Citizen activism and public interest, that is.
When Florida legislators swung through town this week, hundreds of Central Floridians poured into the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre to demand that politicians treat them, their money and democracy with more respect.
So I'm here to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what went down — everything from the best zingers to the legislator who seemed more interested in his Facebook account than in what his constituents were saying.
The numbers. Big. Legislative aides said the crowd of more than 600 was the highest turnout they've seen around the state. We saw about 400 at one of the two Orlando sessions. So go on with your bad selves, Central Florida.
The crowd: Young, old, conservative, liberal, white, black, Hispanic, men, women. This was the proverbial melting pot, with retirees standing alongside students from University of Central Florida. Many took off time from work. Most were informed about the issues.
The message, part 1: Stop gerrymandering. Most residents were sick of Florida's long and sordid history of gerrymandering. They want politicians to stop drawing long, snake-like districts that split communities in two and leave them with so-called "representatives" that live so far away they're never seen.
The message, part 2: Respect our vote. Several speakers also expressed outrage that Speaker Dean Cannon (who was MIA) and the Florida House were spending their tax money to try to overturn their vote for Fair Districts.
The message, part 3: We want a minority district. Black residents said they wanted districts tailor-made to elect black officials. Hispanic leaders said the same thing for their community. Both feared having no voice in Tallahassee and Washington … which, by the way, is how a whole lot of white people feel, too.
Mixed messages: You can't exactly create fair districts for all and special districts for some.
The politicians: Bunches of them showed up. In fact, it was impressive to see about 40 legislators listening intently to what their constituents had to say — everyone from Republicans Andy Gardiner and Scott Plakon to Democrats Scott Randolph and Geraldine Thompson. Still, not everyone paid their constituents such respect, which brings us to …
The clod: That would be State Rep. Chris Dorworth, who seemed more interested in his BlackBerry and iPad than in anything his constituents had to say.
Dorworth managed to type, tap, browse and Facebook during testimony from dozens of people — everyone from a 79-year-old pastor to a blind civil-rights activist.
Those around him noticed.
So did anyone who visited his Facebook page later in the day, where his page showed that, around 3 p.m. — smack-dab in the middle of the 2-4 p.m. hearing — Dorworth became the 803rd person to "like" a Facebook page belonging to a plastic-surgery clinic in Palm Beach.
The featured image on the PBSurgery's fan page: A bikini-clad woman with a particularly toned tush. (Maybe she, too, had concerns about fairly drawn districts.)
The plastic-surgery clinic is now listed as one of Dorworth's "interests" … right alongside Florida Right to Life.
Dorworth, by the way, hopes to be a future House Speaker.
Dorworth later said he was listening to every word. But, after being told we caught most of his Facebooking and iPad-ing on video (watch it at OrlandoSentinel.com/takingnames), he apologized.
"I was multitasking," he responded. "And if anybody felt disrespected by that, then I am truly sorry. Even if they didn't, I should have known better."
Still, he wanted residents to know that they "gave great insight into the central Florida area, and I am grateful for their time and their commitment to the community."
The runner-up: Coming in second place in the disrespecting-your-constituents contest: Sen. Gary "Droopy Drawers" Siplin.
The Orlando Democrat reminded me of my fidgety 8-year-old son. He was able to sit still and listen for an hour. Unfortunately, this was a two-hour hearing. So Siplin simply began wandering the stage, talking to whomever would listen — including other lawmakers trying to listen to residents at the hearing.
Admittedly, the Siplin sideshow didn't last long. But it was interesting to see all this from a guy who claimed the state needed to regulate the way kids wear their pants … to enforce respect.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-6141
Copyright © 2011, Orlando Sentinel
Residents take to streets; Dorworth took to Facebook