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    Rejected reporter scoops governor's commentary

    SPIN PATROL: notes from campaign 2002.

    By Times staff writers
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 7, 2002
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    In politics, what goes around comes around. Just ask Todd Harris, the Bush campaign spokesman and designated media handler.

    Some weeks ago, Bush's campaign took a van full of newspaper reporters on an all-day caravan across a stretch of North Florida, from Starke to Green Cove Springs to Palatka to St. Augustine. The van followed a plush motor home, complete with shower, cable TV and bar, that carried the governor.

    Every reporter desperately wanted face time with Bush. After all, the trip came a day after Department of Children and Families Secretary Jerry Regier's past writings had generated such controversy. Harris got to choose the reporters, but he did not choose Alisa LaPolt of Gannett News Service, which serves mid-sized dailies in Pensacola, Melbourne and Fort Myers.

    LaPolt said she was writing about Bush for Gannett's flagship paper, USA Today. But Harris, the media-savvy gatekeeper for reporters seeking a ride on John McCain's "Straight Talk Express" in the 2000 presidential campaign, was not impressed. "I don't give a s--- about Gannett News Service," Harris said, loudly enough for the press pack to hear.

    Last week, LaPolt got some face time with the governor Harris won't soon forget.

    LaPolt landed one of the biggest stories of the campaign. During a meeting with Panhandle lawmakers and candidates, Bush talked of his "devious plans" to avoid implementing the class size amendment if it passes. Bush said his choice of words was meant sarcastically. He also said he didn't realize LaPolt was a reporter.

    If the Bush forces didn't care about Gannett News Service before, they do now.

    * * *

    The campaign season is always rife with political speculation. So try this one for size: If Gov. Jeb Bush wins re-election, his friends on the board of trustees at Florida State University might consider Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, a career educator, as FSU's next president.

    That would open a path for rising Republican star Mel Martinez to return home.

    Martinez, President Bush's secretary of Housing and Urban Development and a former Orange County Commission chairman, is said to harbor political ambitions for 2006 and would be a formidable candidate for governor.

    "I've never had a discussion with the first person about it," Brogan said of talk about the FSU job. "I'm flattered, as I know a lot of the people are whose named have been mentioned with it, but I don't have any intention."

    Brogan does not have a doctorate, as the FSU job might require, and he would face tough competition for the job. Ex-House Speaker and Tallahassee Community College President T.K. Wetherell also has been mentioned in connection with FSU's upcoming vacancy. Wetherell didn't hurt his chances by endorsing Bush's re-election two weeks ago.

    * * *

    Brogan and Tom Rossin, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, face off for their only live televised debate Thursday night in Tallahassee. The hour-long debate, featuring questions from a panel of public television and radio reporters, is being produced by WFSU-TV and will be broadcast live in Tampa Bay at 8 p.m. on PBS station WEDU.

    * * *

    Charlie Crist, Republican candidate for attorney general, says: "A vote for Charlie Crist is a vote for the environment." But that doesn't stop him from courting a group many environmentalists consider the enemy.

    Crist's campaign placed an advertisement in the newsletter of the Citizens for Florida Waterways that questions manatee protections at the expense of boaters.

    The ad, in four issues of the group's newsletter, invites readers to view his Web site, www.charliecrist.com.

    There they will find how Crist introduced legislation requiring propeller guards to prevent injuring manatees. "Unfortunately, this failed to pass and become law, but it did raise the consciousness about an important issue."

    -- Steve Bousquet, Adam Smith and Alisa Ulferts were on spin patrol. Send tips to spinpatrol@sptimes.com.

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