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Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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O’Neill: Dockery says GOP needs to regain ‘common sense’

Think Mike Fasano or Mark Sharpe. Hell, think Nelson Rockefeller. Republicans who could go right of center without disappearing off the spectrum. Now they seem like an endangered species. They’re called “RINOs,” Republicans in name only, and other such unflattering political labels — including “moderates.”

Well, one of those “moderate” Republicans not swooned over by the increasingly Teed-Off Party is Paula Dockery. The Lakeland resident was a fixture in the Florida Legislature for 15 years before being term limited out of the Senate last year. She had gained a reputation for being outspoken — as well as someone who favored gut instinct over knee-jerk ideology. That she is a GOPster revered by environmentalists speaks volumes. She’s the author of the Florida Forever bill and could bedeck a few walls with plaques and awards ranging from The Nature Conservancy and Coastal Conservation Society to the Florida Wildlife Association and the Sierra Club.

She’s a political commentator in her current incarnation — writing statewide political editorials, talking to groups such as the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa and dropping in for guest appearances on WEDU’s “Florida This Week” political roundtable with Rob Lorei. By all accounts, she’s still good copy.

She’s a Florida Gators and NASCAR-loving fiscal conservative who doesn’t believe in outsized and intrusive government. For example, she’s against government “picking winners and losers” with incentive packages to recruit businesses. On the other hand, she’s against prison privatization and didn’t agree with turning down high-speed rail or Medicaid expansion dollars.

Her feisty sound bites were much in evidence at a recent Tiger Bay gathering.

Dockery, 52, said she represents the “silent majority” of the Republican Party, a party increasingly identified with stentorian, polarizing partisans — and Washington gridlock. She has a deep distrust of “obstructionists,” she stressed, and those unwilling to work across the aisle. No surprise that when asked by Audubon of Florida News what her “proudest accomplishment” was in her last legislative session, she answered: “Stopping bad legislative policy from passing.”

Dockery is clearly unhappy with the governing bar set so low. She’s also frustrated that she’s considered too “moderate” on issues as diverse as parent trigger, voter purges and immigration.

“I just don’t know what has happened to my party,” she lamented. “There are Republicans who feel disenfranchised within their own party.”

The GOP needs to regain “common sense,” she emphasized.

“This birtherism and name-calling is so frustrating to me. There’s so much misinformation spread. You don’t threaten to shut down government over an issue. Whether you like Obamacare or not, it’s the law of the land. It’s exceeded all legal challenges. Rather than try to stop it, why not try in good faith to sit down and change it? Shutting down the government is a ridiculous strategy for Republicans.

“We need to be more tolerant of others’ views,” underscored Dockery. “A lot of Republicans long for the days of Ronald Reagan, the adult in the room. I mean Jeb Bush a RINO?”

And then she pivoted to address all that she didn’t agree on with Gov. Rick Scott — from Florida Polytechnic to pay-to-play politics involved in the Sarasota rowing park funding. And, yes, she is the same Paula Dockery who was briefly considered as Scott’s running mate. Now he’s more like a running sore to Dockery. She saw the duplicitous underbelly of the erstwhile political “outsider” during the general election.

To add additional context: Dockery had been an early player in the 2010 gubernatorial primary until it became apparent that the playing field was tilted the wrong way. Bill McCollum virtually invited competition, to be sure, but Scott was a different story, explained Dockery. He wasn’t just an outsider in an anti-incumbent year. It was dauntingly apparent, she recalled, that “He has money, and I don’t.” End of Dockery campaign.

Scott, however, actually asked Dockery if she would be his “go-to” person on key issues. And they, indeed, talked periodically, although Dockery admits, “I’m not good at holding my tongue.” High-speed rail, to say the least, was a major matter. As well as a relationship tipping point.

At one point, said Dockery, Scott told her that he had decided that he was going to take the high-speed rail money.

“Two weeks later, he held a press conference and announced he was sending the money back,” she said. “No heads up. Everything he said about why he was rejecting it was factually incorrect. ... To add insult to injury, he allowed SunRail.”

In effect, Dockery, who keeps saying she has “no political aspirations,” has gone from “go to” to gone. Candidly, she’s as perplexed as she is piqued.

“I see a lot of Republicans and Democrats and independents who are not satisfied with their governor,” she noted. “He had the ability to be independent. That’s the real head-scratcher.”

Dockery outtakes:

* “If Republicans lose the U.S. Congress, then that’s when things will change.”

* “Ted Cruz: such a dangerous person.”

* “Chris Christie: He’s so popular. Why? He’s actually exercising some common sense.”

* “I don’t think Jeb’s going to outgrow his legacy.”

* “I’m proud of Marco Rubio for his immigration stand.”

* “I can’t see a scenario by which I would stand by a Scott administration. ... I’d like to see an independent get in.”

* “If I were to leave the (Republican) party, I would become an NPA (No Party Affiliation). It’s about picking the right person – not voting the party line.”

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