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Bush endorsements rile primary opponents

In a break from tradition, the governor gives early support to some incumbent state legislators.


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 8, 2002

In a break from tradition, the governor gives early support to some incumbent state legislators.

Gov. Jeb Bush has endorsed at least three incumbent state representatives who are facing opposition from fellow Republicans, but some in his party say he should have held off until after the primary election.

For example, Bush has endorsed Rep. Frank Farkas, who is seeking re-election to a St. Petersburg-area House seat. That upsets Cary Burns, who is Farkas' opponent in the Sept. 10 Republican primary.

"I believe that the party and the governor -- as the head of the party -- should stay out of primaries," Burns said.

Traditionally, that's exactly the stance Republican and Democratic leaders take. Governors, senators and party brass may help their favorite candidates behind the scenes, but many avoid publicly endorsing anyone who hasn't won the party's nomination.

Bush this year has taken a different tack in certain races. In addition to the three endorsements, he has written a complimentary e-mail to Rep. Leslie Waters, R-Seminole, Waters said. She faces two Republican opponents.

Bush said he agreed to endorse a pair of Lee County lawmakers, Reps. Jeff Kottkamp of Cape Coral and Bruce Kyle, before they drew primary opponents.

Farkas was a different story.

"He (Farkas) asked for it after he had an opponent, and I have worked with him, and I think he's done a good job," Bush said Wednesday. "It's no disrespect to the other guy, but, you know, when you work with someone, I felt compelled. But it's not an official policy that I get engaged in all these efforts. I've got my own race."

Burns said he has worked with Bush, too. He said he helped coordinate Bush's southern Pinellas County campaign in 1994, and asked for Bush's endorsement in a previous legislative race in 1996.

"Jeb called me back and said 'Cary, I'd really like to endorse you, but it's our policy not to endorse in the primary,' " Burns said.

Asked about Republicans who believe the GOP's voters should decide contested races without outside influence, Bush said: "They should, and they will. For all the endorsements that people get, I've learned in my own experience that you've got to go make your case yourself."

For his part, Farkas said he's proud that Bush agreed to take a stand for him, after Farkas approached him.

"I know he really hasn't done it in the past. I was real honored that he did it," Farkas said. He said Bush told him he had been, "a tremendous leader in the House on issues that were important to him such as education, such as prescription drugs for seniors, such as the tax issue."

Waters said she approached Bush's campaign staff and received a complimentary e-mail from Bush. She was not at a location Wednesday where she could forward the e-mail.

One of her Republican opponents, Dan Krassner, said he can understand if Bush wants to continue the working relationship he has with some legislators, but he added, "I look forward to working with the governor just as well if not better than the incumbent."

Waters' other Republican opponent, William Stieh, said, "I would rather see him hold off" and allow new voices in the party to rise to the surface.

"Anything that excludes people's message from getting out hurts everybody, and the voters suffer."

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