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Gadfly in governor's race may have a sharp stinger

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published September 23, 2006


Florida has never had a governor from St. Petersburg, but a local candidate says he's going to make history.

His name is Max Linn.

Linn, 47, a wealthy financial planner from Treasure Island, will be on the Nov. 7 ballot for governor with Democrat Jim Davis of Tampa, Republican Charlie Crist, the other St. Pete hopeful, and three unaffiliated candidates.

Linn is a term limits advocate and a registered Republican. He's running under the Reform Party, which has previously offered Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot in presidential elections.

Linn calls Florida's schools a national scandal. He opposes the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and favors a $50,000 starting salary for teachers.

He opposes capital punishment and wants to allow gays to adopt children. He wants a three-year halt to condominium building to slow growth.

His views are on his Web site, www.maxlinn.com, which features a cartoon of Crist as the official FCAT tester, dressed in green tights, and Linn as the superhero who protects students victimized by the test.

As Linn sees it, he's a self-made businessman who offers a real alternative to two business-as-usual career politicians, Crist and Davis - "Tweedledee and Tweedledum" on Linn's Web site.

"I am the clear choice," Linn says. "There is an alternative to Charlie Crist and Jim Davis."

But almost nobody in Florida knows who Max Linn is. People are more likely to vote for a candidate they know than a total stranger.

Even though Linn has already spent $1-million of his $16-million fortune on his campaign, it's tempting to dismiss him as a hopeless gadfly.

History shows that minor party and independent candidates for major offices have a dismal track record in Florida, and that's putting it mildly.

Reform Party presidential hopeful Ralph Nader got 0.4 percent of the vote in 2004. The Reform Party U.S. Senate candidate Joel Deckard got 0.3 percent in 2000.

Jack Gargan, a Reform Party congressional candidate on the North Suncoast in 2002, got 3.4 percent.

It's more plausible that Linn will spend enough money and make enough noise to attract the none-of-the-above crowd, those alienated voters who find nothing appealing in Crist or Davis and want to send a message to the system.

If the Crist-Davis race gets very tight, Linn has the potential to be a spoiler and siphon votes away. Crist is more likely to lose votes to Linn than Davis, because Reform Party candidates and their supporters tend to lean Republican.

Linn knows he has to draw attention quickly. He's chasing publicity.

On Orlando radio station WFLA-AM 540 last week, Linn told host Bud Hedinger he would "put my hand on a stack of Bibles" to say Crist is gay.

"His sexual preference is not to women," Linn said.

Hedinger sounded speechless. "A bombshell," he said over the air.

Linn claimed to know this because he and Crist were in the same 1985 class of Leadership St. Petersburg, a Chamber of Commerce program. "We discussed it," Linn said.

Linn repeated the statement in interviews with the St. Petersburg Times, and said if Crist were to win, he would be subject to extortion and blackmail.

In the next breath, Linn said he would avoid mudslinging but that Crist's personal life is a special case because it's about integrity.

"I'm sorry he's so misinformed," Crist said. "It sounds like he's in desperate need of more attention. That's just really sad."

Crist said he remembers Linn being in his Leadership St. Petersburg class, but said he did not recall what they talked about.

Also in that class was St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who went to Florida State University with Crist and supports his candidacy.

"I've had lots and lots of conversations with Charlie over the 30 years I've known him," Baker said. "He's never made any comment remotely similar to me."

Asked if he considered Linn a serious opponent, Crist said: "I take everybody seriously. I just don't take what he said seriously."

Steve Bousquet is at 850 224-7263 or bousquet@sptimes.com.

[Last modified September 23, 2006, 05:48:43]


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