Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spinning at a Tea Party

They held another Tea Party in Orlando today.

The frigid Downtown Orlando wind could not keep conservative voters from airing their discontent on the way Washington and Tallahassee politicians are running the show.

President Obama and Democrats were not the only targets of the hundreds of Tea Party activists, as many of those gathered outside of City Hall felt that their own Republican candidates had failed them.

"We're upset with [both] parties. That's why we're standing out here today – we have no friends," said event-organizer Jason Hoyt of the Tea Party Patriots Live radio show.

The stimulus package and health care bill were main targets, but complaints about the pending construction of the SunRail commuter-rail system was prominent.
Now for some background. SunRail is a proposed light rail system for the Orlando area. The idea is to use existing tracks owned by CSX for a route that would run from Poinciana in Osceola County to Deland in Seminole County, with downtown Orlando as the center.

CSX is not planning to enter the light rail business. They plan to sell their tracks, build a new inter-modal facility in Winter Haven and run their freight trains through Lakeland to the west of Orlando. Currently those trains run through Orlando, Winter Park, and surrounding areas.

Local opponents of SunRail have concerns about the cost and utility of the system - everything from complaints about paying CSX for the rails to concerns about the volume of riders.

Personally I'm ambivalent about it. I'm concerned that too few people will ride it to justify the cost. On the other hand, routing freight rail traffic out of Orlando would be a definite plus. But a lot of the opposition comes from the same stupid "We Don't Want to Pay for ANYTHING" attitude that defines so many of the "locals". I put locals in scare-quotes for this reason: Many of those people have moved here because of the (once) low taxes, and they do not want to pay for anything. That includes building new schools, roads and other public facilities needed by the population growth that they represent. Their parsimony wouldn't be so bad if the idiots wouldn't constantly bitch and moan about the lack of schools, roads and other public facilities. (Yes, I'm quite annoyed with these idiots. They've spoiled Paradise with no awareness of their own role in the despoiling. And I've been listening to such foolishness for 30 years now.)

Now back to today's Tea Party. Several Florida elected officials turned up, including gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland). Dockery is a state senator, and well-known for her opposition to Orlando's proposed light rail system, SunRail. She made much of that today.
Long-time opponent of the rail, gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland), headlined the 30 candidates that attended the event, and didn't mince words about what she would do in Tallahassee.

As state senator, Dockery failed to defeat the $1.2 billion SunRail deal in December. But she promised voters on Saturday she will derail the project and return the money to taxpayers if she's elected as governor.

"The first thing I'd like to do as governor is stop the bad stuff," Dockery said, referring to the SunRail. "When I'm governor, I'll take my veto pen and stop that bad stuff."
It's true that Dockery has been an opponent of SunRail, perhaps the most effective elected official standing against it.

At times it seems she has been a one-woman veto, thwarting the will of the Governor, both US Senators, several other members of our US Congressional delegation, the state House of Representatives and the State Senate. She has been masterful in in her procedural fights, and it took forever to finally defeat her efforts. Light rail has been discussed as a tool to lower road congestion in greater Orlando since at least 1986 that I remember. Dockery hasn't been around that long, but in recent years she has been the biggest stumbling block.

But her opposition has nothing to do with saving money for the taxpayers of Florida. Paula doesn't have any problem with the billion dollar boondoggle that high-speed rail will become but opposes SunRail's $600,000,000 price-tag. Ostensibly she has been fighting against the SunRail project because the shift in CSX freight rail traffic to Lakeland will mean more noise and traffic congestion in Lakeland. (Nevermind that Lakeland-Winter Haven has one quarter the population of Greater Orlando.) There is also a bit of personal vendetta involved - and that involves high-speed rail.

Paula's husband "Doc" Dockery had been a long-time proponent of high-speed rail for the state of Florida. Doc has been something of a mover-and-shaker in Florida Politics for some time, and helped get Jeb Bush elected governor in 1998. Our tale continues:
In 1999, his first year in office, Bush had grave reservations about the work of the commission and especially the contractor. He stopped the high-speed rail program, saying the money would go to interstate construction instead.

Doc Dockery was not happy, so he spent $3 million of his own money on a campaign that convinced voters to pass an amendment to the state constitution requiring the state to build a high-speed rail system eventually connecting at least five major urban centers.

Bush considered the Doc Dockery-led passage of the amendment in 2000 to be an affront to his decision to kill the old high-speed rail program.

Relations grew worse between the two former friends. Bush spent much of the rest of his two terms in office fighting high-speed rail while his administration was apparently secretly working on an Orlando commuter-rail system, according to documents later requested by Sen. [Paula] Dockery.
Doc Dockery has had a take-no-prisoners attitude towards high-speed rail. Everything else is secondary. Given the relative price-tags involved, I doubt that Paula Dockery truly cares about saving the taxpayers money, contradicting her spin to the Tea Partiers.

And there's one other thing. In opposing light rail, Paula has allied herself with a group that probably isn't terribly popular with the Tea Partiers - trial lawyers. One of the wrinkles of the CSX deal to sell their tracks included a waiver of liability for CSX. Let me rephrase - after the deal, CSX could not be sued for anything that went wrong with the tracks.

I'm not certain of all the details so I can't say if it's a bad deal or not. But if it means that once the tracks are determined to be in good shape, that CSX can't be held liable for future problems, that seems fair to me. But the trial lawyers have screamed bloody murder. They want the ability to sue anyone and everyone ever involved with the tracks in the almost 100% likelihood of future accidents. And that has been the secret of Paula Dockery's ability to block the SunRail deal until recently - the immense money and influence of the trial lawyers has been the wind at her back. Paula Dockery is playing the role of fiscal conservative and outsider for the Tea Partiers. It remains to be seen if they have the wits to see through her charade.


Michael said...

Wow great research and writing. Nobody has written it up like this. Thank you for your work - I'm going to spread this around. :)

choo choo Willie said...

SunRail is not a light rail line. It is a heavy rail commuter line.

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