The state we're in: The Top 10 developments in Florida and Tampa Bay politics in 2010

Then nobody should have been more vulnerable than Pinellas County warhorse Bill Young, running to stay in Congress for his 40th year in Congress, and long known for using earmarks to bring home federal spending not only to Florida’s 10th Congressional District, but also to others throughout the country. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, Young obtained over $475 million in earmarks between 2008 & 2010.

So when a Tea Party-based candidate named Eric Forcade said that he was going to take on a living example of all that was wrong in Washington, what happened? Forcade got little traction, raised very little money and ended up endorsing Young.

So much for consistency.

[image-1]3. The temporary end of Charlie Justice’s political career

Speaking of Congressman Young, Democrats nationally knew a year ago that after having won so many Congressional seats in 2006 & 2008, many from previous GOP strongholds, there wouldn’t be much low-hanging fruit in 2010.

Enter one of the Florida Democratic party’s rising stars — state Senator Charlie Justice, representing Hillsborough and Pinellas over the past four years. Hungry to take on the potentially vulnerable Young — or perhaps somebody not nearly so formidable if the then 79-year-old called it a career — Justice announced he would run against Young in Congress.

Justice began his campaign in earnest against Young in the springtime, blasting him in a series of press releases about his pork-barrel spending. Unfortunately, nobody was paying attention. By the time they were, Young, whom House leadership persuaded to run again, dusted Justice away without deigning to give the Democrat one debate.

In retrospect, not only did the Dems lose a chance to pick up a Congressional seat, they also lost one of their few state Senators.

4. The ignorance of the Florida/American voter, Part I

Seriously, did Floridians realize that they’d been under a Republican Governor and a Republican-led Legislature for the past 12 years? And that the power of Tallahassee in many ways has much more of an impact on their day-to-day lives than what happens out of Washington D.C.? Apparently not.

Before she dropped out of the race for governor, Polk County GOP state Senator Paula Dockery railed against what she deemed the “culture of corruption” that had pervaded Tallahassee. She called for the release of all the state party’s credit cards, as a scandal involving state finances saw former party chair Jim Greer get thrown in the slammer. Rick Scott used a similar outsider strategy in the GOP primary against Bill McCollum.

But Scott dropped the anti-Tallahassee stance in the general and decided to run against Washington, using Alex Sink as a surrogate for Barack Obama despite the fact that she literally ran away from the president when they campaigned together. Yet the majority of Florida voters somehow bought what Scott was selling.

[image-2]5. Alex Sink’s flawed campaign

It’s easy to take shots at Sink nearly two months after the general election; Washington insiders like MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and political analyst Stuart Rothenberg called her the most “over-hyped candidate of 2010.”

But the fact of the matter is that she always seemed too tightly wound up, afraid that she would be accused of something negative by the press. In the fall of 2009 she looked like a deer caught in headlights when asked about a government-run public health option; it didn’t make sense when she was running against a multi-millionaire to decline public campaign money; and CL readers, she didn’t think much of you when her office declined our entreaties for an interview a few weeks before the election — an election in which she needed to appeal to as many as possible, as she would ultimately lose by that extremely close 1.3%.

6. Jim Norman has a state Senate seat. Seriously.

We can’t blame the voters on this one — because for democracy to work, at least two parties have to participate. But the Hillsborough/Pasco County Democrats didn’t take part in the District 12 Senate race, failing to provide a candidate to run against Norman. So after he was disgraced when it was revealed that former Hillsborough power broker Ralph Hughes had given Norman’s family the cash to purchase an Arkansas home that he failed to report, Senate 12 voters were stuck between Norman and two non-credible write-in candidates.

7. Louis Miller bails out before the sh*t comes down, and exiles to Atlanta.

Tampa citizens take enormous pride in their airport — a little excessively in my opinion, but it is an efficient place to catch a flight. But Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio seemed to be in denial as damaging information started getting released about Miller’s tenure.

But since he left and was replaced (until January 1) by interim director John Wheat, the mayor seems more disgusted by some of the actions of TIA staff.

Look at the leader, Ms. Mayor.

8. Florida’s illegal immigration “problem”

Let’s be clear. Illegal immigration is still a problem in the U.S. The fact that we don’t know who 11 million people are in this country is not a good thing for national security alone. But with unemployment at its highest level in years in Florida, the issue was hardly at the top of any Republican leader’s concerns. That is, until Arizona, a border state with legitimate security concerns with undocumented immigrants, passed SB 1070. Florida Republicans running for state and even local office seized on the issue to get an advantage over their opponents.

Nobody used it more cynically than Rick Scott, who blasted Bill McCollum when he (accurately) said that Florida wasn’t Arizona, and didn’t need an Arizona type of law. Scott hit the airwaves accusing the attorney general of being wimpy on illegal immigration, and he was on his way to upsetting the heavy favorite.

Then, to prove how much he cared about the issue, Scott never talked about it at all in his general election race against Alex Sink.

9. South Tampa activists vs. Stacy Frank and the Tampa/Hillsborough establishment re: cell phone towers

Look, everybody loves the new technology, smart phones, droids, 4G. It’s all rather remarkable. But there is a lot of important data that says we don’t know enough — and that children in particular should be wary around wireless technology, which is why several European nations are much more restrictive than America in its usage.

Cheers to those activists in South Tampa who have brought the issue out front — they’re not crazy, or hypocrites. They’re concerned citizens who know a lot more than their critics.

[image-3]10. The ignorance of the voters, Part 2

Remember when Alex Sink complained during the two major televised debates that Rick Scott had refused to meet with any newspaper editorial boards, and that subsequently she had been endorsed by every major newspaper?

The state yawned.

In an ideal world, failing to go before an editorial board might matter. Or refusing to debate might have gotten you in trouble.

But not Rick Scott, or Pam Bondi, or Jeff Atwater, who never debated his Democratic challenger for CFO, Loranne Ausley.

The mainstream media doesn’t have nearly the power it used to. When Rick Scott said that instead of meeting with editorial boards, he was meeting the people of Florida, it was a corny line. Yet it had resonance with the public.

Sure, there was that whole Medicare fraud story from the 1990s. But that was so last century, wasn’t it?

Willful ignorance, blatant hypocrisy, campaign mistakes  — it was all in a year's work in the election year that was. Here are my observations of 10 key political developments that brought us to the state we're in.

1. Kendrick Meek’s lack of respect from Democratic voters

The former Miami Congressman was never taken seriously in 2010, and for that the Florida Democratic party must take blame/credit. When Meek quickly earned endorsements from some of the state’s major public employee unions and then was aided by Bill Clinton’s fundraising prowess in 2009, no major Democrat dared get into the race. Not necessarily because they feared Meek — no, they feared Charlie Crist, the most popular politician in the state at the time.

You know the rest: Marco Rubio and Crist dominated headlines for nearly a year, until Jeff Greene (remember him?) got into the race and compelled the media to follow the Democratic race for Senate.

But even though Meek trounced Greene at the end, a substantial portion of Democratic voters was never loyal to Meek, telling pollsters all year long that they really didn’t “know” their nominee that well. And by the time Charlie Crist went indie, many of those voters fell all over themselves to back the governor and his newfound indie religion, rather than the solid party man.

Although race was never mentioned in mainstream press accounts about the lack of party love for Meek, it always lurked underneath. In January, when former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre still thought he might have a chance at the nomination, he told CL he could beat Meek in the primary because whites in the panhandle/North Florida region would overwhelmingly support him — because of his race.

And when the Dennis Stackhouse story broke, some Dems seized on that story to discredit Meek — forgetting the fact that Crist and Rubio had mini-scandals of their own, which is why all three earned the distinction of making Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics’ Top 10 list of crooked candidates.

2. Local Tea Party hypocrisy

Although liberals mocked them in 2009, the influence of the Tea Party was evident all over the landscape this past year. But that doesn’t mean that everything they said made sense.

For example, tea party activists insisted in ’09 that they wanted to get rid of “career politicians” and those who spent money excessively, right?

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