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The Buzz: Florida politics

Rivals miffed about PAC funds for Castor

By Times staff writers
Published August 7, 2005

In the congressional race to succeed Jim Davis, Kathy Castor's Democratic rivals were a little miffed to see that the political action committee, Campaign for Florida's Future, gave Castor $10,000.

That would be the same Campaign for Florida's Future started by Kathy's mother, Betty Castor, with leftover money from her unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign. The PAC, which Betty Castor plans eventually to turn into a nonprofit charity, is supporting assorted issues and Democratic candidates, but no candidate received as much money as Betty's daughter.

"The thing that might be questioned is if somebody gave money to (the PAC), did they want it to be spent that way?" said state Sen. Les Miller, one of Kathy Castor's opponents in the primary.

Said lawyer Scott Farrell, another candidate: "I sure hope the $700 I gave to Betty's senate campaign didn't make it's way to my opponent's account."

"I'm sorry they feel badly," said Betty Castor, sounding not especially sorry about it. "I'm sure they're going to take money from PACs, too."

The Campaign for Florida's Future reported having on hand about $223,000 as of June 30. It raised nearly $107,000 in the first half of the year and spent $258,000, including $18,308 for Betty Castor's salary as president.

HIGH PRAISE, FROM A DEMOCRAT: As a Democratic gubernatorial candidate lambasting the "special interests" controlling Tallahassee, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis probably could not have a worse Republican leading the state Senate than Tom Lee, who (with little success so far) has made it his mission to take on lobbyists and special interests.

Speaking last week to the liberal group Tampa Bay Democracy for America, even Davis had to give a nod to the Republican fellow statewide candidate from Hillsborough as he lamented the state of growth management in Florida.

"Until Tom Lee stood up to the governor and the Legislature recently, we were falling so far behind it was unbelievable," Davis said.

Of course, Democratic praise is not exactly what Lee craves in a Republican primary for chief financial officer.

SLICK ANIMALS ON PARADE: Without an election looming in his future, Jeb Bush can be thankful of at least one thing: He gets to skip the annual Possum Festival in Wausau. Gubernatorial candidates Scott Maddox, Jim Davis and Tom Gallagher attended the annual ritual that allows uptight, urban politicians to show they can relate to rural folks by, among other things, outbidding each other for greasy possums that are auctioned, over and over again, for charity.

"You donate it back so they can sell it," Bush said last week, urging Tom Lee to go. "It's one of the greatest rackets of all time."

Bush remembers the time a possum tried to bite him after he had just paid $500 for it, outbidding his 2002 Democratic opponent, Bill McBride. "Nastiest animal on the planet," Bush said (the possum, not McBride).

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith, a state senator from Alachua, has been to the festival plenty of times, but this year opted to hang out in Tampa for the Jeff Lacy-Robin Reid fight. He promised next year to take to the possum festival his campaign manager, Paul Neaville, an Arkansan who should feel right at home.

"In Arkansas, we have the coon supper," boasted Neaville, who also has dined on squirrel.

LONE STAR LAWMAKERS: It's that time of year again. State legislators are hitting the trail for conferences all over the country. Friday was "Florida Night" at the annual gathering of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, in Grapevine, Texas, near Dallas.

ALEC is a legislative think tank with a pro-Republican bent. With the state Legislature controlled by Republicans, it's natural for lobbyists to tag along.

Lobbyist Bob Levy said his clients rented a skybox at the Texas Rangers' ballpark for Wednesday's game between the Rangers and the Devil Rays, who were in town. The Greenberg Traurig law firm hosted a reception for House Speaker Allan Bense. U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Orlando, addressed an ALEC luncheon.

Two weeks from now, another convention beckons: the National Conference of State Legislatures, meeting in Seattle this year.

THIS IS REAL STRESS: Many lobbyists dread the coming of a legislative session. It means endless hours in the Capitol, long days and nights and loads of stress.

But health care lobbyist Bob Asztalos is looking forward to all of those things. He's heading to Iraq, called up as a Navy medic to help out the Marines. Asztalos leaves Monday night for a brief training stint in North Carolina before shipping out.

Asztalos, 46, is a senior chief hospital corpsman in the Navy reserves attached to a unit in Orlando. He's been in for 27 years and was last called up during the Gulf War but remained stateside as a replacement for others who went.

"They spent 27 years training me," Asztalos said last week as he prepared to leave. "If they need me and there is a job for me, I'm happy to do it."

Before moving to Florida, Asztalos lobbied in Washington for health care groups. He works with partner Pete Buigas lobbying for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes and other health care clients.

"All of my clients are sticking with me," Asztalos said Friday. "I just hope my fellow lobbyists don't do anything to screw them up."

BLOGGING BUZZ: Check out the new, online version of Buzz at for more frequent updates.

Adam C. Smith, Lucy Morgan and Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz.

[Last modified August 7, 2005, 01:29:21]

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