2012 legislative term.

Published Tuesday, October 09, 2012

by Dr. Radut.