White House snub? It cuts both ways

Published January 14, 2007

Gov. Charlie Crist confirmed last week that it's still pretty icy between himself and the White House following his snub of the president at an election eve rally in Pensacola.

Asked whether he had been briefed by the Defense Department on President Bush's planned troop surge in Iraq -- since it will affect National Guard troops in Florida - Crist spoke very slowly for emphasis: "Not since Pensacola. No."

Sen. Mel Martinez, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, has publicly acknowledged a deep rift, and has said that "healing" will be necessary over time, but that the wound will heal.

The day before his election victory, Crist opted to fly around to eight cities and media markets, leaving Gov. Jeb Bush to be with his older brother in Pensacola. White House political adviser Karl Rove later criticized Crist's chief of staff, George LeMieux, for the snub.

If approval ratings mean much, though, Florida's governor has much less to worry about than the president. Where Bush's numbers are in the low 30s, a Jan. 9-10 Florida Chamber of Commerce poll showed the governor had a whopping 68 percent approval rating.

Iorio unplugged

Gov. Crist is among the chorus of people arguing that local governments enjoying big increases in their tax rolls need to tighten their belts and provide tax relief. But Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9, defended her recommendation last year against a significant cut in the tax rate. City Council members ended up cutting it anyway.

"In the city of Tampa, we have many unmet needs, needs that haven't been met for decades. And secondly, I thought it was extremely important that we set up a hurricane reserve fund," said the mayor, who is facing little competition for re-election in March. "It may not always be something you can put on a brochure and say, 'Look at this.' Some will say, 'Who cares about hurricane reserves, it's boring.' But it sure makes me sleep better at night."

Does she regret anything about how she handled the Tampa art museum? Not really: "When I first got in and saw the project was proceeding without a clear business plan, that the money was not raised and that we were really proceeding on hope, the only thing I really could have done was say, 'Wait, let's just stop it right here.' I think that would have created just as much ill will as the final outcome, though."

The former elections supervisor also said she's thrilled to see her former Pasco colleague Kurt Browning get tapped as secretary of state, that paper trails for electronic voting machines are inevitable, and that it appeared to her a flawed ballot design was the main factor in more than 18,000 Sarasota County voters failing to vote in a high-profile congressional election.

"One thing we've got to get really clear here in the state is the standardization of ballot design - and I hope Kurt pursues that - and peer review of ballots," Iorio said.

The interview can be seen at 11 a.m. on Bay News 9 and later on Channel 342 (Bay News 9 on Demand).

Democratic leader

Leonard Joseph, an Orlando-area regional organizer for the state Democratic Party, has been promoted to executive director to succeed Luis Navarro, who joined the Joe Biden presidential campaign. Joseph, formerly regional political director for John Kerry and deputy campaign manager for New York mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer, becomes the party's first Haitian-American leader.

"Leonard is a perfect fit for the Florida Democratic Party for 2007 and 2008. He knows Florida, and he is knowledgeable about presidential politics," state Democratic chairwoman Karen Thurman said. "Having spent the last year with the party, Leonard provides a seamless transition and will help deliver Florida's 27 electoral votes to the Democratic nominee for president in 2008."

Storming the Senate

State Sen. Ronda Storms of Brandon clearly didn't get the dusty old memo about how first-term legislators are expected to be seen and not heard. At her first committee meeting last week, the Republican from Hillsborough paid close attention, asked tough questions and had bureaucrats squirming.

At a meeting of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, Storms wanted Auditor General Bill Monroe to explain how the state's review of Hillsborough schools didn't catch a series of overpriced land deals she described as "very egregious behavior." (Monroe said he wasn't sure, but he would be checking). Then, frustrated by Monroe's windy answers, Storms interjected: "And so, the short answer is ..." on more than one occasion.

Marriage amendment

Organizers fell short of obtaining the 600,000-plus signatures needed to get a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriages on the ballot for 2006. But Florida4Marriage.org is working to quickly get another 28,000 signatures to put it on the ballot in 2008.

"Give some thought right now to asking family members, friends, co-workers, church members or neighbors to sign (our) petition and mail it in. That's right - right now, you can play a decisive role in bringing the petition drive to a close in the early weeks of 2007," says the group's latest e-mail.

After voters in red state Arizona shot down a similar initiative in November, gay marriage amendments no longer look like a sure thing.

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