Bob Sparks: Progressive extremism, Florida style

Recently, New York Times columnist David Brooks described the group of Democrats blocking President Obama’s expanded trade authority as the “Democrats’ Tea Party.” By their rigid stance in obstructing the president from negotiating a fast-track trade agreement with Asian countries, Democrats are violating their own principles.

By taking Big Labor’s lead in opposing such agreements, a solid argument is made that poor countries will not be helped and China will have little opposition to its economic muscle-flexing in that region. This conduct seems to describe these House Democrats as inflexible and uncompromising — terms used to normally define the tea party.

We have another example within the friendly confines of Florida. The Florida Education Association (FEA) and other plaintiffs filed suit a few months ago to stop the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program.

This program, signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2001, is funded by corporate donations. The proceeds provide roughly 70,000 scholarships for low-income students, mostly minorities. Donors receive tax breaks for their investments.

Despite the fact no taxpayer funds go directly to the program, the plaintiffs argued the program violates the Florida Constitution because taxpayer funds are going to religious institutions. Scholarship recipients were largely choosing parochial schools for their children.

On May 18, Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds tossed the lawsuit out of his court. Reynolds did not rule on the merits of the case, but instead held the plaintiffs had no “standing.” In other words, the plaintiffs failed to convince him they were harmed by the scholarship program.

This was an entirely appropriate ruling, because the union and their members were not harmed. No one is harmed. To the contrary, 70,000 kids and their families are helped.

Despite pleas from minority communities to drop the suit, the FEA planned its next move. To its great credit, the Florida School Boards Association announced last week it would not take part in any appeal.

Ironically, on the very day Jeb Bush announced his candidacy for president, the FEA announced it would indeed appeal the decision of Reynolds. Despite the pleas from those affected and the calls from newspaper editorials (representing both the progressive and conservative spectrum) for the union to fold its hand, it doubled down.

What is going on? Progressives like to tell us they always are looking out for the little guy. They like to preach about how they are the champions of the minority communities.

But by the vigor of the union’s fight against these low-income families, it shatters the myth it has worked so hard to peddle. What do the rank-and-file teachers have to say about this expenditure of their union dues on what can be described as a fool’s errand?

This is the very kind of behavior progressives love to use in tarring the tea party. Like those who battle the Democratic president on free trade, this crew is fighting against those who truly need a hand.

Don’t expect any of this to end soon. The FEA previously vowed to take this case all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.

We should take the union at its word. Members must expect the legal expenditure line item in their union’s budget to keep climbing.

Any fair-minded individual, Republican or Democrat, should hope for a swift smack down of the remaining plaintiffs at the appellate level. What better way to describe a lack of standing?

Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


Bob Sparks

Bob Sparks is a former political consultant who previously served as spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Attorney General. He was a senior adviser to former Gov. Charlie Crist. Before entering politics, he spent nearly two decades in professional baseball administration. He can be reached at [email protected] and Twitter @BobSparksFL.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704