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Storms, business group clash on question of Prohibition

"She didn't score any points with us," the president of Associated Industries of Florida says after a heated session.

By BILL VARIAN and STEVE BOUSQUET
Published June 17, 2006


TAMPA - She's been called many things, but a Prohibitionist? Well ...

Ronda Storms appeared before an interview panel for the powerful pro-business lobbying group, Associated Industries of Florida, at the Hyatt Regency in Tampa two weeks ago. The socially conservative Republican is running against former state Rep. Sandra Murman and businessman Ray Young in the GOP primary for the state Senate District 10 seat.

Associated Industries president Barney Bishop's assessment is not the kind candidates like to hear.

"She was weird," Bishop said. "She didn't score any points with us."

During a question-and-answer session, Bishop said, Storms was asked whether she favored a return to the days of Prohibition.

"She never succinctly answered it," Bishop said. "She basically blamed the bars in Ybor City for making law enforcement put resources there instead of taking care of her constituents in east Hillsborough."

It may seem anachronistic for the group to be questioning a candidate about favoring Prohibition, a national ban on alcohol enacted by constitutional amendment in 1919 and repealed in 1933, but Associated Industries members include beer manufacturers, liquor wholesalers, restaurants and bars. So any remark from Storms reminiscent of that era wasn't likely to endear her to the group.

But Storms has a very different version of how the meeting went.

She said she responded no to the Prohibition question. But she added that the meeting felt like a setup from the get-go.

"That whole interview was farcical from start to finish," she said.

First, she said the group attempted to exclude her from the opportunity to make her case for an endorsement, claiming she hadn't turned in a complete pre-interview questionnaire. She said she never got the complete form and, after protesting vigorously, got the remaining 60-plus questions, many requiring detailed responses, and was given 90 minutes to return her answers.

She recalled being asked the Prohibition question from an Anheuser-Busch representative three times and answered no each time. The beer man then proceeded to "browbeat" her to explain why she has previously described Ybor City as "Ybar City."

Nevertheless, she did have views and shared them. She acknowledged the police remarks attributed to her by Bishop, saying the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has had to expand its operations in Ybor to respond to crime in the area.

Further, she said Ybor is an example of poor planning that has resulted in red-light district conditions, mainly horrific crime, including fatal shootings, beatings and the recent reported gang rape elsewhere in Tampa of a woman who said she met with one of her attackers there.

None of that makes her a Prohibitionist, she said.

But why the question in the first place?

Mary Ann Stiles, the general counsel for Associated Industries, has been pushing to create an elected county mayor, and has sparred with Storms over the idea. Stiles was at the meeting, and claims Storms' remarks leading up to the Prohibition question made it a natural thing to ask about.

She said Storms' comments made it clear, even if she didn't say so directly, that she would favor prohibiting alcohol. Further, she said questions about Ybor are legitimate because, as a senator, Storms will be making decisions that affect the whole region and state, not just her district.

"Why is it every time her mouth overruns her a-- that she's being mischaracterized and misquoted?'' Stiles asked. "She's the one who gets set up? She wasn't set up."

Storms called Friday for the release of a recording of the meeting, though Stiles said that won't happen. It's available only to members.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 17, 2006, 07:00:37]


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