You can say what you want about Charlie Crist's short (and ultimately unremarkable) tenure as Florida governor, but you have to agree that he largely did no harm — for a Republican.
After all, Crist was never interested in being Florida best governor, just Florida's best-liked governor. His strong populist streak kept him away from many of the bad ideas his party is behind (although he did jump on the awful tax reform bandwagon that has crippled local governments and school boards). The white-haired wonder boy even had some great ideas (clean energy initatives being at the top of that list), even if the nudniks in the Legislature all but ignored his initiatives.
But the man lining up in the Republican party primary to be Crist's replacement would be an unmitigated disaster. I'm talking about that scary weaselfuck, Attorney General Bill McCollum. Where Crist is a moderate, McCollum is drunk on the GOP right-wing Kool Aid. Always has been.
Now, I'll disclose right up front here that I once ran a race against McCollum, in the 2004 U.S. Senate Republican primary. My candidate was Johnnie Byrd. (Go ahead, I will wait for the snickers to die down.) It was the same campaign that saw former GOP House leader Dick Armey campaign for McCollum. That saw McCollum lose by 14 points to Martinez after being the frontrunner most of the way.
I remember clearly in that campaign seeing polling that showed the public was absolutely freaked out about the issue because of sensational coverage of a few cases of Internet preying, combined with older voters' general fear about the new technology and how it is changing our society for the worse.
McCollum was right there to exploit those fears. And that exploitation continues today, except for one big change. Where in 2004 he used campaign contributors' money to spread his message, today he is using public dollars to fund his political statements. You must have seen these :30-second ads, as they've run during local news shows all over the state incessantly for a few weeks now. A hyper-grinning McCollum is on screen for nearly the entire spots. "77 million children go online every day. One out of seven will be solicited for sex," the attorney general tells us, the sleeves of his crisp blue shirt rolled up, ready to kick some predator ass. "Our cybercrime unit is doing everything possible to catch these predators, but we need the help of parents and grandparents — your help."
Not to mention your vote, grandma.
Nothing unusual or wrong with a politician flogging an issue they think helps them with voters. But what is wrong is using your campaign media consultant to produce the ad and buy the media time. The Miami Herald found that McCollum gave two no-bid contracts worth $1.4 million to a Philadelphia-based consultant, Chris Mottola, who worked on McCollum's 2004 Senate and 2006 attorney general campaigns. Most of that money went for a statewide advertising buy; Mottola earned, according to the Herald, $38,000 for producing the spot and another $100,000 as 10 percent commission on the media buy. That's more money than Mottola earned in McCollum's 2006 campaign.
McCollum's flack denies any wrongdoing and says fighting cybercrime is a longtime passion of the attorney general's. His office points out that tax dollars weren't used; the funding came from a lawsuit settlement with cell phone companies in a dispute over ring tone fees and other service costs.
Still, it stinks to high heaven to see these ads, prominently featuring McCollum, airing just as it became clear he was going to get a shot at the governor's mansion, owing to Crist's departure to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010. McCollum is one of those "law-and-order" politicians. He was one of the House prosecutors in the Bill Clinton impeachment, and the Washington Post described McCollum at the time as steering "the GOP's tough-on-criminals initiatives. He sponsored several anti-drug bills and a successful measure to ensure that crime victims and their families are not locked out of federal criminal trials."
During his time as our attorney general, he has also tried to shut down blackjack games at Seminole Indian casinos in Hollywood and Tampa after the courts invalidated a gaming compact between Crist and the tribe.
And during the 2004 campaign, McCollum had the brilliant idea of infiltrating Castro's Cuba with agents to strengthen the embargo and hasten the end of that regime. "With agents under cover as foreign tourists, liaisons can be developed inside Cuba that can provide valuable information, prepare for a post-Castro Cuba and help undermine the Castro regime," he said at the time.
Wing. Nut. And, possibly, our next governor.