SARASOTA — Eager to rev up his suddenly troubled campaign, Bill McCollum on Thursday vowed as governor to mandate all local governments freeze property taxes for at least two years.
"A (tax rate) freeze is going to make local governments make the same tough choices I'm going to make at the state level," the Republican attorney general told news editors gathered in Sarasota for a Florida Press Association and Florida Society of Newspaper Editors convention.
Republican gubernatorial front-runner Rick Scott missed the event, but it was still the largest single gathering of major statewide candidates to date in this hectic political year. It produced some striking moments:
• Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio, who has been hazy on his immigration position, for the first time said he would not support Florida pursuing a tough anti-illegal immigration law like the one passed recently in Arizona: "I think it should be solved at the federal level."
• Gov. Charlie Crist, running as an independent for the U.S. Senate, said he no longer supports Florida's ban against gay couples adopting children: "A better way and approach would be to let judges make that decision on a case-by-case basis."
• McCollum professed to be unaware of the activities of two stealth political committees attacking Scott on TV — even though McCollum's campaign advisers are directing the committees' spending and he has been urging supporters to contribute to one of them.
• Not exactly pandering to the assembled media, McCollum waxed about the limits of open government in the state legislature: "I'm not sure the Legislature is the place for open government," McCollum said. "I was a legislator, and you can't negotiate and do deals in the Legislature and get business done in 60 days or 90 days or whatever your session may be with open government."
• Little known Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Alex Snitker of Pasco County crashed the candidate forum, snatching a microphone and demanding speaking time.
"Let me speak! Come on, media!" shouted Snitker, who is among more than a dozen candidates who have qualified to be on the ballot for senate.
A moderator explained that only candidates who have received at least 10 percent support in a credible poll were invited. He let Snitker vent for several minutes before the candidate stormed out.
"You are stopping the freedom of speech of someone who spent eight years defending your right to do it," Snitker, a former Marine, shouted at the uncomfortable media executives.
Also speaking were Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek, the U.S. representative from Miami, and Democratic challenger Jeff Greene, a Palm Beach real estate magnate and billionaire political newcomer who is spending millions on TV.
Highlighting how rough that primary is becoming, Meek derided Greene as a carpet-bagger who made hundreds of millions betting on the housing market collapse that killed Florida economy.
"Not one Florida homeowner lost a penny because of the investments I made," said Greene.
Unlike Meek, Greene said, he at least understood what was happening with the economy. He also alluded to an ongoing scandal in which a developer for whom Meek sought federal funds paid Meek's mother, former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, for consulting work and bought her a Cadillac.
Referring to his own elderly mother, Greene said, "She won't be doing any consulting. … She won't be getting an Escalade."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, Florida's chief financial officer, touted her business experience and outsider perspective.
"I'm going to work with Republicans as well as Democrats who care about what they were sent to Tallahassee to do, which is look out for the best interests of Floridians," Sink said, sounding much like Gov. Crist. "People all over this state are angry about the partisanship and lack of problem solving."
Lawton "Bud" Chiles III, though, told the journalists that voters are especially fed up with special interests and major donors. The son of the late Democratic governor is running as a nonpartisan candidate and, like his father, vows to eschew special interest money.
"The people of Florida need a choice, and I believe they will respond," said Chiles, promising to review questionable sales tax exemptions and support an internet sales tax to help adequately fund education and other programs.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.