Before we dive into 2010, I thought we could take a few minutes to look back at some of the best — and worst — topics we covered in "Taking Names" during 2009.
We witnessed some spectacular flubs, exposed some major hypocrites and covered all sorts of topics that made your blood boil … along with a few that touched your heart.
Biggest hypocrite exposed: Jim Greer. Late last summer, the state's GOP leader was shooting off his mouth to every TV camera he could find. He was furious that Barack Obama had devious plans to try to inspire schoolchildren to work hard in school. Greer declared it wildly unethical for any politician to talk to students without parental permission — until we disclosed that Greer himself had been visiting schools in Seminole County … to talk politics … without parental permission. By the end of Greer's stint in the national spotlight, he looked like such a buffoon that most of the flak he was taking came from national conservatives who considered him an embarrassment to their own cause.
Most heart-warming story: Eight-year-old Victoria Petrucelly's pink-lemonade stand. After Victoria's mom died of breast cancer, the Orlando third-grader wanted to find a way to honor her. So she decided to sell pink lemonade and donate the money to cancer research. Victoria had modest goals — $50 to be precise. But by the time this community finished rallying around this little girl and her big dreams, she had collected nearly $24,000. No drink in a paper cup ever tasted sweeter.
My best idea: Axing the lieutenant governor's job. After word broke that Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp had racked up more than $400,000 in charges for plane trips, a lot of people got behind the idea that it was awfully silly for a cash-strapped state to keep spending millions of dollars on a guy whose only real job is to have a heartbeat. We even pay for his bodyguard! (Wouldn't people have to know who the lieutenant governor was before they cared enough to hurt him?) It ain't personal, Jeff. But this idea could have legs. In fact, what a way for Kottkamp to jump-start his attorney general campaign! He could propose eliminating his former office, saying: "Nobody knows better than I how little I actually did."
My worst idea (at least, according to you guys): Raising legislators' salaries. The current salaries are so low that the Legislature ends up full of independently wealthy politicians who are woefully out of touch with the common man. And then, to make things worse, we gave this millionaires' club completely free health care. I suggested cutting the benefits and jacking up the salaries. You guys suggested I get a brain scan. I mean, you folks really hated that one. I felt almost as unpopular as … well … a legislator.
Biggest "nonprofit" salary disclosed: Adventist Health CEO Don Jernigan's $3.5 million. Yes, Florida Hospital's parent company may be a "faith-based nonprofit," but that doesn't mean it's not profitable to work there. Tax records for this tax-exempt group showed that at least seven Adventist execs had annual packages worth more than $1 million. And Jernigan's $3.5 million was more than the top administrators of the famed Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins Health System made … combined.
Best progress: Reforming Florida's Blood Centers. After nearly a solid year, this nonprofit agency that has been involved in many questionable big-money deals has finally started making some of the reforms it previously refused … just in time for state Senate hearings about to commence.
Biggest disappointment: Imprisoned innocents. Despite proof that innocent people have been imprisoned in Brevard County — three men have already been exonerated — none of the state officials who could call for an independent investigation into the matter has done so. National justice groups think others were wrongly placed behind bars as well. But Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and State Attorney Norm Wolfinger continue to ignore the calls to action.
I was wrong — about Tanya Juarez. When Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Juarez to the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, I ripped him for it. Juarez, after all, was a registered lobbyist (which was the last thing this steeped-in-politics board needed). I still think we need more public watchdogs than political insiders on government boards. But Juarez proved you can't judge a book by its cover. She ended up being the only member of this beleaguered, business-as-usual agency to regularly stand up for toll-payers, question the status quo and challenge Mayor Rich Crotty and the "culture of corruption." And I know many toll-payers who are grateful she did.
Best evidence that I'm an idiot: Sure, there were several entries in this category. But the one you guys seemed to like best was the misfired "to-do" list. That was when I was compiling a list of some of the life-altering decisions handled in civil court for an upcoming column on judicial appointments and fired off an e-mail to myself that said: "To do: divorce, custody, alimony, mortgage foreclosure." Except I didn't send it to myself. I sent it to my wife … my lovely, patient and very understanding wife.Scott Maxwell, who wishes all of you a happy and oops-free 2010, can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-6141.