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The Buzz: Florida politics

Lawyer with ties to GOP to defend lobby law

By Times staff writers
Published March 5, 2006

Senate President Tom Lee has hired a lawyer with strong Republican connections to defend a new law forcing lobbyists to reveal their fees.

Lee's choice is Ken Sukhia, who served as a U.S. attorney under the first President George Bush and worked on the current president's legal team during the 2000 recount.

Sukhia also has represented Gov. Jeb Bush on various legal and political matters, and he was Ralph Nader's lawyer when the consumer advocate sought to get on the 2004 Florida ballot.

Sukhia was considered a leading candidate for a federal judgeship in 2002, but the state's two Democratic senators, Bob Graham and Bill Nelson, rejected him as "too conservative."

Sukhia, 52, recently left the Fowler, White, Boggs, Banker firm with two other lawyers to form a new firm.

Sukhia's former law partner, J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich, described Sukhia as "religiously conservative, politically conservative, socially conservative and extremely bright."

The Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists sued the Legislature last month. The case is before Leon County Circuit Judge Janet Ferris. SESSION PREVIEW: The 2006 legislative session begins Tuesday. Check out Sen. Lee and Democratic Rep. Charlie Justice of St. Petersburg on Political Connections today as they assess what's in store for the next 60 days. The show, a joint venture between Bay News 9 and the St. Petersburg Times, airs at 11 a.m. on Bay News 9. Starting Monday it can be seen on Channel 340 (Tampa Bay on Demand).

19TH TERM'S A CHARM: Rumors persist that Rep. C.W. Bill Young might retire after 36 years in Congress. Not so, the Indian Shores Republican told us last week. He noted that he had a fundraiser two weeks ago and has a couple of others planned in the next few weeks.

"You can write off those rumors," Young said.

JEB FOR SENATE? Still on Rumor Patrol, we hear a new one amid Senate candidate Katherine Harris' recent spate of bad publicity. D.C. talk has some Republicans contemplating a draft-Jeb Bush campaign in hopes the Florida governor would agree to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in November.

The governor remains Shermanesque on the subject. "I'm not going to run for the Senate," he repeated.

SMITH AND FCAT: Democratic gubernatorial candidat e Rod Smith intends to file a (surely doomed) bill to "sunset" the controversial Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. He says it would eliminate use of the FCAT to retain students in Grades 3 and 10, end financial sanctions against low-performing schools, eliminate grading schools based on FCAT results and prevent merit pay based on FCAT results.

"Testing and accountability are important parts of learning," Smith said in a statement. "But the way this test is used is destroying our public schools and hurting our kids. We need to put an end to this system and start using testing the way it should be - as a diagnostic tool at the beginning of the year to determine in what areas students need to improve and then getting them the help they need. This bill will force the Legislature to completely re-examine the way we test and assess our kids."

Meanwhile, Smith has picked up the support of a former top Florida news executive. Retired Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence recently helped host a fundraiser for Smith, a state senator from Alachua.

ORLANDO'S COMPETITION: The Democratic National Committee announced the 10 cities besides Orlando vying to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention: Anaheim, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Phoenix, and San Antonio.

Vying for the Republican convention are 31 cities: Tampa, Miami, Orlando, Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Memphis, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis.

TWO BILLS: If you're a Democrat mulling a presidential run in 2008, you surely want to get some Florida chits in and help raise money for Sen. Bill Nelson's re-election. Most recently, it was Hillary Clinton raising money, and next week it will be New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

President Bill Clinton's former United Nations ambassador and energy secretary will headline a Nelson fundraiser in Tampa March 12 at the home o f Natalie an d Steve Cheeseman. Minimum donation: $250.

Buzz heard of some Democrats at Clinton's fundraiser in Orlando wincing when Nelson cited a recent Quinnipiac University poll that showed he was leading Harris by 22 percentage points. Note to Nelson: Don't imply you're coasting to victory when you're trying to raise money. Better to note the recent Rasmussen poll showing only a 9 point lead for Nelson.

Staff writers Adam C. Smith, Bill Adair, Steve Bousquet and Joni James contributed to this week's Buzz, and Angie Holan provided research.

[Last modified March 5, 2006, 00:52:12]

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