This column is a vehicle for a number of items in a bits-and-pieces, strictly opinion, sometimes irreverent format. Look for "Just Sayin'" to run once a week in this spot.
The Semblers Were in Tallahassee to Collect
You had to know Mel and Betty Sembler weren't in Tallahassee this week to check out the remodeled Capitol. Actually, what they're in town doing is collecting on their campaign favors.
Cashing in on their investment.
The biggest IOU belongs to Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, who is sponsoring HB 3525, Drug Free America -- Marijuana Abuse Prevention Outreach Program.
What HB 3525 does is give half a million dollars to the Semblers' disgraced STRAIGHT, Inc. spinoff, Drug Free America Foundation.
Yes, $500,000. For the same fraudulent outfit, different name.
The state of Florida is going to use DFAF as its official source of marijuana education. Don't ask me how. The bill doesn't make that clear.
I hope all Grant's constituents in Tampa are paying attention. Especially the ones who asked him to go to bat for their appropriation but he didn't, and the ones who will see theirs cut to the bone without a fight. I hope they feel heartened knowing instead of their project or program, Florida will get more STRAIGHT justice from the bringers-of-misery Semblers.
With STRAIGHT, Inc, which Mel and Betty Sembler founded and ran for 16 years until Florida prosecutors mercifully closed the drug rehab clinics down in 1993, this millionaire couple weren't just the purveyors of pain -- sexual abuse, beatings, prisoner-of-war-style torture, client suicides and unrelenting cover-ups. They were the Don Corleone of Florida politics. And still are.
Watch "The Godfather" again. The mob boss Virgil Sollozzo was talking to, the one you know as Don Corleone, was Mel Sembler. Watch that film again and see if what I'm saying is true:
Says Sollozo, "Don Corleone, I need a man who has powerful friends. I need a million dollars in cash. I need, Don Corleone, those politicians you carry in your pocket, like so many nickels and dimes."
Now, I'm a Republican. I want to think the best of Republicans, I really do. But I'm also a compassionate conservative fed up with the kind of ethics even House Speaker Richard Corcoran can never, will never be able to change.
I'm talking about Mel Sembler, friend of the governor, the president, I'm told even the pope.
Since 1996 when the state campaign finance data base was started, the Semblers have given nearly $2.5 million in contributions to politicians or committees. Of that, $1.1 million went to the Drug Free Florida Foundation last year to fight the medical marijuana constitutional amendment. But the truth remains: So many owe so much to this couple.
What does Grant get out of his bill sponsorship? By all accounts, wants leadership some day. His HB 3525 is a sprat to catch a mackerel. I tried to call lobbyist Alan Suskey and ask, but he didn't return my call. It was Suskey schlepping the Semblers around the Capitol earlier in the week.
I'm thinking if Grant does this favor for the Semblers now, not only does he please House leadership, he gets his reward later. Unfortunately, Grant wasn't available on Friday either.
Grant has been a busy representative since he was elected in 2010. In a 2015 story, the Tampa Bay Times listed Grant as the lawmaker whose net worth has most grown since being elected. In 2010 he was worth -$5,780; by 2015, his income had shown a 2,632 percent change.
Money talks in political circles, and the Semblers are living proof of it. How else but owning the seat of power could one couple destroy so many lives, get caught doing it, stay out of jail and manage to parlay the whole thing into prime diplomatic postings. And then, somehow, some way, resurrect and repackage their old, poisonous drug program in a new and seemingly credible one?
Which taxpayers will pay for. SB 3525, Money for Drug Free America, just breezed through the House Appropriations Committee.
Cary Pigman's Blurry, Blurry Night
Jose Lambiet did it again Friday, turning up in his South Florida publication GossipExtra the overnight arrest of 58-year-old state Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park -- charged with aggravated DUI after state troopers pulled him over Thursday night on Florida's Turnpike in Port St. Lucie. State and St. Lucie County authorities weren't exactly forthcoming with the information, Lambiet said. Pigman’s mugshot has already been wiped out of the county jail’s webstie.
Pigman -- 400 miles away from the legislative action and weaving his way south -- failed the Breathalyzer test. Badly. He allegedly blew a 0.14 then 0.15 -- nearly twice the legal limit.
He said he was on his way to Okeechobee County but was miles past the Okeechobee exit when the Highway Patrol stopped his Jeep.
Lambiet explains the soap opera behind the incident:
"An emergency room doctor, Pigman’s political career hasn’t been going that great either after he was found likely to have misused his status as a state legislator last year," Lambiet wrote. "He was accused of linking his efforts to obtain funding for a school to the superintendent’s effort to fire a principal with whom Pigman had a beef. The beef originated from the fact Pigman was having an extra-marital affair with a school secretary married to the principal’s brother."
Pigman will figure out a response for reporters soon no doubt, but right now, he's not answering his phone and looks to be hiding out.