COCOA, Fla. (AP) _ New Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos finished writing a book on politics for Brevard Community College four years ago, getting $152,000 in taxpayer money for the effort.
But those who want to read “Florida Legislative History and Processes” won’t find it at any bookstore or library _ the single available copy of the 175-page, double-spaced manuscript can only be read at the school.
College administrators swear that’s about to change, but they also acknowledge the 2003 arrangement negotiated by then-president Thomas Gamble with Haridopolos, then teaching at Brevard, was highly unusual and expensive.
The book also doesn’t come close to meeting the original contract’s call for a publishable, textbook-quality look at the development of the Florida Legislature, state constitution, the governor’s office and judiciary from pre-statehood until present. But college officials say the book, mostly Haridopolos’ advice on running for office, is useful and will soon be distributed to students.
“I thought that the book was a very fine piece of work as a primer in the political process,” current President Jim Drake said last week. He wasn’t with the school when the deal was struck. “I thought it was a fine contribution to the college.”
Haridopolos, who lists his occupation as college professor (he’s actually a University of Florida lecturer, a lower rank than professor) and professional author, is seeking the Republican U.S. Senate nomination next year. He didn’t return calls for comment on this story or respond to e-mails.
In an unrelated case, the Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously last week that he should be given a letter of admonition but not fined for failing to fully disclose his financial interests between 2004 through 2008. He omitted information such as his UF earnings and the names of his consulting firm’s clients. He also misstated the values of a home and mortgage. He says those were unintentional mistakes.
Haridopolos began teaching history at Brevard Community College in 1994, shortly after obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Stetson University and his master’s from the University of Arkansas.
In 1998, he worked with another Brevard professor, Amy Hendricks, whose last name is now Locklear, on a book, “10 Big Issues Facing Our Generation.” Locklear said the book was Haridopolos’ idea and was its driving force. He set the direction of the book, writing in bullet points and pushing the project to completion, while she did more of the writing.
The book took issues that were then-important and Haridopolos gave the conservative argument and Locklear the liberal. A conclusion was drawn on each. They wrote and published it themselves, not under contract with the school. Locklear, now a dean at a Texas college, said writing it was fun, but they only made maybe $500 each.
In 2000, Haridopolos was elected to the state House in his first run for office. Three years later, he was elected to the Senate in a special election. It was about that time that Haridopolos and the school began negotiating the deal for “Florida Legislative History and Processes.” The deal said Haridopolos, who also started a political consulting business, would receive $38,166.36 annually for four years to write the book instead of a regular teaching assignment. He was also getting about $30,000 annually as his Senate salary and, according to his revised financial forms, earning about $25,000 as a consultant.
Locklear, who was a Brevard department chair when the book deal was struck but had no part in its negotiation, said its scope was unique.
“At a community college, in my opinion, yes, it’s unusual, I’ve never seen one like it,” she said, adding, “Not everyone has a senator on the faculty.”
E-mails recently obtained by The Associated Press indicate administrators believed that having the new senator remain on staff, even if he wasn’t teaching regularly, could provide “intangible benefits” for the college.
Gamble, who retired in 2006, shortly before he died of cancer, wrote a letter to the board of trustees in 2005, defending the project after Florida Today, the local newspaper, started asking about the deal. Gamble wrote it was a special honor to have a senator on the faculty.
“His roles in the Florida Legislature have provided unique access to both houses in Tallahassee,” Gamble wrote.
He also said that book would be printed by a traditional publisher and predicted it would be popular and make money for the school.
But the e-mails show that behind the scenes, Gamble was getting worried.
In an e-mail to Haridopolos, Gamble said he was preparing for an interview with a Florida Today reporter and urged the senator to send as much material as he could, including time spent on the book, that showed work was being done to complete the project.
“My concern is that when the reporter comes to meet with me, that I have the basic requirements in hand and on file,” Gamble wrote. “I will also try to delay the meeting until later in the week. Please provide as much of the above requested information as you can as quickly as you can.”
He also sent Haridopolos a letter saying he wasn’t meeting a contractual requirement to document in detail his time working on the book.
Haridopolos began sending monthly reports, but they didn’t have many specifics. Typically, he would list what he read, often times simply saying “newspaper and magazine articles.”
The time logs also listed several books he read, but most had no connection to what Haridopolos eventually submitted. It included biographies on presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, books by television political commentators Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity, another written by the executive director of the Christian Coalition and one called “Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America.”
During this time, Drake, the current president, says, Gamble agreed that Haridopolos could change the focus of the book to current politics. No revisions were made to the contract, however.
The manuscript Haridopolos submitted in 2007 is basic politics and government, aimed toward an audience that wouldn’t have any idea of how government or campaigns work, to the point where he explains that the Legislature is made up of two branches, the House and Senate. Most of it should be basic knowledge for lawmakers or candidates, little research is apparent.
“At a minimum a candidate must know his own position on all the important issues. On the campaign trail, he will be asked about his positions by members of the public, by the media, and possibly by interest groups,” is one typical piece of advice.
It gives virtually no specific details of Haridopolos’ own experiences either as a candidate or a legislator. When he does mention real-life issues the Legislature faced, he mentions it in passing without describing the major points in the legislative or legal debates. For example, he does that in the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Tampa woman whose familial battle between 1998 and 2005 over whether she should be allowed to die became national news and involved the Florida and federal governments. He also misspelled her name.
The school was supposed to get 50 free copies once the book was published, but it no longer plans to publish it in traditional bound form. Drake said the school is attempting to put it online.
He said the idea now is to use segments of the manuscript for different classes. He is working with Haridopolos to find a way the senator can interact with students when it’s used, such as video conferences or having students exchange questions and answers with Haridopolos by text message.
He acknowledges, though, that Haridopolos’ arrangement was unusual and compensation was much more than normal. The school has internationally known authors on staff, and they are sometimes given paid leaves or sabbaticals to work on books, but the four-year arrangement with Haridopolos isn’t typical, he said.
“I’m not familiar with one in which where is a leave given over an extended period of time unless the research purpose is so compelling,” Drake said. “This appears to be an instance of one.”