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    Insiders notebook

    By Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 5, 2001

    Senator paints regents’ position in lurid colors

    State Sen. Don Sullivan has a well-deserved reputation for saying exactly what he thinks. But he concedes he may have been too direct during a talk this week to the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

    While castigating the state Board of Regents for being wimpish last year in its opposition to new law and medical schools, Sullivan accused the regents of "lying down on their backs with their legs in the air."

    The Seminole Republican didn't dwell on the image, which drew some murmurs from the audience.

    He says now he should have done a better job of picking his words.

    "It is not a respectful image," he said.

    Sullivan is not, however, backing off the substance of his remarks.

    "I think the regents caved," he said. "They did not do their job."

    WHAT DO THE VOTERS WANT, A BIG, MAGENTA SIGN?: Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark has decided to hang big, magenta signs at each polling place for the upcoming St. Petersburg primary that state: "NOTICE -- IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE ON YOUR BALLOT CARD, PLEASE RETURN YOUR CARD AND GET ANOTHER ONE!"

    That would presumably prevent many "overvotes," in which voters punch a hole for a second candidate in an attempt to correct a mistaken vote. It is one of the election snags that made Florida the center of a national controversy during the November presidential election.

    Clark also will assign an extra poll worker to stand by the ballot box at each precinct to tell each voter, "Look at your ballot card -- front and back -- to be sure you punched all the way through and there are no hanging chad/pieces of paper on the back."

    The main problems in Pinellas County in November didn't happen in the voting booth but in Clark's office, where more than 1,400 ballots weren't counted the first time around and other ballots were counted twice.

    A memo to city clerks throughout Pinellas County doesn't mention those problems, but does sort of let the voters off the hook, even as it introduces measures to make sure they don't mess up in the future.

    It begins, "Although Pinellas County had a relatively low voter error rate in the Nov. 7 election, we are always looking for ways to improve the process."

    IF YOU CAN BEAT HIM, HIRE HIM: All nine St. Petersburg mayoral candidates on the dais at Tuesday's candidate debate sought to differentiate themselves from the others as they answered a set of questions read by moderator Al Ruechel, senior anchor of a local cable news channel.

    If fundraising is any indicator, candidate Ronnie Beck especially needed to polish his image to have a chance of being one of the two candidates to make it past the Feb. 27 primary. Beck had raised less than $6,000 as of last month.

    In response to a question about how to manage the water shortage, Beck sought to spin himself ahead of one of the financial front-runners, City Council Chairman Larry Williams, who has raised more than $26,000.

    "Desalination uses a lot of electricity," Beck told the audience of 300. "The best thing I could do as mayor is hire Larry Williams as my water czar."

    A bemused Williams let the comment drop, but then demonstrated he might be qualified for that job, rattling off a detailed list of statistics about how the Tampa Bay region's daily water output is used.

    - Times staff writers Barry Klein and Bryan Gilmer contributed to this report.

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