Lee doesn't save jabs for other party

Published August 20, 2006

If Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and Republican chief financial officer candidate Tom Lee win their primaries, the best show of the general election could be those two trying to play mutual admirers. No problem for Attorney General Crist, who is everybody's pal, but state Senate President Lee tends to be a whole lot less diplomatic when he disagrees with someone.

Take Lee's response on today's Political Connections show on Bay News 9 when asked about Crist going to court in 2004 to challenge phone rate increases: "Disingenuous," said Lee, who is officially neutral in the governor's race.

For two years, Lee fought to kill the legislative proposals that led to the rate increases, while Crist stayed quiet. After the bill passed, Crist won lots of publicity going to court to argue the Public Service Commission wrongly implemented the bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

"There are a lot of things in public life that I've experienced over the last 10 years that are easy targets for people looking to boost their name ID and be on the front page of the newspaper," Lee said, describing Crist's handling of the controversial telecom proposal. "I think it causes us to get a bad name as elected officials."

Asked why the GOP-dominated Senate this year did not pass Crist's top priority "antimurder" bill to combat child predators, Lee said Crist simply did not have the votes. He added, however, that the Senate is studying the matter this summer "to try to make sure what we're doing is not so much for show business, but it's for substance."

Lee faces state Rep. Randy Johnson in the primary, and his interview can be seen at 11 a.m. today on Bay News 9. Starting Monday, it's available at no cost on Channel 342 (Bay News 9 on Demand).

DEBATE TIME: The first televised debates in the governor's race come this week on PBS stations across Florida. Tuesday at 8 p.m. Republicans Crist and Tom Gallagher face off at WEDU in Tampa and Wednesday, Democrats Jim Davis and Rod Smith debate at 8 p.m. They can be heard at WUSF 89.7.

Also, next weekend Bay News 9 will replay those debates.

HARRIS' ENDORSEMENTS: Senate candidate Katherine Harris has removed all her endorsements from her campaign Web site after she got complaints from some on the list who do not actually support her.

The list included elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, who do support her, but also included at least four fellow U.S. House members who do not, including Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville.

Harris said she thought the officials supported her but that some of them may have decided not to after she garnered three opponents in the Republican primary next month.

"This is an internal family competition, and some people don't endorse in primaries," Harris said. "They'll be with us 100 percent when we finish in the general (election), but I understand that completely."

MIMICKING MADDOX: As the Democrats prep for their televised debates this week, they're practicing against stand-ins. Smith's stand-in for Davis? Smith's communications director David Kochman. Davis'? Former gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee mayor Scott Maddox. We're told Maddox is dead-on.

MCBRIDE'S BUCKS: Senate candidate Will McBride tells the Buzz he pumped $660,000 of his own money into his uphill battle to beat Harris this week. The Orlando lawyer had already put in $68,000.

He didn't say what the money is for, but three weeks before the primary, we're guessing TV commercials.

RADIO ADS: "Charlie Crist has been a criminals' worst nightmare and a law-abiding citizen's best friend," declares the new Police Benevolent Association radio ad for Crist.

Meanwhile, James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and one of the biggest names among conservative Christians, is supporting Gallagher on Christian radio stations across Florida: "In a day when moral standards are up for grabs, Tom will be a champion for the family. He will work to provide genuine school choice for every Florida child, and he understands that the courts must be reined in."

DAVIS' BUDDIES: An independent group calling itself 21st Century Florida popped up last week and could be used to aid Davis' bid for governor. The group is run by Ed Dees, head of the Gulf Coast Building Trades Council, and Michael Joblove, a Hollywood lawyer and activist with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Last week, Joblove joined U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a telephone news conference condemning a pro-Rod Smith group's mailer that criticized Davis for missing a vote on a resolution condemning attacks on Israel.

Smith's camp said the organization exposes a contradiction in what Davis has said about special interest money. "Yesterday he condemned the existence of such groups, today he stands to benefit from one - it's just more Washington double-talk from the congressman," Smith spokesman Kochman said.

Davis spokesman Josh Earnest said the campaign was unaware of the group: "Months ago, Smith began coordinating with a political group that was largely bankrolled by a corrupt state prison contractor and the U.S. Sugar Co. After using his self-described 'effectiveness' in the Legislature to help special interests, it's no surprise that those same unsavory special interests are now effectively bankrolling his campaign."

ABANDON SHIP?: With 17 days left, Republicans afraid of being caught on the losing side are leaving Gallagher's campaign, though Buzz should note for the record that they say it's because of Gallagher's new aggressive campaign strategy.

Fred Leonhardt, a recent past president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce who was a key part of Gallagher's Central Florida team, has left the campaign and announced support for Crist, the Crist campaign announced Friday morning. The release quotes Leonhardt as saying Gallagher "strayed from the positive campaign he promised me and other Republicans he would run."

Pat Roberts of the Florida Broadcasters Association also said Thursday that he had signed on with Crist despite being a longtime friend of Gallagher's. He said he'd always been torn because his wife grew up with Crist, but that this week's new Gallagher ad crossed a line.

The Gallagher campaign's response from Alberto Martinez: "A lobbyist switching sides won't deter us from running our issue-oriented campaign."

UNITY BBQ: Pinellas County Democratic Party chairman Ed Helm hosted a unity barbecue at his home Saturday afternoon, inviting both gubernatorial candidates Davis and Smith, among other candidates.

Davis sent former House Speaker Peter Rudy Wallace, who described Smith as someone he admires and who is running a great campaign. In the name of party togetherness, neither Wallace nor Smith said much about the battling campaigns.

Smith, stinging from the Tampa Tribune's endorsement of Davis Saturday, said he has nothing against Davis.

But he described the upcoming primary between the two men as "a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party." After the speeches, Helm encouraged party members to put aside their differences after the primary and support the Democratic ticket. Helm said, quoting a Ronald Reagan movie character: "Let's win one for the Gipper."

Adam C. Smith, Alex Leary, Joni James, Anita Kumar and Melanie Ave contributed to this week's Buzz. For much more political news check out Buzz online at blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.