Friday, October 15, 2010

Profiles in Florida: Bill McCollum

I've always considered being a Republican for the last 30 years to be somewhat idiotproof. I just figured it'd have to be. Remaining electable never seemed especially difficult, so long as one avoided having sex with children or coloreds and refused to display the hobgoblin of the small-minded: a consistency to not appear foolish by reasoning out an issue first and finding a conclusion about it second.

Other than that, you could just fax lobbying groups your Direct Deposit info and take a nap. This is probably why I like Bill McCollum, because somehow he fucked up the formula for empty parroting, sweetheart lobbying and venial constant sleaze that everyone seems to tolerate from the GOP. Somehow, he managed to keep losing, in 2000, 2004 and finally in a primary this year. On top of that, he did it in Florida, where GOP corruption is pretty much considered:
a. a sport;
b. an essential lubricant for the governing process — almost exactly like the function of Mexico's PRI, only don't tell these people that, because Mexicans are the worst people ever (unless they smell like orange rinds);
c. such a non-story that probably half the lawmakers in Tallahassee greeted The Daily Beast's naming Florida as one of the nation's most corrupt states with a massive dose of white-man's overbite and a belt-high firing of the index-finger gun.
This was the easy stuff to inoculate against, the unsweatable small stuff. Florida and corruption is still like the Playboy Club before AIDS. Florida can suffer anything, apparently, but Bill McCollum.

It shouldn't have happened to Bill. He had the pedigree. Like so many fresh-faces in the GOP, Bill had been challenged in the crucible of free enterprise and by the litmus test of entrepreneurship. After having his health, housing, food and training paid for in the United States military, he flirted with a law career for less than half a decade before jumping into 32 straight years of professional politics, including over a dozen campaigns and an almost uninterrupted lamprey-like liplock on a government salary and special-interest money. If the people had wanted different ideas or had found his wanting, they'd have chosen someone else, as market theory suggests. Although, technically this does run counter to the thinking espoused by his advocacy for 12-year Congressional term limits, to which he paid lip service for the 20 years he sat in Congress.

After decades of yeoman stooge work for the GOP, rolling over during Iran-Contra and voting to cut Medicare and Social Security whenever possible and push back the age of eligibility, he lost a senate race in 2000. It wasn't because his biggest single donor was Ken Lay and Enron: that wouldn't be a liability until 2001, and anyway Florida has a baseline level of unsavory donors like a plasma clinic encircled by a queue of people smothered in track marks. In fact, nobody knows why he lost, because everyone in Florida was drunk from November-January due to the recount.

Still, this was okay, because it enabled him to return to small-business entrepreneurship, where he became one of the most sought after and highly paid lobbyists. For instance, while in Congress he co-sponsored the Phil Gramm bill that destroyed Glass-Steagall and helped usher in the ludicrous mortgage securitization and speculation that broke Florida's last remaining non-tourist and non-oranges functionality: the property-flipping Ponzi State. No matter: this experience made him a desirable Capitol Hill representative for groups pushing for more loans and less arithmetic, including a "nonprofit" that pushed a down-payment assistance program in a scam so obvious that even the under-funded, emasculated and lumbering IRS noticed in time to tell Congress it was totally criminal. For this work, he was paid $400,000 per year by the law firm of Baker & Hostetler.

Then he lost another senate race in 2004, to Mel Martinez, a Cuban-American former cabinet member and a favorite of George W. Bush. That at least made sense. Besides the goodwill spilling over from Bush's first term and his immediate appeal to an important bloc of Cuban voters, Martinez had a little oomph to him, a little charisma. This provided a disastrous contrast for Bill's strange resemblance to someone's high-school physics teacher crossed with a North American Beaver that looks like it's discovered how delightful it is to touch another North American Beaver before he reaches sexual maturity.

Maybe that characterization is unfair, because despite two consecutive losses, Bill came roaring back to win Florida's Attorney Generalship (beating a Democrat in Florida: not hard), where between 2007 and 2010 he expanded the Child Predator CyberCrime Unit (CPCU) and... that's it. That's fucking it. Well, he also managed Rudy Giuliani's wildly successful 2008 presidential campaign. But other than that, Bill looked across the economic and political landscape, ignored predatory lending, environmental wastage, development that reneged on impact and concurrency fees and said, "Boy penises. That's been the problem all along."

Well, there were actually two other things. Bill wanted to be governor, so that meant taking a stand on national issues. The ongoing conflict that many people might recall is the suit he filed against the federal government, claiming that the HCR legislation is unconstitutional because he has not actually read Article I, Section 8 of the relevant document, nor nearly a century of jurisprudence appertaining to it. The other issue was how gay people are just so totally homo.

In 2008, in a stroke of fiscal conservatism, Bill spent an extravagant $120,000 to secure the testimony of George Rekers in support of Florida's abominably unconstitutional (and since overturned) ban on gay adoption. Rekers' scholarship was based on "scientific fact" in "stories that have appeared" in "national magazines," retreading "facts" about how homosexuals tend to be more depressive, prey to chemical dependency and manipulated by a secret national homosexual agenda (a guess: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Guy-on-Guy) that promotes sexual perversion. His testimony offered nothing but academic-sounding glosses on the non-science conclusions offered by these bozos since 1993 and bozos like this to the present day.

Of course, Bill faced three big problems when he tried to massage a national social issue for good old fashioned vote grubbing among the sorts of Floridians who paranoiacally cover their butts with their hands if they see a television turned to Bravo. One, his fiscal conservatism did not have the benefit of math. Two, the Court of Appeals ruled that Rekers' testimony was unscientific hogwash blasted out of the water by appellant witness testimony. Three, it turned out that George Rekers like to go on vacation to fuck rent boys.

See? Boy penises. All along, you knew it was them.

This, then, was Bill's record as Attorney General, so when businessman, crook and strange-alien-made-of-cancer lookalike Rick Scott challenged him in the GOP gubernatorial primary, he had nothing to run on. Scott was able to toss massive amounts of his personal dough and charismatic ability to say nothing really excitedly and a lot into omnipresent campaigning and a series of vicious ads portraying McCollum as a feckless, cynical Washington insider and lobbyist for three decades — i.e. exactly what he is. Still, in a battle between two crooked parasites with nothing to say of any substance, you don't expect someone like Bill to just roll over like that. It either speaks to the strength of the 2010 anti-incumbent narrative or the fact that he just massively blew it.

It looks increasingly like the latter is true. For example, courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times:
Barely a week after he lost the Republican primary for governor, Attorney General Bill McCollum sought legal advice on whether he can lobby the governor's office and Cabinet — the very people he works with now — after he leaves office in January.

The answer: No.

He'll have to wait two years before he can collect fees to represent private clients before the state government that has employed him the past four years.

McCollum, whose duties as attorney general include upholding Florida's open government laws, also wanted his request kept secret. He asked the Commission on Ethics not to reveal his name as the person making the inquiry, but the agency did anyway.
This is awesome.

Bill spent the entire primary season beating back Scott's accusations that he's a career insider and a lobbyist, then spent less than seven days before saying, "Wait, how much money can I make lobbying the government as an insider?" Then, not only was he the officeholder charged with upholding Florida's open government laws, but he immediately tried to circumvent them to serve his own interests. Finally, magnificently, and lushly Floridiotically, the guy with a law degree, whose job was "Top Law Guy in the State" managed to fuck up and violate Florida's Sunshine Laws while asking a group that enforces them to explain the fucking law to him.

Bill McCollum has snatched failure from the jaws of electoral indifference three times. He's managed to make the state's baseline level of venality look bad. He's made sleaze and gross mismanagement of funds unsexy. Bill McCollum is Florida, and Bill McCollum is awesome. But don't worry, kids; he's gonna be fine. Remember what he said when he was campaigning against that whole soulless lobbyist thing:
At an Aug. 13 campaign stop in Jacksonville Beach, McCollum told a small group of Republican voters: "I will tell you this much. I could be making a lot more on the outside than I ever did on the inside. That's right."

7 comments:

  1. Great post, but I think you mean "venal" when you say "venial". Venial means minor or trivial, venal means open to bribery.

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  2. Hey, I'm on the road so I don't have the luxury of rereading the piece to see if the meaning of my usage migrated, but in the first instance I most certainly meant venial as in a non-mortal, non-cardinal sin, something that has come to be or always was tolerated as a low-grade crime that never stopped anybody. If I'd meant venal, I wouldn't have used it as a modifier of corruption, since that would just have been a redundancy. As said, though, it's possible I started wandering at the end there and reused a previous word when a new one was intended.

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  3. Whoops, yeah, that's what happened. Meant the first one, screwed up the second one. Thanks for the catch.

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  4. Maybe this guy should move to Louisiana, which makes Florida politics look like kindergarten corruption.

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  5. Had to look up PRI to find out what it was, sadly. Since Wikipedia is a horrible source to find out the dirt on a political party could you link to something about it so that I might better appreciate your metaphor?

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  6. Well written and interesting post. Thumbs up

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  7. H-Woman,

    I confess I've never done much PRI reading online. The two resources I used, and the two I'd point you to are these:


    Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans

    Bordering on Chaos: Mexico's Roller-Coaster Journey Toward Prosperity

    Alan Riding covered Mexico City for the New York Times for years, and he not only covers a political history of Mexico but also gives you a kind of informal ethnography, which echoes a lot of what poet Octavio Paz has to say about the country. He devotes an entire chapter to the history of bribery on all levels of the state, and because he was there in person, he has a lot of great details on the nauseating theft of the Echevarría, López Portillo and de la Madrid administrations.

    Oppenheimer really only covers the 1990s and Raul and Carlos Salinas de Gortari. The latter was the president of the country; the former was heavily involved in narcotrafficking and points up the PRI's former handshake control over drug trafficking through the country.

    Both books are completely readable and even re-readable, even though they are regrettably dated.

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