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New face to join governor debate

A judge ruled Monday that Max Linn, a third-party candidate for governor and a Treasure Island resident, can participate in a debate tonight with candidates Charlie Crist and Jim Davis.

By TAMARA LUSH and ALEX LEARY
Published October 24, 2006


FORT LAUDERDALE - A judge ruled Monday that Max Linn, a third-party candidate for governor and a Treasure Island resident, can participate in a debate tonight with candidates Charlie Crist and Jim Davis.

Debate organizers refused to allow Linn into the televised debate at Nova Southeastern University, saying the Reform Party candidate did not have high enough poll numbers. Linn and his attorneys, Luke Lirot of Clearwater and Ellis Rubin of Miami, challenged the decision in Broward Circuit Court Monday.

"We're not asking a lot," Lirot said. "All they gotta do is pull up a chair and hand him a microphone."

Lawyers for debate organizers - the Florida Press Association, Florida Public Broadcasting, Leadership Florida and WPBT - opposed Linn's plea.

It was unclear Monday night whether they would appeal the judge's ruling. "We're considering what legal options there are," said Jeff Bartell of Leadership Florida, a group that looks at the problems and challenges facing the state.

Linn, 47, is a financial planner from Treasure Island and an amateur pilot. He is a longtime advocate of eight-year term limits for Florida politicians and changed his party affiliation from Republican to Reform to run for governor. He has invested more than $1-million of his $15-million fortune in his campaign.

His platform includes eliminating the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test as a testing device in public schools and a starting salary for teachers of $50,000 a year.

Linn's key advisers hail from the campaigns of other nationally-known Reform Party candidates, including former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and former presidential candidate Ross Perot.

In his argument Monday before Judge Leroy Moe in Fort Lauderdale, Linn presented a supporting brief from Ventura, who argued that Republican and Democratic parties actively seek to exclude third-party candidates from televised debates.

Ventura said he was elected governor after voters saw him in the all-important debates. Linn hopes something similar will happen when Florida voters see him verbally spar with Crist and Davis.

"If I get in the debate, I win the election," Linn said. "I'm simply too strong of an opponent for them to dare stand next to me in a debate. They know it, I know it, and the Florida citizens know it."

Linn said that excluding him violated his First, Fifth and Fourteenth amendment rights by "imposing an arbitrary and unjustified restraint on political speech."

Erin Issac, a spokeswoman from the Crist campaign, said, "We look forward to having a meaningful one-on-one debate with our Democratic opponent."

Josh Earnest, spokesman for the Davis campaign, said the campaign will "obviously abide by the law.

"It is our hope that the Crist campaign won't use this as an excuse to dodge another debate with Mr. Davis," Earnest said.

In an unrelated move that could disrupt the debate, members of the Service Employees International Union are planning to picket outside NSU.

Janitors and landscapers recently voted to unionize, but university officials have said they plan to re-evaluate the contract with Unicco, the Boston company that employs roughly 350 workers, many of them Haitian.

Now the union wants to make a show of force - at a time when virtually every major media outlet in the state will be watching.

"Everybody understands you're not supposed to cross a picket line, especially politicians," SEIU Local 11 president Robin Schuler said Monday.

Still, he said the union would offer Davis and Crist other ways to hear their concerns, such as agreeing to a sit-down.

The union, which does not think the university should be gaining attention from hosting the debate, tried to get it moved to another location.

Tamara Lush can be reached at 727-893-8612 or at lush@sptimes.com.