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Gov. Bush won't bend on train funding

(The following article was posted on the Lakeland Ledger’s website on June 23.)

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Sometime today, Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to veto the $12 million that the Legislature appropriated for the operation of the High Speed Rail Authority in the new fiscal year.

It was to be the year that the authority selected the route for the first phase between Orlando and Tampa, set up station locations and chose the overall builder and operator of the bullet train. Then it would negotiate with builders and the federal government for a majority of the money to build and operate the system.

Businesses apparently already are beginning to get with the program. Walt Disney World, for example, has offered to pitch in with its 2.5 million captive riders from the airport every year, meaning $26 million in revenues to the bullet train annually, along with 50 acres donated for a public bullet train and light-rail station.

The veto will do more than cause a suit over the constitutionality of Bush's action. That concern has caused the governor's office to couch the veto in such a manner that it may not seem that he is shutting down the constitutional mandate that voters gave him. But he is shutting it down nevertheless, supporters of highspeed rail said.

Sadly, the veto could be the final break with and slap in the face to an early supporter who took Bush by the hand and helped lead him through the political wilderness after Bush's defeat by Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1994.

C.C. "Doc" Dockery, a Lakeland insurance investor, has always been a die-hard Bush supporter. But while the future governor was just getting settled in Florida and becoming a businessman in the 1980s, Dockery already was working for highspeed rail in Florida.

He has been at it so long and so hard that reporters who have searched for decades for an ulterior motive, such as potential personal gain, have found none.

Late last week, according to sources on both sides of the issue, Bush's office began calling parties involved to tell them he likely will veto the appropriation today. A reporter's call to Dockery on Friday revealed that he had not been contacted by the governor's office although he is a member of the High Speed Rail Authority.

But the issue goes beyond friendship betrayed or high-speed rail.

The veto, couched as it may be in terms of saving the taxpayers money, is really a ruse to delay the project until the governor can begin a campaign next year to have voters remove it from the state constitution.

It is an act of defiance because voters chose something that he did not like. With Dockery spending his own money to get the issue on the 2000 ballot, 53 percent of the state's voters approved an amendment requiring Florida to begin construction on a bullet train by this November.

"He has to win, whatever it is -- education, high-speed rail, removing affirmative action," said a source familiar with the governor's 41Ú2 years in office.

It is almost that winning is the goal, not reaching a viable compromise. He always has to be right.

The governor was not always like that. Indeed, while Democrats were doing some questionable campaign tricks in the 1994 election that he lost, Bush forbade some of his more aggressive campaign aides from returning the favors.

Now, it would seem, winning on the issues is everything. Not compromising is what caused the Democratic Party to crash when northeastern liberals were in control in the early 1970s. Not compromising, not seeing the other guy's point of view -- or more especially, not caring about the other guy's point of view -- isn't a good trait for a democracy.

In a democracy people are able to petition their government no matter what the issue and the government is supposed to abide by the majority's wishes. That's why some crazy things sometimes get into law. And just remember, political admonishments are like boomerangs. They do come back.

If voters should vote again on constitutional amendments because they supposedly didn't know what they were voting on the first time, shouldn't they also be asked to do the same with officials who they have elected?

Monday, June 23, 2003

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