Legally speaking, the charge facing former state Rep. Chris Dorworth is no more serious than attaching an invalid license plate to a vehicle.
A second-degree misdemeanor for violating Florida’s Sunshine laws is just as wrong, in the court’s eyes, as disorderly intoxication or loitering, or driving with a suspended license.
Aiding and abetting an elected official in subverting the state’s sacred Sunshine laws is such a non-crime that neither Dorworth, nor his girlfriend, Rebekah Hammond, who was also charged, will be booked into jail. Rather, they will receive an official summons. There will be no mug shot for Dorworth’s political enemies to plaster all over social media. There may be a fine, but there will be no jail time after a grand jury on Wednesday indicted them for violating state public records laws.
Yet in the court of public opinion, the verdict facing Chris Dorworth is damning.
The sentence for Dorworth, who, in another life, would be planning his next two years as Speaker of the Florida House, is being no longer in office and radioactive to those who are.
Dorworth still has many friends in Orlando and Tallahassee. Many of these friends are the state lawmakers ascending into positions of leadership in the Florida Legislature. It’s very possible that Dorworth will simply pay the fine and spend twice the amount he paid on said fine on dinner and drinks with his political friends.
But, going forward, how does Dorworth, lobbyist, go into a pitch meeting with a prospective client?
“Hi, I’m Chris Dorworth, the guy who led a failed takeover of a government agency with a $300 million budget. Along the way, three of my political allies, including my girlfriend, were indicted, because of my actions. Now please sign here.”
On the flip side of that, if you are a company looking for a lobbyist, how do you call Dorworth’s office after you’ve done a Google search?
The world is a forgiving place — I know firsthand from my own troubles and redemption that it is — but I don’t feel sorry for Dorworth. He’s had more chances than a kid at a carnival midway.
One would think that Dorworth, who the past half-decade has had so much of his world collapse around him, would have focused on his re-election in 2012. Instead, he spent so much money from a political committee on food and entertainment that he was held up by his own Republican colleagues as the poster boy for the need for campaign finance reform. Instead of walking door-to-door to every voter’s home in his district, he taunted Democrats to spend more money in his race in a foolish dare to not see it spent on other campaigns.
Little wonder he lost.
One would think that Dorworth, after suffering such a humiliating loss and given a lifeline of a job with one of the most powerful lobbyists in the state, would have put his head down and built a career in the private sector. With the strong bonds he held with so many of his legislative classmates, Dorworth could have bestrode Tallahassee like a colossus.
Now he’ll be lucky if he keeps his job.
There have been few more fierce defenders of Dorworth in the press than myself. Dorworth once told me that his father cried after reading something I wrote standing up for his son. But as I began to investigate “what the hell was going on at the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority,” I grew to realize that my belief in Chris Dorworth was misplaced.
It remains to be seen whether Dorworth will be proven guilty of the minor legal charge against him. But that’s not what any of this is about.
What Dorworth is already guilty of is not taking advantage of the gift from God given to him with the second (or third or fourth) chance provided to him.
Peter Schorsch is a political consultant and new media publisher based in St. Petersburg. Column courtesy of Context Florida.