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Elections still relevant - every 8 years

By TIMES WIRES
Published July 23, 2006


DEMOCRACY, FLORIDA STYLE: Think your state Legislature is elected? Think again.

Fifty-five of the state's 120 House members and nine of the 20 state Senate seats up for election were automatically filled Friday because candidates, most of them incumbents, face no opposition this fall or drew only a token write-in candidate.

Among the automatic winners: Rep. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness; Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg; and Rep. John Legg, R-New Port Richey.

The result ensures that Republicans will retain solid control of both chambers for the next two years. The list includes a new Republican state senator, Don Gaetz of Niceville, and a House rookie, Democrat Evan Jenne of Dania Beach. The incoming House speaker, Marco Rubio of Miami, was among those who drew only write-in opposition.

Blame big money and term limits: Challengers would rather wait out the eight-year cycle until a seat is open than mount a challenge against a better-known, better-funded incumbent.

"The system is rigged," said Ben Wilcox of Common Cause Florida, a group long critical of the way legislative districts are drawn and the power of special interest fundraising. "You're supposed to have a choice."

NO LEAVING IRAQ ANYTIME SOON: U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, said as much in an interview airing today at 11 a.m. on Political Connections on Bay News 9. "The stakes have never been greater," said the Florida political wunderkind.

Besides new tensions in the Middle East, Putnam, the House Republican Policy Committee chairman, age 31, also talks about his role in trying to strike an offshore drilling deal. And he shares a bit of insight about being a workweek Washingtonian while his wife and four young children, including a newborn son, live in Bartow.

"When I come back into town on Thursday night, you're just in time to keep the bus from going into the ditch," Putnam said. "If it's Friday night, the bus is in the ditch and upside down, the wheels are off . It's time to take out the trash and begin changing diapers very quickly."

MAKE THAT GOVERNOR'S MANSION: Maybe it was fatigue that led to a humorous slip of the tongue Wednesday by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith, a state senator whose bus tour last week drew daily attacks from primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis.

"If you let me be the nominee, I'll beat the Republicans. I beat them when I ran for state attorney, I took back a Republican seat. When I ran for the Senate, I took back a Republican seat. And I'm going to take back the White House."

Smith realized the mistake and corrected himself, but earned an ovation from a roaring crowd. He says he has no current aspirations higher than governor.

THE WEXLER WING: It was only a matter of time before politicians got their own reality show. Starting Aug. 23, at 9 p.m. on the Sundance Channel is The Hill, a six-part series featuring the staff of Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton.

Although there's plenty of Wexler, the series follows his staffers and the daily challenges of running a congressional office. Among the tidbits revealed about personal lives, Wexler's communications director, Lale Mamaux, and another Wexler staffer were - egads! - dating Republicans.

JEB AND THE UNION, UNITED: This is something never before seen in Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush and the state's second-largest public employee union endorsing the same candidate in a statewide office.

Senate President Tom Lee, a Valrico Republican running for chief financial officer, picked up the endorsement of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees last week.

It won't necessarily help Lee in the short term; his GOP primary opponent, Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, is already calling it a sign Lee supports big government.

Surely, the governor, who endorsed Lee in May, disagrees.

PRICELESS MEMO: Rep. Katherine Harris' speech writer, Jennifer Hickey, showed her gift for the word last week when notifying friends and colleagues of her eminent departure from her job.

From her e-mail: "Value of George Harris Legacy Loan' to Senate campaign: $10-million

"Value of 'refurbishments' to Capitol Hill residence: $100,000

"Value of Handing in my Resignation Letter: Priceless"

In her e-mail, Hickey said Harris didn't know she was leaving since the congresswoman is home recovering from surgery. "No, I do not have a job lined up," she wrote. "But I have my dignity and a smidgen of the sanity I had when I came to work here."

Joni James, Steve Bousquet, Alex Leary, Jennifer Liberto, Bill Adair and Anita Kumar contributed to this week's Buzz. For more political news check out www.sptimes.com/blogs/buzz.

[Last modified July 23, 2006, 06:09:33]


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