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The Buzz: Florida politics

Rouson takes the Republican plunge

By Times staff writers
Published September 25, 2005

He's been courted by the likes of Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist and legions of Tampa Bay Republican activists. Last week, Darryl Rouson, the never dull former president of the St. Petersburg NAACP, took the plunge and became a Republican.

"It's our heritage, and it can be our legacy," said Rouson, invoking past Republicans including Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and Frederick Douglass. "I know it's not a very popular thing among a lot of African-Americans, but I just believe we should be at every table and speak the truth."

The St. Petersburg lawyer and vocal antidrug crusader had already widely been seen as a closet Republican, but he was registered with no party affiliation.

His party switch comes at a time when some Republicans are worried their party's efforts to chip away at a crucial Democratic voting block was badly damaged by the images of many African-Americans left behind in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Rouson said that he initially thought racism played a role in the clumsy response to Katrina but that he came to see that the New Orleans mayor and Louisiana governor, both Democrats, shared much of the blame.

Rouson avidly supports Republican Attorney General Charlie Crist for governor, and he has no plans to run for office himself: "I am running for the deposit line at the local bank, and anyone who wants to run with me can."

TANNED AND RESTED: Not even a fast-approaching tropical storm can shut down legislative fundraising in Florida. As residents of the Keys fled northward on Monday to escape Rita and Miami-Dade and Broward counties sharpened their disaster plans, a small group of House Republicans and lobbyists - all of them women - were relaxing at the elegant Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables for the second annual "Spa Day."

For the tidy sum of $3,000 or $4,000 - checks payable to "House Majority 2006," thank you - the lobbyists got Swedish massages, facials, pedicures, manicures, haircuts and even a free yoga class. (What? No personal improvement seminar?) It was a small event, said Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, an organizer, and the approaching storm was not an impediment. "By the time the watches and warnings came up, most people were already there," Bogdanoff said.

By chance, we encountered rejuvenated-looking lobbyist Victoria Zepp as she arrived home Tuesday at the Tallahassee airport. "It was great," Zepp said.

Only about 20 people showed up, but the image of elected officials getting rubdowns while their constituents scrambled for bottled water and batteries could be a little tough to defend at the height of hurricane season. Bogdanoff said the event was scheduled in May.

A second GOP fundraising event scheduled for Monday didn't fare as well. A $2,500-per-person reception honoring Rep. Marco Rubio as speaker-designate at the Chispa restaurant in Coral Gables was canceled due to the weather.

EMILY'S (NOT QUITE) ABSENT: Alex Sink, the retired banking executive and Democratic candidate for chief financial officer, has long been a benefactor and favorite of Emily's List, the fundraising group that helps Democratic women. But Sink says the organization won't play a big role in fundraising for her CFO race, because Emily's List doesn't work on down-ballot races.

Still, one of the first campaign staffers hired by Sink, Kerene Tayloe, came recommended by Emily's List, which helped train her. Meanwhile, Sink has set up her campaign shop at Ybor City's Buchman building. "It's Democratic Party central," said Sink, whose neighbors in the building include Democratic congressional candidates Kathy Castor, Scott Farrell and Les Miller, and former Senate candidate Betty Castor.

SCHIAVO POLITICS: Terri Schiavo has the power to move hearts, minds and wallets in the 2006 election cycle. In a fundraising letter in support of Rep. Jim Davis' campaign for governor, former Sen. Bob Graham recalls an earlier time: "Back when Lawton Chiles and I led the state, Florida was governed from the center, a place where good ideas trumped rigid ideology."

Graham goes on to say: "We need to look no further than the travesty made of the case of Terri Schiavo to see how the current administration has abandoned mainstream, sensible values in favor of the politics of division and discord. Tallahassee has become a very different place." Graham doesn't mention Charlie Crist or Tom Gallagher, and Davis will face one or the other if he wins the Democratic nomination. Crist and Gallagher have staked out sharply different positions on the Schiavo issue: Crist praised the independence of the judges who opposed efforts to reinsert the brain-damaged woman's feeding tube, while Gallagher supported legislative intervention.

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

[Last modified September 25, 2005, 02:15:40]

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