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The Buzz: Florida politics

'Gov. Jennings' would have been fine by Bush

By Times staff writers
Published January 29, 2006

Gov. Jeb Bush gave a passionate luncheon speech on education last week at a daylong seminar sponsored by the James Madison Institute, the think tank that promotes "limited government, individual liberty and personal responsibility." Entering the final year of his eight-year tenure, the governor offered another tantalizing bit of information for those wondering which way he's leaning in the race to choose his successor.

The answer: He prefers Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, who's not running.

"The next governor, whoever he will be, and it won't be a she - unfortunately," Bush told the heavily Republican audience. It's going to be hard for Charlie Crist or Tom Gallagher to pull an endorsement out of that. Jennings, seated a few feet away, smiled and took a sip of water.

BAKER'S FUTURE: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is raising his profile. After Baker's overwhelming re-election win in November, a writer (and friend of Baker's political consultant Adam Goodman) wrote a column in the New York Sun touting Baker as a national model for Republicans because of his ability to win big among African-Americans.

The mayor is also making the rounds of national conferences, talking up urban design concepts and how city leaders can work to improve schools. This week, state House Speaker-designate Marco Rubio, R-Miami, and Rep. Ralph Arza, R-Hialeah, who heads the House Pre-K-12 Committee, are coming to check out Baker's effort in the schools.

Combined with his leading a state growth management committee, one might think Baker is boosting his profile in preparation for another campaign. But on a taped TV interview airing today, Baker insisted he plans to finish his four-year term and all but ruled out ever running for Congress.

Governor is another matter.

"That is one that long term, someday down the road I would not rule out because it's an executive position that you can have a lot of impact on," Baker said on Political Connections, which airs today at 11 a.m. on Bay News 9. "But I'm not sure how the cards are going to fall on that. You know actually a friend of mine (Republican Attorney General Crist) is running for governor right now. I hope he gets it, and if he does ... it's likely he'll be there for eight years. So that's not a window I'm even worried about right now."

Starting Monday, the interview can be seen on Channel 340 (Tampa Bay on Demand.)

AMMUNITION FOR DEMOCRATS: As scandals go, it's not much, but the GOP's newest member faced an embarrassing transgression this week.

Rep. Sheri McInvale, R-Orlando, who jumped ship from the Democratic Party earlier this month, sent a letter to supporters offering to refund their campaign contributions because she switched parties. And she sent the letter on a House letterhead. In other words, taxpayers paid for the letter, and the postage, and the time spent typing it.

That's a no-no.

After the Buzz mentioned McInvale's letter, Towson Fraser, a spokesman for House Speaker Allan Bense, said McInvale would be reimbursing the state treasury for the cost of the letter. "It's House policy that no legislative resources be used for campaign purposes," Fraser said.

THURMAN: "GOP CULTURE OF CORRUPTION": Florida Democrats weren't about to ignore news that the Senate president-designate, Republican Ken Pruitt of Port St. Lucie, is soliciting political contributions with a mailer invoking the Boy Scouts, his own "influence over what bills are voted on," and "the radical ACLU and the anti-God left." State Democratic chairwoman Karen Thurman is calling for the Senate to consider censuring Pruitt and the state GOP to donate to the Scouts any money raised by Pruitt's pitch.

"The GOP culture of corruption that has poisoned the atmosphere of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., is being cultivated here in Tallahassee. Sen. Pruitt should do the right thing and donate all proceeds from this fundraising letter to the Boy Scouts of America."

Republican chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan: "Jeb Bush and the Republican leadership have run the most honest and ethical administration in our state's history. It was Republican leadership that recently passed a lobbyist and ethics reform package heralded as a model for the nation, which ironically was only opposed by Florida Democrats."

TAMPA CONVENTION TIME? Score an extra point for Tampa Bay's prospects for landing the 2008 Republican convention. Unlike 2004, when Sept. 11 symbolism helped New York City land the GOP convention, this time Florida will have direct involvement in selecting the site. Among the nine people named to the Republican National Committee's 2008 convention site selection committee is Sharon Day, a state committeewoman and national committeewoman from Broward County.

GALLAGHER'S LAWSUIT PLAN: Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher last week added some (red) meat to his calls for clamping down on lawsuits. The highlights:

Abolishing joint and several liability (which he proposed as a legislator in 1982, and which Crist also advocates).

Curbing class action suits. Gallagher's plan includes revamping the standards for certifying class action suits in Florida courts "so they will have an understanding of the local standards of care."

Restricting "expert" testimony. Only health care officials licensed in Florida would be allowed to testify as experts.

Clamping down on premises liability. In a slip-and-fall case, a business would be liable only if it "knew or should have known of the dangerous condition."

Creating a "business court" in each judicial district to ensure judges presiding over complex lawsuits "have the necessary expertise."

Appointing conservative judges "who respect the separation of powers and the rule of law."

Republican rival Crist's position on his Web site: "Charlie Crist supports responsible reform to our legal system including the elimination of joint and several liability, which can require a person or company to pay damages for an injury beyond their responsibility for that injury." He also promises to "appoint conservative, not activist, judges to apply the law as written."

GALLAGHER'S STATEWIDE TEAM: The Gallagher gubernatorial campaign announced the county-by-county leadership of its campaign organization. Most of the more than 200 men and women announced as regional chairs, county chairs, organizational chairs, regional coordinators and captains are veterans of the Bush-Brogan and Bush-Cheney campaigns.

Tampa Bay leadership includes: in Citrus, Helen Clark, Sean Gerrits, Michael Whetstone; in Hernando, state committeewoman Gail Samples; in Pasco, Michele Chamberlin, Heather and Gordon Wittstock, Kevin Wright; in Hillsborough, Mark Proctor, Roy and Barbara Wilcox, Patty McClure, Carol Carter, April Schiff, Dee Williams; and in Pinellas, County Commissioner Ronnie Duncan, Sandy Faulkner, Ellie Kramer, Adam Shores, Sheila Waller, Nick Bader, Kathy Prichard. Adam C. Smith and Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz. For more political news, check out

[Last modified January 29, 2006, 01:27:17]

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