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The Buzz: Florida politics 2004

GOP leaders not expecting to win in Davis' district

By Times Staff Writers
Published April 18, 2004

Looks like Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa can keep his eyes on the 2006 gubernatorial race without worrying about re-election this year. With less than a month before the filing deadline, no heavyweight Republican has emerged to take him on.

Though the district sits in what is arguably the most important Florida media market for President Bush's campaign, the National Republican Congressional Committee has no plans to commit resources to a Democratic-leaning district.

"It's not cut out for a Republican to win," said state Rep. Sandra Murman of Tampa, who faces term limits and might seem like a logical candidate. Instead, she's aiming for state Sen. Tom Lee's seat in 2006.

The only Republican who has filed papers indicating his intention to challenge Davis is something of mystery.

Herbert Lane Coachman, 65, in 1996 filed to challenge U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, but failed to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. The Tampa phone number Coachman included on his campaign papers has been disconnected and he could not be reached for comment. Records show he filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

John Kerry kicks off the week of presidential activity in Florida, and President Bush concludes it. The president will make his 21st trip to Florida on Friday to give a speech in Naples on volunteer service. He also will attend Republican Party fundraisers in Naples and Coral Gables.

The battle cry from the Florida House the past two months has been that too many groups are seeking to clutter up the Constitution, and it is time to tighten the rules for citizen initiatives.

But House members can't help themselves. They've filed 26 proposed constitutional amendments, on subjects as varied as reapportionment, parental notification for abortion, term limits, an extra $25,000 homestead exemption for teachers, a ceiling on state spending and the voting rights of convicted felons. That does not include the three proposed ballot questions that deal directly with changes to the constitutional amendment process.

Speaking of constitutional amendments, a self-described "ordinary citizen" in St. Petersburg has his own plan for reining in Florida state lawmakers' recent propensity for calling special sessions. David Westmark received approval last week from the state Division of Elections for a political action committee called Citizens for Sensible Special Sessions.

Westmark's plan: Launch a citizen initiative drive that would prohibit lawmakers from collecting any travel or per diem reimbursements for special sessions called because they failed to pass a budget during the regular 60-day session. Special sessions are estimated to cost taxpayers about $40,000 a day.

"It's a token penalty, but I'm just trying to make a point," Westmark said.

Senate President Jim King has a nickname for House Appropriations Chairman Bruce Kyle, R-Fort Myers: "The fox terrier."

The unusual tag dates back to King's early days in the Senate, when he was majority leader. One day the clean-cut, slightly built Kyle paid a visit.

"Kyle was going to hold up all of the stuff I had because I wasn't doing something," King recalled. "I didn't know who he was, so I called Rep. Mike Fasano and said, "Who is this guy, he's over here offering threats to me. Why don't you call off the fox terrier and send me a true, honest to goodness dog."'

"I had no idea who he was," King said. "I was majority leader of the Senate and had already been majority leader in the House. I thought this guy ought to be paying me homage and all of a sudden he was over here, yip, yip yip."

Now that Kyle is in charge of the budget in the House, King still calls him a fox terrier: "He's become quite formidable."

Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, plans an unusual political debut in the Tampa Bay area. The Jewish lawmaker who handed out "schlepper bags" last year will tout his support for a tougher seat belt law during an hourlong Christian radio show on WTBN (AM-570 and AM-910) with follow-ups in Orlando and in King's hometown of Jacksonville.

"Jesus loves seat belts," Slosberg says.

His bill would allow police to pull over and ticket drivers when they spot unbuckled drivers. Slosberg hopes to pressure King who has vowed to block the measure that sailed through the House earlier this session. King says it invites racial profiling.

- Times staff writers Joni James, Steve Bousquet, Lucy Morgan and Jennifer Liberto contributed to this week's column.

[Last modified April 22, 2004, 08:39:27]

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