Bilirakis wants to bounce 'rubber stamp' accusation

By Times Staff
Published October 22, 2006

State Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the Republican nominee to succeed his father in the 9th Congressional District, says President Bush has done a great job, for America, but that his Democratic opponent, Phyllis Busansky, is wrong to cast him as a rubber stamp.

"I haven't been a rubber stamp for Jeb Bush, who I admire greatly, in Tallahassee, and I won't be a rubber stamp for the president," Bilirakis said in a taped Political Connections interview airing at 11 a.m.

Busansky, who also appears on the show, said she'll fight to expand access to health care and congressional oversight of insurance companies, but said she had no idea whether she'd back Nancy Pelosi or someone else for House speaker should Democrats take control of Congress.

"What I do support is change. It's time to have a balance in Congress," Busansky said. "I stand for change, as opposed to my opponent, who really stands for ... the status quo."

The interview airs at 11 a.m. or can be seen later on Channel 342 (Bay News 9 on demand).

Most analysts have kept District 9 off their lists of the most competitive House races in the country, but by some accounts the race is closer than many think. Lobbyist Bob Levy told the Times Friday that some Republicans are buzzing about internal polling showing Busansky well within 10 percentage points of Bilirakis. The Bilirakis campaign says it's taking nothing for granted but has seen no poll showing a 10-point gap.

COATTAILS AND FENDER BENDERS: Democratic attorney general candidate Walter "Skip" Campbell wound up in a mild fender bender in Pinellas County last week. No one was hurt, and Campbell said the other fellow turned and ran into him. And, no, the trial lawyer has no plans to sue the other driver.

Campbell complained that Republican Bill McCollum is avoiding debates and joint appearances and seems intent on "riding on Charlie Crist's coattails." The outcome of the attorney general's race, he said, "Is less about Bill McCollum vs. me than the top of the ticket. ... If (Jim) Davis is more than 8 points down on election day, it's ..." and he gave a bye-bye wave.

TIED CABINET RACES: Mason-Dixon pollsters on Friday night released a poll showing that the attorney general's race between Campbell and McCollum and the chief financial officer race between Republican Tom Lee and Democrat Alex Sink are both statistically tied. In both races, though, roughly one in five voters was undecided.

ENDORSEMENT TALLIES: Good thing for Republican Senate candidate Katherine Harris that newspaper endorsements don't usually decide elections. So far Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is beating her 19-0 on editorial board endorsements. Those include the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Naples Daily News, Palm Beach Post, Daytona Beach News-Journal, the four Treasure Coast papers that jointly endorse, Tampa Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, Gainesville Sun and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

In other high-profile races to date, Democratic chief financial officer candidate Alex Sink was beating Republican Tom Lee 9-2 in editorial board endorsements, with Lee snagging the backing of the Treasure Coast board and the Tampa Tribune. In the attorney general's race, Democrat Walter "Skip" Campbell had 10 recommendations to Republican Bill McCollum's three (Orlando, Tampa, and Naples).

NADER FOR MOORE: Consumer activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader apparently isn't keen on the Florida's main Senate candidates, Bill Nelson and Katherine Harris. Nader has endorsed Brian Moore of Spring Hill, the peace activist and semiretired health care executive running as an independent.

JEB BACKS AMENDMENT 3: Rumor had it the governor might be rethinking his support of Amendment 3 in the wake of the Florida Supreme Court's ruling on vouchers. If the amendment passes, any proposed constitutional amendment - including one to restore school vouchers - would require a 60 percent approval rate.

But Bush, who has consistently pushed to make the state Constitution harder to amend, isn't wavering. He told reporters last week he's voting for Amendment 3, contrary to the stands of the two men vying to replace him. Both Jim Davis and Charlie Crist oppose Amendment 3.

ACLU WANTS SPECIFICS: Davis and Crist both say they want automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-convicts, but the American Civil Liberties Union last week sent letters asking them precisely what their plans are. Unless the two are willing to exercise their executive power to do it through a change in clemency rules -- rather than risk the change to a vote by the Legislature that has been loath to make the clemency process quicker - their promise rings hollow, the ACLU said.

The Davis campaign told the Buzz he would propose the change to the Cabinet. The Crist campaign said it was reviewing the letter.

- Adam C. Smith, Robin Stein, Steve Bousquet and Joni James contributed to this week's Buzz. For much more breaking political news check out blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.