Dockery’s Bal…, er, Courage Wins Respect, Even From Opponents

It’s a big day for the CSX deal, though today’s hearing won’t settle the issue either way. It’s probably more vital for the supporters than opponents. But one way or another, this battle will unfold right up until they drop the hankie to end the session. Win or lose, though, neutral observers and even formerly harsh critics are finally giving Sen. Paula Dockery her due for the courageous and skillful fight she’s waged on behalf of the people of the city and state she represents.

The St. Pete Times “Buzz” political blog named her “Winner of the Week” last week. And yesterday, in a remarkable column titled “Sunrail foe kicking our butts,” Orlando Sentinel writer Mike Thomas praised Dockery’s game – and thumped his own editorial page – while reiterating his support for the deal. You may remember Thomas as the guy who wrote last year that “Our Dan Webster can beat up their Paula Dockery.”

This is what he’s writing now:

I’m a choo-choo guy.

But still I can admire the way Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland is kicking our butts on SunRail. She led the charge to kill it last year. She has even odds of doing so again this year.

Watching her take on our local legislators is watching a woman among boys.

And there’s this:

She is constantly on the attack, leaving train supporters constantly on the defensive. Our editorial board has called her a saboteur and accused her of selfish interests.

But she only is doing her job. The commuter-rail deal would direct freight traffic that now runs through Orlando through her hometown of Lakeland.

We wouldn’t like it if the tables were reversed. We would demand Lee Constantine stop it.

Dockery’s opponents say it is much easier to gum up the works on a big project than get it approved.

Making it even easier is that SunRail comes as budgets for everything else, including schools, are being slashed.

“This is all about [legislators] having to face the music when they get back home,” says Constantine. “I increased taxes and cut services, but I voted for that train in Orlando. That’s the issue.”

I would only add that it’s not “that train in Orlando” but “CSX’s Florida business plan” that legislators will pay for, but I’ll take it.

Thomas’ column is the first full-throated recognition by a deal supporter of the legitimacy of the positions of its opponents. It’s a shame it came this late. Who knows what might have happened if supporters had approached all of this with intellectual honesty, not aristocratic arrogance?

I’ve long since given up predicting whether this deal will happen. Who knows? I thought we were dead this year when the trial lawyers made their separate peace. But I underestimated Paula Dockery. Should have known better.