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The Buzz: Florida politics

Gallagher taps heavyweights

By Times staff writers
Published September 18, 2005

If it seems all of Tampa Bay's political heavyweights are lining up behind Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, think again. The host list for Tom Gallagher's Sept. 27 fundraiser in Tampa is like a who's who of business and community leaders. Among those hosting the $500-a-person event at the Bayshore Boulevard home of McDonald's franchise executive Blake Casper:

Former Gov. Bob Martinez; architect Carlos Alfonso; Brandon attorney Clif Curry; developer Dick Corbett; businessman John Jaeb; former Hillsborough County Commissioner Dottie Berger MacKinnon; state Rep. J.D. Alexander; John and Susan Sykes; Clearwater lawyer Ed Armstrong; Feather Sound developer Fred Bullard; developer Mike Hogan; Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce president C. Samuel Ellison; Without Walls International Church Pastor Randy White; businessman Dick Beard; and businessman J. Patrick Michaels.

FEELING THE HEAT: Lobbyists are lurking in the Capitol's shadows like never before, but it's not a shady backroom deal. It's because of energy conservation.

To save energy, the state is keeping overhead lights off, even during working hours (so much for government in the sunshine). Thermostats in some committee rooms are set at 78 degrees. Stuffy bureaucrats were shedding their suit jackets at morning meetings, and lobbyists used calendars and newspapers to fan themselves.

At a House hearing on health care, Tom Arnold's eyeglasses even fogged up. For Arnold, the state's top Medicaid official, it was the toasty conditions, not the fact that the subject of his PowerPoint presentation was: "Sample Actuarial Equivalence Results for Data Analysis."

INDUSTRY ALLIANCE: Rudy Bradley, the ethically challenged member of the Public Service Commission, is finding out who his friends are. The ex-St. Petersburg lawmaker, a Democrat turned Republican, is one of three members targeted in an ethics commission probe. With that cloud hanging over him, Bradley last week lost his bid to keep his $129,000-a-year job when a legislative committee excluded him from a list of nominees sent to Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bradley, 59, got votes from three Republicans and two Democrats on the Republican-dominated Joint Legislative Committee on PSC Oversight. One of those who stuck by Bradley was Democratic Rep. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, the House minority leader.

"I believe in diversity on the board," said Smith, who like Bradley is an African-American. "There are still questions out there on him, but I don't think they've truly been resolved in the negative on his part. ... I served with Rudy. He's a colleague. I'm shocked to see how much Republicans have abandoned him."

The Smith-Bradley alliance may be about more than race. Bradley is viewed as an ally by Florida's telecom industry, one of the few reliable sources of campaign money for the perpetually underfunded House Democrats. Smith, you may recall, agreed to a mutual nonaggression pact with the GOP in the 2004 election cycle: Because lawmakers in both parties voted for the biggest phone rate hike in Florida history, the two sides agreed not to make the rate hike a political issue in legislative races. (Yes, that's why so many of those pro-rate-hike lawmakers easily won re-election).

For an outspoken Democrat like Smith to give Jeb and the Republicans a free pass on an integrity-in-government issue raises big red flags, but Smith insists it's not about telecom money. "Definitely no," Smith said. "I pick my fights with the governor."

SETTING THE STANDARD: Florida Senate President Tom Lee said Monday that he will abstain from holding fundraising events for his bid to be Florida's next chief financial officer during any week that the state Senate is in Tallahassee for legislative business.

Lee's pledge, which would include committee weeks and any special session, goes a step beyond the Senate's current rules that no fundraising for state office can occur during the regular nine-week legislative session each spring.

"I've always felt like the statutes and the rules set the floor for conduct as a public official but the ceiling is up to you as an individual," Lee said.

Lee's ban does include a caveat, however. He said he won't necessarily abstain from holding fundraisers elsewhere, outside of Tallahassee, if an invitation is extended. "But, we'll try to avoid that," he said.

ME TOO: Last month, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher announced his team of "family policy advisers." On Wednesday, his campaign rolled out its "public safety policy team." With Attorney General Charlie Crist touting his tough-on-crime background and backing from the Police Benevolent Association, Gallagher is eager to highlight his own public safety credentials.

The campaign's public safety advisers: former Attorney General Jim Smith, the team's chairman; Bob Carver, statewide president of the Florida Professional Firefighters; George Denman, former deputy secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections; state Rep. Dick Kravitz, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee; Ray Markey, former assistant attorney general; Jeff McAdams, president of the Gainesville Fraternal Order of Police; Nancy McGowan, victim rights advocate; and Sheriff Roy Raymond of Indian River County.

POLITICAL HOTCAKES: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith noted recently an important lesson about politicking in Tampa Bay: There may be no better place to meet and greet with local politicos than the Village Inn Pancake House on Dale Mabry Highway near I-275 in Tampa, a mecca for political insiders.

Proving his point the other day were the campaign staff of his rival, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis. Spotted at the pancake house munching eggs and pancakes together were the Florida Democratic Party's new executive director, Luis Navarro; Davis congressional chief of staff Karl Koch; campaign manager Jonathan Brill; deputy campaign manager Lisa Garcia; and communications director Tait Sye. Navarro has been meeting with Democrats across the state, and said he was updating the Davis staffers on state party activities.

The Davis campaign, meanwhile, touted Davis' "August vacation" on the campaign trail. The candidate logged 11,214 miles, talking to voters in 37 counties.

Adam C. Smith, Steve Bousquet and Joni James contributed to this week's Buzz.

[Last modified September 18, 2005, 02:15:36]


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