Dockery Works Around ‘Time-Out'

Published: Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 11:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 11:51 p.m.

If the Florida Senate has a consumer advocate, it must be Sen. Paula Dockery.

In her final year as a senator — she has reached her term limit — Dockery has pushed:

For reform of Senate ethics for a fifth-straight year.

For a constitutional amendment to give voters a veto over certain types of legislation that becomes state law.

Against prison privatization, which she says is not the cost-saving panacea proclaimed by its proponents.

Dockery's efforts are worthy and have drawn praise around the state, but have been conducted from a different perspective this year and last.

The Lakeland Republican became well known across Florida for her two-year fight against a state proposal to buy 61 miles of metro-Orlando railway from the CSX Corp. for a commuter-rail project called SunRail.

Through 2008 and 2009, Dockery opposed SunRail, and aspects of CSX frieght expansion in Polk County, on principle and with a fusillade of facts. Dockery did so with such energy that she seemed to be the only opponent at times.

Topping her list of anti-Floridian facts was:

The cost, which she pegged in a May 2008 Ledger op-ed column at a total of more than $1.2 billion, including a purchase price of $150 million for the CSX tracks and $440 million to double the tracks along a portion of the line.

The inappropriateness and potential cost to the state of indemnifying CSX. That meant that the state would be responsible for damages in a crash or other incident on the Orlando-area commuter tracks, which CSX would still use at night, even if the damages were the fault of CSX.

"Why not just have CSX retain ownership and let us pay the company the $2.5 million to $10 million to run commuter rail on its tracks?" Dockery wrote in her column.

As it turns out, her efforts in the SunRail struggles would reach beyond the Legislature's December 2009 decision in a special session to approve the commuter-rail agreement.

Dockery was not the sole SunRail opponent, despite appearances. After all, she built sufficient support among her Florida Senate colleagues to repeatedly push away the project. Even the final Senate vote, spiced with prospective new jobs in a poor economy as well as local-funding promises, was 27-10.

However, among those on the other side of Dockery was SunRail supporter Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

Last year, Haridopolos became senate president. It appears that his memory of Dockery's efficacy and stick-to-itiveness still chafes.

"The Senate president has put me in kind of a time-out," Dockery said Tuesday night in Tallahassee during a meeting between Ledger editors and the Polk County legislative delegation.

Specifically, as Haridopolos prepared for his Senate presidency in November 2010, he said Dockery would not fit in with his team of committee chairmen.

"There's a lot of tough committee assignments, and she didn't get one," he said.

Thus, her outside-looking-in strategy. She told the editors her new approach is rewarding and described it as "working to stop bad things."

As a result, Dockery said, "Now, I am hearing from people outside of our five-county area." Requests for her to take on out-of-area issues as a people's advocate have been steady, she said.

The demand for Dockery's expertise — both within her Polk-based district and without — serves us all well and is a testament to her determination to fully represent the people as a Florida state senator.

[ Glenn Marston is editorial page editor. Email: glenn.marston@theledger.com. Phone: 863-802-7600. ]

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