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Sue Carlton

Jim Norman's withdrawal restores a little faith in government

I would have bet good money on a different sort of ending to the political career of state Sen. Jim Norman.

Because with him, the whiff of scandal never seemed to stick.

He was a popular longtime Hillsborough County commissioner with an eye toward Tallahassee. Then came big headlines about that $500,000 vacation home that was, as it turned out, bankrolled for his wife by his millionaire buddy and longtime political supporter, antitax activist Ralph Hughes.

And guess what?

Norman got elected to the Senate anyway.

Move along, nothing to see here.

Norman was in despite a legal challenge from an opponent that got him briefly booted off the ballot. The judge on the case seemed incredulous at Norman's explanation about how little he knew about how his wife got that lovely home, sprawled along a lake in a resort town in Arkansas.

Despite the fact that, well, yes, he had gone there with her.

A federal investigation into all of this ended without charges, which meant Norman could claim some measure of vindication. Under the law, you have to show what a politician gave someone in exchange for getting something. That evidence wasn't found here — even if you still questioned the shaky foundation of Norman's explanation.

And so he settled into the Senate. There was even talk of him maybe being a rising star in the Republican Party.

I would have at least predicted a comfortable career for him, despite those niggling questions about that house.

Do you suppose this is because we voters seem to have an amazing capacity for forgetting? Or are we so used to business as usual in our state that we don't expect much more from the people we elect?

Turns out, I was wrong. In the end, it seems that house stuck.

Maybe it was when Norman signed that admission of guilt to the state ethics board for not disclosing the house, as is required. After that maybe it was the anticipation — or was it dread — of the inevitable stories to come about the Senate itself having to decide discipline for a freshly re-elected Norman on those ethics charges.

Maybe that's what finally made his party say: Enough. And then throw strong endorsement weight behind state Rep. John Legg.

The message there could not have been more clear than if Norman had shown up at a home where he'd always been welcomed with open arms, a beer and a plate of barbecue, and this time found the door shut firmly in his face.

And so, with three terse lines from him to the state elections board Tuesday, after two decades in public office, Jim Norman is out.

Which is not to say you won't ever see him elected again to something, someday, somewhere. This is politics in Florida, after all.

There is no great happiness in this ending. But maybe in there somewhere is a sense of something like justice.

Maybe it's a sign that we voters don't necessarily sit back and accept whatever is served up to us, and that we don't necessarily forget.

Maybe it's also a glimmer that political parties are actually paying attention.

And maybe it's a chance, if it's not too much to ask, to restore a little faith in government.

Jim Norman's withdrawal restores a little faith in government 06/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 14, 2012 10:21am]
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