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The Buzz: Florida politics 2004

Graham, Nelson hope for a spot on Kerry's ticket

By Times staff writers
Published March 7, 2004

BILL NELSON OR BOB GRAHAM as John Kerry's running mate? Both of Florida's U.S. senators (Nelson subtly, Graham blatantly) have expressed interest. Graham offers gravitas, Nelson the astronaut thing. (He flew on the space shuttle).

Here's a point in Graham's favor: If a Kerry-Nelson ticket won the White House, Gov. Jeb Bush would appoint a Republican senator. In Nelson's favor: His longtime media consultant, Bob Shrum, is a Kerry adviser. That's the same Bob Shrum who worked with Al Gore in 2000 when Graham did not make the veep cut.

Score another for Graham: When both senators joined Kerry in Orlando Wednesday, it looked for a moment that Graham would not get a seat next to the Massachusetts senator, until Kerry guided him to his side. Kerry also heaped a bit more praise on Florida's senior senator and threw his hands on Graham's back and arm, while Nelson smiled off to the side.

NOW THAT KERRY is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Tuesday's Florida presidential primary is anticlimactic. The election will go on with nine Democrats on the presidential ballot. Dozens of Florida cities and towns will have local elections.

The real action will be outside the polling places. Hundreds of people toting clipboards will be stationed outside precincts gathering signatures for citizen initiatives seeking a spot on the November ballot.

Many of the signature gatherers are paid for every name they get. The Legislature is considering making it harder to amend the state constitution.

Florida's chief financial officer, Tom Gallagher, says a private company will collect signatures for an initiative to remove high speed rail from the constitution. Gallagher and Gov. Jeb Bush lead the drive, and their group, Derail the Bullet Train DEBT, has a new Web site:

"We have a very short time frame," Gallagher said, "and I think the only way to meet it is to have people paid." Train opponents have to get 50,000 signatures to get a legal review from the state Supreme Court, and they have until Aug. 8 to collect all 488,000 signatures.

HOUSE DEMOCRATS held a closed-door caucus Thursday in the room at the back of the chamber known as "the bubble." Reporters were kept out, but House Minority Leader Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine, could be seen through the glass, lecturing members animatedly.

Wiles was upset that two Democrats, Reps. Dwight Stansel of Wellborn and Will Kendrick of Carrabelle, had just flown the Democratic coop. Their votes were critical in passing a bill granting a public records exemption to some operations at an Alzheimer's research institute at USF. The Democratic caucus opposed the bill, but Stansel and Kendrick supported it.

"I'll take the hit for not communicating a caucus position to them," Wiles said. "I'll just leave it at that."

Guess you can't call them sheep.

REPUBLICAN U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE Bill McCollum signed the state GOP's "11th Commandment" pledge, but his disdain was palpable.

Party Chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan told every GOP Senate hopeful to sign a clean campaign pledge by Thursday or face being denied access to party events.

"I will continue to run a campaign based on facts and issues," McCollum wrote.

Jordan is dismayed by the nasty tone of the campaign, and McCollum has been doing most of the early hitting. She didn't like McCollum's video ad posted on his campaign Web site that called rival Mel Martinez a "trial lawyer" and compared Martinez to Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards.

A JOKE IS making the rounds in Washington about the two most aggressive candidates (read: potentially nasty campaigners) running this year for Florida's Senate seat.

If Democrat Peter Deutsch and Republican Bill McCollum were playing Survivor, the joke goes, who would win? Neither one. They would be so busy attacking each other, they'd forget to find shelter, gather food or build a fire.

THE STRUGGLE OVER whether to limit damage awards against doctors and hospitals took up much of lawmakers' time in 2003, pitting the Senate against the House and Senate President Jim King against the Florida Medical Association.

King told senators he's having trouble getting a list of "doctors of the day," who serve in case of illness or injury. "I asked the FMA to submit a list of doctors for doctor of the day," King quipped. "I think it's somewhat symbolic that they sent me a list of proctologists."

- Times staff writers Adam C. Smith, Alisa Ulferts and Steve Bousquet contributed to this column. Got a tip for The Buzz? E-mail or call 850 224-7263.

[Last modified March 7, 2004, 01:35:55]

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