BY BUDDY NEVINS
Tallahassee’s remote location fosters a lack of accountability, a disregard for the public good in the Legislature and corruption.
That’s what a new study led by Harvard researchers Filipe Campante, David Chor and Quoc-Anh Do found. They were studying the role of a state capital’s location in good government.
Their findings found:
- Isolated capital cities “are robustly associated with greater levels of corruption.”
- “Isolated capital cities also seem to spend relatively less on things like education, public welfare, and health care, and more on administrative expenditures.”
- “People who live in counties that are closer to the state capital are more likely to turn out in state elections.
- “Campaign contributions are actually higher in states with isolated capitals, belying the fear that having the capital in a major economic center would lead to a greater risk of capture of state politics by economic interests.”
Sounds like Tallahassee to me.
In fact, Tallahassee is singled-out in the study.
I’ve been harping about this for years — here and previously in my Sun-Sentinel column.
Most of the voters never visit Tallahassee to express their views on issues or watch what is happening.
Its a pain to get to Tallahassee. Its a ridiculously expensive plane ride or a tedious 450-mile drive from Fort Lauderdale so who’s going up to testify at a committee hearing or to watch our legislators at work (and play)?
Many lawmakers — maybe most — like working in the dark. I got this straight from the horse’s mouth.
I once complained to a state senator about the remoteness of capital while squeezed in next to him on a ride back in one of those tiny planes that serve Tallahassee.
“We like it that way,” he said. “Who wants the constituents seeing what we do?”
And he was serious.
Would it make a difference on social issue and gun control if votes were cast nearer the urban centers of Florida? Could legislators be so quick to bow to the wishes of special interests if more citizens were watching?
What about downright stealing?
On the chart below of state capitals, Florida is high on the corruption/remoteness scale.
Corruption was measured by federal convictions and a data base development involving Internet searches of wrongdoing in the nation’s state capitals.
It then correlated with other factors like voters turnout to measure involvement and newspaper coverage of state affairs.
Using newspaper coverage is based on the assumption that government accountability requires that the the public be made aware of government issues through the media. Newspaper coverage and peoples’ awareness of what is happening in state government decreases the farther away the capital is located, the study found.
“Newspapers do tend to give state politics greater coverage when their audience is more concentrated around the capital,” the researchers write.
None of this is a surprise to me.
It is nice to see a study’s findings backing up what I’ve always contended:
Tallahassee is in the wrong place and its isolation fosters bad government.
The chart (click to enlarge) measures the data used by the researchers to study the distance of the state capitals from population centers with corruption. Florida’s Tallahassee (450 miles from Southeast Florida and hundreds of miles from other population centers) and New York’s Albany (more than 100 miles from New York City) are high on the scale. States like Colorado have relatively low corruption because its capital
(Denver) is also the population center, according to the findings.
Notes: Corruption = Federal convictions of public officials for corruption-‐related crime (average 1976-2002); Independent variables: AvgLogDistancenot (average 1920‐1970)