(Recap and analysis of the week in state government)
By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Oct. 22, 2010……….There was a statewide gubernatorial debate this week and a math quiz broke out.
It probably wasn’t a surprise that the tightening polls and voting voters added up to a contentious encounter between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Rick Scott, but hardly anyone would have expected the folksy “still that girl who grew up on that family farm” Sink to tout her grade point average to fend off attacks she was too close to President Barack Obama.
But so it as was Sink and Scott agreed on little besides their love for their families.
Even that agreement was hard. The request from St. Petersburg Times’ political editor Adam Smith that the candidates each say something nice about the other seemed to catch them off guard. As Scott shuttered his answer, Sink exclaimed from off camera “he should look at me.”
He may not have wanted to; however, after the chief financial officer said he was unprepared to be governor.
“I don’t think leading a large hospital corporation that was charged with the largest Medicare fraud fine in the history of our country would … rate him as being a highly successful CEO….There’s an issue of trust here, and character, and integrity,” Sink said when moderators suggested she and Scott had similar stances on economic issues and business backgrounds.
The biggest epithet Scott attached to Sink besides the president’s last name was “Tallahassee insider,” speaking of his opponent’s three-and-half years in the capital as if it were 30.
“She’s been there for years,” Scott said, apparently harkening back to …. 2007. “She’s had her shot. And in her time period there, the state has lost more than 800,000 jobs. The pension fund has gone from 7 percent overfunded to 13 percent underfunded. She’s had a lot of issues,” Scott said.
Sink tried to say she hasn’t been changed much from her farm days by her time in Tallahassee, but even in doing so, she took a subtle shot at Scott.
“The values I learned there were that the most important thing in life, Alex, is your character and integrity and being honest,” she said in her closing remarks.
Scott took aim at Sink’s business record just as much, accusing her of shoddy oversight both as state CFO, where he has said she allowed “convicted felons to sell insurance in this state,” and in private business, with NationsBank Florida’s parent company having paid a $6.7 million fine for rewarding employees for steering customers into high-risk securities.
Sink said her office has followed state law in issuing insurance licenses and that she had no knowledge of wrongdoing at NationsBank, which sounded a little like the Republican she mocks for saying he was not aware of issues at Columbia/HCA.
When Scott cited questions about Sink’s education, health care and jobs proposals raised by Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, a Scott supporter, Sink echoed an unlikely political figure: former President and Republican folk hero Ronald Reagan
“I’m going to stand here and be Ronald Reagan: ‘there you go again,'” Sink said of Scott’s contention that her plans would cost the state $12 billion it doesn’t have. “You’re just throwing mud out….There’s no number like that in any of my plans. That’s why we can’t trust Rick Scott.”
With most polls showing the difference between the two within the margin of each error, the candidates will likely keep checking each other’s math until Election Day.
SENATE DEBATE NO WALK ON THE BEACH
Scott and Sink were not the only candidates throwing sharp punches at each other this week, though they’ve had fewer opportunities to square off than the U.S. Senate candidates. That did not stop Marco Rubio, Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek from going after each other, however.
Meek, in particular, took aim at Crist when the governor who used to be a Republican used the derisive term for the federal health care law used often by his former party – Obamacare.
“Obamacare was off the charts, was wrong. It taxed too much, has mandates that are probably unconstitutional, and it’s not the way to go. And it was rammed through,” Crist said.
“I wonder if he said that to the president when he was walking with him on the beach,” Meek retorted, referring to Crist’s appearances with the president in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“When we were on the beach we were protecting Florida, and that’s what we talked about,” Crist explained.
That did not stop Meek’s elephant memory of the governor’s GOP past, however.
“When you were with Sarah Palin a couple of years ago, you said, ‘Drill, baby, drill,” Meek said. Crist denied he was in favor of drilling, but Meek responded “you were clapping.”
“I supported my friend, John McCain,” Crist explained again.
Rubio was content to paint both Meek and Crist as Obama supporters, saying “the road that Washington has us on – a road that my opponents both support – is the wrong direction.”
“It is a road that will rob us of our exceptionalism. But if we are going to send people to Washington, D.C., to stand up to that…we’re going to leave our children with a better future. I’m ready,” he said.
Another poll showed the people may be ready too, with Rubio leading Crist and Meek 39 percent to 31 and 22 percent respectively in the survey by Massachusetts-based Suffolk University.
But by week’s end, Meek was gearing up for a rumble with Rubio in a big weekend debate.
“This debate is going to be verbally eventful, when it comes down to who’s going to stand with the people of Florida,” Meek told reporters in Tallahassee. “Marco Rubio needs to buckle his chin strap when he comes in there on Sunday. I’m a former Florida A&M football player … I’m just kind of feeling the spirit of an outside linebacker and he’s a quarterback.”
It was hard to argue though, that Rubio didn’t appear to be in the red zone.
Former GOP Senate hopeful Jim Norman didn’t waste any time challenging a Leon County circuit judge’s ruling disqualifying him from the election. Norman hired one of the state’s top attorneys to put his name back on the ballot.
Norman and that attorney, Barry Richard, filed an appeal this week with the 1st District Court of Appeal to overturn Tallahassee Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling last week declaring Norman ineligible for the ballot. Fulford threw Norman – the only candidate actually on the ballot for the state Senate District 12 seat – out of the election because she found he had inaccurately completed a financial disclosure form by leaving off a lakefront home he and his wife owned in Arkansas.
State Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, who filed the suit that led to Norman being a goner, didn’t wait to react either. He asked Fulford to name him the Republican nominee in the race, which would effectively put him in the seat. The judge had no part of the request however, saying that the Republican Party would choose its own nominee for the race.
Considering most of the state Republican establishment backed Norman that likely means Ambler will ramble in the Legislature no more. The former trial lawyer has never been very popular among his colleagues in the legislative GOP.
Hillsborough and Pasco County Republicans, who will get to make the decision, suggested this week they would wait until Norman’s appeal was processed before they considered other names for the ballot, though voters began voting in person this week using ballots with Norman’s name on them. A note was attached telling them Norman had been disqualified from the ballot, though no one told them who they would be voting for.
Republican U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, however, said a vote for Norman could eventually be a vote for former state Rep. Trey Traviesa, who decided in 2008 not to seek another House term. County officials said all names coming up so far remained just rumored candidates.
Elsewhere this week, Attorney General Bill McCollum said he will let stand a 3rd District Court of Appeal decision legalizing gay adoption in Florida, rather than appeal the case to the Florida Supreme Court.
The Florida Department of Children and Families decided more than a week ago that it would not challenge the appeals court’s decision to allow the adoption of two children by a Miami gay man and his partner and that it would stop enforcing the statewide ban on gay adoption. But McCollum, whose office had represented DCF, could have chosen to appeal the case separately in his capacity as attorney general, but in good news for opponents of the ban, he didn’t.
McCollum also made another long-awaited decision on Friday, announcing he’ll support Scott in the governor’s race. He did so grudgingly, and after waiting about as long as he could to do it. After the terribly bruising Republican primary in which Scott beat McCollum, the question was asked how long it would take for the wounds to heal. The answer came Friday: Two months.
Also, Senate President Mike Haridopolos said this week he was talking with senators about the possibility of overriding some of Gov. Crist’s 18 vetoes from this year during the coming organizational session, raising the possibility of the first veto reversals in more than a decade.
STORY OF THE WEEK: The candidates for governor and U.S. Senate squared off in the latest debate and swung for the fences – and each other.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I don’t know what Obama math is. What I do know is that I was a 4.0 math major at Wake Forest University,” Democrat Alex Sink after Republican Rick Scott questioned her – and the president’s – competency with dollars and cents.