(Recap and analysis of the week in state government)
By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Nov. 12, 2010……….After faring about as well in this year’s elections as the 1-7 Dallas Cowboys have in the NFL so far this season, Florida Democrats are considering turning to a familiar player to turn things around.
Fresh off an unsuccessful run as Alex Sink’s lieutenant governor, former state Sen. Rod Smith emerged this week as the frontrunner to replace Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman, who waited until the week’s end to announce she was going the way of fired Cowboys coach Wade Phillips.
Thurman remained silent as talks about her replacement mounted this week. And when she finally confirmed she was stepping aside, she said it was because she wanted to spend more time with her family.
“After many months of reflection and discussion with my family, our staff, and many of you, I have decided to retire as Chair of the Florida Democratic Party,” she wrote in a letter to demoralized Florida Democrats.
Thurman made no mention that the party she was leaving had just lost a fourth straight governor’s race, as well as all three statewide Cabinet contests. Nor did she mention the Republican’s new supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature. As the jockeying to replace her kicked into high gear this week, others were more than willing to bring up those issues and did so, a lot.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the lone Democrat still standing as a statewide elected official, quickly made his choice known: Miami-Dade Democratic Chair Richard Lydecker. The name of outgoing House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands, who remains in the Legislature, was floated too – by Sands’ himself.
Hillsborough state committeeman Alan Clendenin, who released a prescription for healing what ails the party in a plan he put on the Web, was touted too, as was Pasco County Democratic Chair Alison Morano, state party vice-chairman Rhett Bullard and former state Rep. Loranne Ausley. The former Tallahassee representative was last seen bicycling to defeat in the race to replace Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.
But by week’s end it looked like Democrats were preparing to turn the playbook over to former state Sen. Rod Smith, who is fresh off a turn as Sink’s running mate in the party’s latest unsuccessful attempt to wrest control of state government from the elephants in charge. It doesn’t take an elephants’ memory to remember that Smith was touted as helping Sink reach out to rural Panhandle voters, the same group he tapped during his own unsuccessful bid for the party’s 2006 gubernatorial nomination.
Smith did not immediately take the hand-off this week. But it was pretty clear he was waiting with open arms for the ball to come his way.
“The challenges are daunting,” Smith said. “But the pendulum always swings back.”
For now though, the pendulum remains with the ruling Republicans, who made it clear again this week they intend to use it when they return Nov. 16 to organize themselves and hold a special session to override vetoes on up to nine bills. They’re swinging as much at outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist, who left the party to run for U.S. Senate as an independent, as they are at the demoralized Dems.
THE NEW GOV (NOT YET) IN TOWN COMES TO TOWN
An unlikely victim of the veto-fest is Gov.-elect Rick Scott, who came to Tallahassee this week to meet with lawmakers’ intended target: Crist.
Lawmakers are looking to revive a measure (HB 5611) that would take oversight of the state’s oft-maligned Department of Management Services away from the new chief executive. Legislative leaders want to place DMS under the control of the governor and the state’s three Cabinet members, instead of just Scott himself, as it would be now under current law.
Speaking to reporters, Scott shrugged off the probable power grab, saying he was focusing his attention on creating jobs.
“I don’t think anybody’s trying to go after my power,” Scott said of legislative leaders. “They’re following through on things they believe in.”
As for his beliefs, Scott said he was eager to follow his ubiquitous campaign slogan and get to work.
“The reason I won the election is over one issue: And that’s getting us back to work,” Scott said. “My whole goal and the things I’m going to focus on when I take office is how we’re going to get this state back to work.”
The old guy in charge, Crist, did not have much advice for dealing with a Legislature that is likely to be less hostile to Scott as it is to him. But the self-proclaimed people’s governor did tell the people’s soon-to-be governor to “work hard… Do the best you can. Enjoy the job. It’s a great gig.”
Crist said he looks forward to his next gig as a private citizen but declined to say specifically whether he’ll run for office again – though he hinted he might.
“There is a lot to do and I’m only 54,” Crist said. “I look forward to it. So, we’ll see you around.”
HATS OFF TO U.S. REP. FREDERICA WILSON. NOW HATS OFF!
Soon-to-be U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, now a state senator from Miami, said she had no intention of complying with a rule banning hats on the floor of the U.S. House, whether presumptive House Speaker John Boehner likes it or not.
“I’m just going to dress the way I normally dress,” Wilson said this week. “If they tell me I can’t, well, there’s going to be a problem.”
Perhaps Wilson is brimming with confidence that her hats will survive the transition from Tallahassee to the nation’s capital. After all, she has survived similar assaults before. When she was elected to the state Senate in 2002, former Sen. Anna Cowin raised the issue of whether members were allowed to wear hats on the floor. Then Senate President Jim King asked Cowin if there was a good reason to ban the attire.
“She said I might be sitting in front of somebody and they might not be able to see,” Wilson, a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican Senate, recalled this week.
“She’s going to be sitting on the back row anyway,” Wilson recalled King saying in dismissing the issue.
Now a Democrat in an overwhelming Republican U.S. House – where the political parties are separated by an aisle, not proximity to the front of the chamber – Wilson won’t have the same defense when she gets to Washington, D.C.
TEN YEARS FLIES BY WHEN YOU’RE HAVING FUN
This week marked the 10th anniversary of the now infamous Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election, when the world began waiting for “Florida, Florida, Florida,” as late NBC anchor Tim Russert wrote on an election night chalkboard when asked where the race would be decided.
Several former recount players, including Bush lawyer Barry Richard, Gore lawyer Dexter Douglass, former Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead, current Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga, and then-circuit court Judge Nikki Clark discussed the frenetic process in a program in Tallahassee put on by The Village Square.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Democrats continued searching for answers – and a new leader – as party chairwoman Karen Thurman made her resignation official.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It’s kind of like becoming the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys,” Rod Smith on the possibility of assuming the helm of the Florida Democratic Party. In most years, that would be considered a big compliment. This year, it’s not entirely clear if the insult is worse for the politicians or the football team.