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Davis gets caught in Capitol spat

He and a state senator disagree on who said what during a phone call about vouchers.

Published May 4, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Davis is the clear leader in the polls in the Democratic governor's race. But in the state Capitol, Sen. Rod Smith is the runaway front-runner, and Davis has to tread lightly when he steps on Smith's turf.

The latest example? Davis' efforts to kill a proposed constitutional amendment to ensure the continuance of school vouchers.

Sen. Al Lawson of Tallahassee, the only Democratic senator who supported the voucher bill, said Davis called him Sunday night and urged him to join fellow colleagues in rejecting the measure.

"Jim said vouchers are very important to him, and once he got in as governor, he would like me to consider joining him in his administration," said Lawson, who is supporting Smith in the governor's race.

It's illegal under Florida statutes to promise a job in state government to someone "for the purpose of influencing the vote or political action of any person or for any consideration."

The Davis campaign denied Lawson's account.

"Sen. Lawson has dedicated many years to public service and has a bright future ahead of him, but Jim hasn't promised or offered Sen. Lawson, or anyone else, a position in his administration," said Josh Earnest, communications director of the Davis campaign.

The suggestion that Lawson misunderstood the conversation only antagonized Lawson more: "Davis overstepped his bounds, and now his campaign is trying to suggest I didn't understand what he was saying. I understood exactly what he was saying . . . and I really don't appreciate him lying about it. I didn't call him; he called me," Lawson said.

Lawson, who served with Davis in the state House more than 10 years ago, said he told Davis he backed Smith for the Democratic nomination and that Davis was wrong to insist he was the inevitable nominee.

The controversy could actually help Davis by showing him aggressively fighting for Democratic priorities. But it comes as Smith finishes a session that leaves him with bragging rights. He played a key role in organizing the coalition of Democrats and Republicans that shot down the voucher amendment and an effort to dilute a class-size reduction.

Davis hit a bump coming to Tallahassee at the start of the session, too. To be in Tallahassee for the opening day of the session, he missed a closer-than-expected vote to extend the Patriot Act and wound up getting criticized by Smith and by Republicans for missing a pivotal vote to campaign.

Lawson said this week that he was not necessarily suggesting that Davis broke the law and that the Tampa congressman never mentioned a specific job. He said Smith also lobbied him hard to vote against the voucher amendment, but never mentioned a future job. "Jim Davis and Sen. Lawson both have a long record of fighting to make Florida's schools the best in the nation. They just have different ideas about how to get there," said Earnest of the Davis campaign.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727893-8241 or

[Last modified May 4, 2006, 00:58:04]

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