Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos faces tough questions in Tampa

TAMPA — Senate President Mike Haridopolos says he has been keeping a busy schedule lately, spending as many as six days a week speaking to people across Florida about the Legislature's accomplishments.

And that's what he started to talk about Friday as the lunch guest of the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa.

But then came the questions. Though the group bills itself on its website as "Hillsborough County's premier bipartisan political club," Haridopolos, a Republican from Merritt Island running for the U.S. Senate, said the queries left him feeling like most of the 72 in attendance were "a little left of center, or far left of center."

But that's okay. "I'm glad they asked questions," he said.

Perhaps the most pointed question came from club member William Frye, who asked Haridopolos about his controversial deal with Brevard Community College, in which he was paid $152,000 to write a book, and about his failure to accurately disclose his finances on state ethics forms.

Will you pay the money back? Frye asked.

Haridopolos responded that he met all of his obligations under a four-year contract with the college, where he taught for many years. He didn't say he would return the money, but said all proceeds from the sale of the book, Florida History & Legislative Processes, go back to the college.

As for the finance disclosure issue, for which he was admonished by his own Senate, he told the Tiger Bay group, "I made a mistake filling out the forms." But he said as soon as the mistakes were brought to his attention he dealt with them promptly.

Other questions were wide ranging. Would he support lifting the travel ban on Cuba? He would not. What did he think about cuts to education? They were among the most difficult, but they were necessary to help address a nearly $4 billion budget shortfall without raising taxes, he said.

Afterward, Haridopolos said the tough questions might be a sign that some in attendance are worried about Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson holding onto his seat in 2012. Haridopolos is among the Republicans hoping to replace Nelson.

Tiger Bay will get their crack at another Republican U.S. Senate candidate, George LeMieux, on July 15.

Richard Martin can be reached at rmartin@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3322.

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos faces tough questions in Tampa 06/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 18, 2011 12:06am]

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