Janet Reno's run for governor is over.
If she can't woo me, an easy sell, liberal feminist who admires her for blazing a trail and making history, Reno is in far worse trouble than the pundits have predicted.
It wouldn't have taken much to win my support, but she didn't offer anything when she dropped by the offices of Weekly Planet recently. She came with no vision, no plan, no specifics and no reason to elect her governor.
I wanted Reno to tell us how she's going to go charging up to Tally in her red pickup truck to kick some tail. But there's no fire in her belly.
She spent more than an hour talking with the editorial staff, and despite our continued attempts to extract some sort of platform from her, all we kept getting was: "If I could accomplish one thing, what I would do is make sure the children of Florida would have a firm foundation on which to grow."
Noooooooo! I don't minimize the importance of early intervention and its long-term impact on society, but she can't build an entire campaign on doing right by kids. Not in a state where the environment is in peril, the elderly population is getting shafted, qualified people are desperate for work, our universities are being run by inept fat-cat donors and our legislature can't get anything accomplished. This is a tough state for politics. If we're going to send a Democrat to the capitol to face off with a Republican legislature, that person had better come with more in mind than being nice to kids.
And, if she is going to stubbornly stick with that tack, she's got to at least come prepared with a five-pronged plan with original ideas for programs and accountability.
"I don't have that in place," she said. "I'm not there yet. I'd like to build on what Lawton started in terms of healthy children coalitions ..." Ooooooh nooooo. "We need smaller class sizes for the first years and give the children the foundation to learn. We have to make sure the teachers have all the respect they deserve because they are responsible for the future lawyers and doctors and attorney generals. ..."
After she told us she really couldn't comment on civil liberties under John Ashcroft or the use of secret evidence in prosecutions, I asked her about the chaos over at the University of South Florida concerning Tampa's official martyr, Sami Al-Arian.
"I can't comment on it," she said.
"Well, I can't comment on it."
Yes, you can. And, if you can't, how can you be governor? You weren't asked to reveal grand jury testimony; you were asked to react to an issue that's been on the front page here for months. You can't opt out of everything because there is some sort of connection to your old work in the Justice Department. I asked what you thought of the situation over at USF. That touches on the USF president, its sorry board of trustees and questions of academic freedom. That is fair game for every candidate for governor.
How can she function in the governor's office when she'll have to deal with issues that were connected to her other life?
"I don't think I have a conflict," she said.
But, you do with USF?
"What I would do under any circumstance, whether I'm in government or not, I'd say I'm not familiar with the details of the case and I can't comment on it," she said.
"But, as governor, you'd have to get familiar," I said.
"Why would I have to get familiar?"
"Because you'd be governor," I told her.
"I think, perhaps, the ultimate resolution would be in the court, and I wouldn't comment before," she said. "I had worked on the case and I cannot comment."
Is there an issue of academic freedom at play?
"I think freedom of the press and academic freedom are two areas that are extremely important, but I comment only in general terms," she said.
If that back-and-forth leaves you a little bewildered, you aren't alone. I keep looking at it, thinking, That's Janet Reno talking?
She wasn't any more specific with questions about her time in Washington.
Bill Clinton? She's seen him once since she left, talked to him a couple of times and hasn't consulted with him about her campaign.
"He is one of the smartest people I have ever met," she said, regaling us with the finest attributes of the former president, from his command of government and history to his connection with other people. Her list goes on for quite a while. Finally, she winds it down, saying, "... and, he made one big mistake."
Huh? Which one?
Monica Lewinsky. Not the pardons. Not the Lincoln Bedroom. Not Whitewater or Travelgate or any of the other scandals that left once staunch Clinton supporters like me so disillusioned and angry.
It was Monica Lewinsky. Though she never said Lewinsky's name, the way Reno kept talking about the "mistake," I realized she wasn't talking about perjury or obstruction of justice, but rather, the b.j. in the Oval Office.
I asked what went on behind the scenes. Did she read the Drudge Report during the scandal? Were cabinet members calling and saying, "Did you hear the latest?"
"I didn't read the Drudge Report every day and I obviously didn't talk to people because I ... requested the expansion of the independent council's jurisdiction and the fact that the attorney general still has some supervisory jurisdiction in order to have rendered the statute Constitutional. ..."
"I chose not to discuss it with anybody."
Well, how she felt about it.
She waited a very long time to answer what seemed like such a simple question. Finally, she offered a convoluted sequence of sentences with words like evidence and law and probable cause and, finally she said, "I just thought he made a terrible mistake."
Well, what did she think of Juanita Broaddrick's story? Broaddrick was the woman who did not seek publicity, whose story seeped out after the impeachment, when most of us were apparently too worn out to figure out whether she was raped by Clinton when he was attorney general of Arkansas.
"I don't remember the details of that," she said. This was Janet Reno talking. The former attorney general of the United States.
She's kidding. She's got to be kidding, I thought. Not only was she the nation's top law enforcement officer, but she was the former state attorney who stood at the forefront of the movement to end violence against women.
She doesn't remember the allegation of rape?
"There have been so many spurious things said about people that, until I see them, I just don't really address them."
Janet! Please say you were so concerned that you went to the President and asked him about it directly. Or, at least say, "I was very disturbed by the allegations and hoped in my heart that they were not true."
Later, her assistant would say that Reno reacted oddly because she hadn't been grilled so hard on the Clinton issues. I wondered how that could be true, but also, how her answers could be so strained. This was Janet Reno, someone who I used to think — and still think — is one of the strongest women alive. She is a woman of greatness. She knows right from wrong. She never seemed to have to protect anybody else's reputation. Where was her outrage?
Janet Reno is one of my heroes.
She is a woman of greatness who has guts, stamina and fortitude. She knows how to make unpopular decisions without running from them. She has shown me what is possible if I stay true to myself. She's a folk hero who is larger than life.
But, she's no governor.
Deep down, she must know that. I asked her how badly she wanted to win, and what it would take to make that happen, considering key players in her party have so openly ridiculed her candidacy.
"It's going to take the people of Florida to make it real. And, I want to be governor. But, I want to be governor, not for the sake of being governor. I don't have higher aspirations. I don't want to get my brother elected president."
Good one, Janet.
"I don't have a political agenda. I have one agenda — to give the children of Florida a chance to grow safely."
Janet, if you stay in this race and take the primary based on your name recognition, Florida will be the loser when Jeb trounces you in November — which you know he will. There's too much at stake. Please, Janet. Give Bill McBride the keys to the truck.
Contact Columnist Fawn Germer at [email protected].
Editor's Note: Ben Eason, president of Weekly Planet's parent company, Creative Loafing Inc., and Planet Publisher Bill Boyd have contributed to the Bill McBride for governor campaign. That fact does not influence the editorial content of this newspaper.