TALLAHASSEE — Although Republican Bill McCollum fell short in his attempts to be a senator or a governor, he tangled with Democratic presidents during a long career as a U.S. representative and during a single term as Florida's attorney general.
Aside from wanting to have won a few more elections, McCollum said there's little he'd have done differently before leaving the Attorney General's Office Tuesday. He doesn't second-guess the decision that led to his failed bid in an acrimonious governor's race, where he was defeated by Gov.-elect Rick Scott in the Republican primary.
"The opportunity as governor to do more is there," McCollum said during a midweek breakfast interview. "There's just a lot of good things you can do as governor. I have the background, I thought I could do it."
But that stinging defeat about four months ago didn't diminish McCollum's pride in the accomplishments of the Attorney General's Office under his leadership the past four years.
"We've had more impact on people's lives," he said about the priorities of his agency. "We've saved people's lives."
McCollum points to his expansion of cybercrime units to crack down on child pornography, in part by educating middle school children. He also has beefed up enforcement to reduce the growing number of youth gangs.
When Gov. Charlie Crist decided one term was enough for him, McCollum seemed to be a shoo-in for the GOP gubernatorial nomination because party insiders discouraged others from getting into the 2010 contest.
Scott, a millionaire health care executive from Naples, had other ideas — and a fortune to spend against McCollum, who had the backing of virtually every significant Republican in Florida, including former Gov. Jeb Bush.
However, Scott's millions prevailed in the primary and in his general election defeat of Democrat Alex Sink. It took McCollum awhile to come to terms with that bitter outcome and some of the criticism from Scott's nearly nonstop television advertising blitz that portrayed the attorney general as an insider and part of the problem with government.
"I want to make it clear that I have no particular sour grapes against Mr. Scott," the 66-year-old McCollum said this week. "I want to see him succeed."
The past decade was a turbulent one politically for McCollum.
In 2006, he won a statewide bid for the only time in four tries when he defeated former state Sen. Skip Campbell of Fort Lauderdale for attorney general.
In that role, McCollum tangled with his second Democratic president, challenging Barack Obama's health care overhaul in federal court. Several other states soon followed and joined Florida as plaintiffs. McCollum contends the plan is unconstitutional because it requires people to carry health insurance.
"It's the most defining issue of my lifetime," McCollum said. "It's a huge issue of state sovereignty, where is the line?"
McCollum was a key player in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton on perjury charges in the Monica Lewinsky affair, and he still believes Clinton should have been removed from office for lying about his sexual relationship with the former White House intern.
"No question about it," said McCollum, who spent 20 years in the U.S. House.
Clinton had denied under oath that he'd had sexual relations with Lewinsky, although it was later discovered the two had oral sex. Clinton, however, was acquitted at trial in the U.S. Senate.
McCollum left Congress in 2000 to run for the Senate seat vacated by Republican Connie Mack III but was defeated by Democrat Bill Nelson.
McCollum tried again for the Senate in 2004, but lost in the GOP primary to Mel Martinez.
Given those losses and McCollum's age, it would seem his political career would be over.
"I've learned a long time ago to never say never," said McCollum, who resurrected his political career in 2006 after spending six years in the private sector following his Senate race losses.
McCollum asked for one favor as this interview concluded.
"You've got to mention my wife," he said in reference to his bride, Ingrid, of nearly 40 years. "I couldn't have done any of this without her."