Florida's bipartisanship stops at wallet's edge

By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Published January 21, 2007

At its first meeting in the 110th Congress, the Florida delegation showed remarkable unity. Members agreed to have co-chairs from each party (Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami) and vowed to stick together on Florida issues.

"We need to kick it up in this delegation, in a unified fashion, to help everybody in the state of Florida," Hastings said.

There was bipartisan agreement about the value of bipartisanship.

"We actually are friends," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. "We all get along."

But no one wanted to open their wallet, metaphorically speaking, when Hastings suggested everybody kick in some money from their office accounts to hire a full-time staffer.

Rep. John Mica was the most vocal opponent, saying his office money was already spoken for. "I can't participate financially," the Winter Park Republican said.

Hastings was disappointed the delegation wouldn't hire a staffer.

"A lot of stuff is going to fall through the cracks," he said. "It's a matter of chump change - and we are shortchanging the state of Florida."

Delegation members said they might pursue an alternative - hiring an intern from a Florida university.

Political connections

Check out Political Connections today on Bay News 9 to hear Republican state Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey and Republican state Rep. Kevin Ambler of Tampa offer their takes on the special legislation session on insurance. The show airs at 11 a.m. and can be seen later on Channel 342 (Bay News 9 on Demand).

Crist's D.C. office

Kerry Feehery, communications director to Sen. Mel Martinez, has been named the director of Gov. Charlie Crist's Washington office, where she'll serve as his chief lobbyist.

Feehery, who is well-known among Floridians in Washington because of her work for Connie Mack when he was a senator, will answer to Crist's deputy chief of staff, Eric Eikenberg.

The appointment of Feehery follows several complaints from members of Florida's congressional delegation that the office was uncommunicative when Jeb Bush was governor.

Roberts the judge

Clay Roberts, the man who gained some national renown as Katherine Harris' director of elections during the 2000 presidential recount, is headed to the bench.

Gov. Charlie Crist announced last week he had appointed Roberts to fill a vacancy on Florida's First District Court of Appeal. He replaces Judge Richard Ervin, who is retiring.

Roberts' last job was working for Crist as deputy attorney general, overseeing 450 lawyers and 1,300 staff members. He has also served as the general counsel for the Department of State.

Roberts, 41, is a 1987 West Point graduate and a 1991 graduate of Florida State University Law School.

Busansky's new gig

Former 9th Congressional District candidate Phyllis Busansky is setting up a consulting shop, Reliant Partners LLC, which is aimed at "helping community groups and select clients enact change on a local, state and national level by organizing effective coalitions and strategies to engage the political process."

The three partners include Busansky, the former Hillsborough County commissioner who lost her congressional race to Gus Bilirakis; Bill Roberts, a cable TV pioneer and telecommunications specialist; and Don Pellegrino, former chairman of the Hillsborough County Planning Commission.

Also on board are Stephen Maher, who will specialize in issues research, and Alison Berke Morano, past chairwoman of the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce and member of the board of Leadership Pasco and United Way of Pasco County, who will serve as Internet and marketing adviser.

Another Rubio

State Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, last week congratulated House Speaker Marco Rubio on news he and his wife are expecting another child.

Their fourth, Rubio said, then joked, "This Catholicism stuff is really getting to me."

Feeney likes Mitt

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor seeking the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, has been trying to build support among the party's conservatives, and last week landed a big one in Florida: U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney.

Feeney, who represents the Orlando area, is a fiscal and social conservative who has enjoyed strong support among "traditional values" and antitax groups. While that doesn't mean the rank and file are ready to get behind Romney - many have questions about how conservative he really is - Feeney's endorsement gives him an emissary with real street cred.

"With his record of fighting for lower taxes and balanced budgets, Gov. Romney is the right kind of leader to bring fiscal sanity back to Washington," Feeney said in a statement.

Adam C. Smith, Bill Adair, Joni James, and Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz. For much more breaking political news check out blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.