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Pick to replace Norman on ballot considers himself more conservative

TAMPA — It would be a challenge for Republicans to find a more conservative replacement for ousted state Senate candidate Jim Norman than Rob Wallace.

On Saturday, the party chose the former state House member who stood consistently against high taxes and big government while serving from 1994 to 2002.

While Norman's name remains on the ballot for early voting and the Nov. 2 general election, a vote for Norman will be counted for Wallace instead — barring court rulings to the contrary.

While in the Legislature, Wallace voted against mandatory swimming pool fences and bicycle helmets as too much government regulation. An environmental engineer by profession, he worked to cap fines for environmental violations.

Years after leaving office, he stated his views in a self-published manual, the Minuteman Almanac.

In a race with no Democrat, Wallace, 58, is on track to represent State Senate District 12 in north Hillsborough and central Pasco counties if neither Norman nor his rival Kevin Ambler prevails in court appeals.

Norman is trying to convince the higher court that a Tallahassee judge should not have disqualified him for failing to disclose a $500,000 gift. Oral arguments are scheduled for this morning.

Ambler, who sued after he lost to Norman in the August primary, is arguing he should now be the nominee instead. It was Ambler's suit that resulted in Norman's removal. And Ambler was Wallace's successor to the state House seat in 2002.

Wallace said he plans to campaign in the remaining days before the Nov. 2 election.

"I plan to make some of those hand-held signs like I did before," he said. "There are a lot of people who helped me in the past, who are excited about getting me back in the public arena."

The only opposition to his election comes from write-in candidates Derek Crabb and Kimberly Renspie.

A resident of the Carrollwood area, Wallace is president of Environmental Engineering Consultants in Tampa.

He is married with four children, ages 17 to 26. They were educated almost entirely in parochial schools, although one attended the International Baccalaureate program at Hillsborough High School.

Wallace said he was an independent until he entered politics. He won the District 47 House seat during the midterm election period of the Clinton administration, defeating Democrat Brian Rush in a high-growth area that was attracting legions of suburban Republicans.

He established himself as a friend of small business. His opposition to tax hikes for school spending did not make him popular in public schools.

In 1995, a teacher from a school he wouldn't reveal sent a card filled with negative comments from students who called him "loser" and "squash head."

School officials apologized, and said they enjoyed a good working relationship afterwards.

"He always had an open-door policy when it came to education and educators," said lobbyist Connie Milito.

Wallace prides himself in being a budget watchdog. "We need to be careful about what government gets into," he said.

Government, he holds, should not grow faster than the family budget.

"For decades, taxation has hurt the family by forcing mothers into the work force," he wrote in 1996 to the St. Petersburg Times. "When two parents work, the one with the least income works entirely for the government."

He said Monday his point was not that mothers shouldn't work, but that the lesser of a couple's salaries shouldn't be lost to taxes.

He considers himself more conservative than Norman.

And, when given a chance to endorse Ambler for re-election to the District 47 seat in 2004, he backed Christian radio host Bill Bunkley instead.

Still, he does not think he is too extreme to prevail in a conventional race.

"I've run in elections," he said. Between primaries and general elections, "I'm 7 and 0."

The Minuteman Almanac, which sells online for $14.50, includes chapters about illegal immigration, fear mongering as a cause for budget growth, the morass of regulation and the loss of property rights.

Don't read too much into its title, Wallace said — he says he's not a tea party member.

"The idea was that the minuteman is on the scene, looking out for our liberty and protecting our freedom," he said.

Republican consultant Chris Ingram said it should come as no surprise that the party would name someone with right-wing views, as party leaders tend to be more conservative than party members as a whole.

Democrats, meanwhile, have let their members down, he said.

"I say this of the Republicans and the Democrats: Neither of the parties ever misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

Researcher John Martin and staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 624-2739 or sokol@sptimes.com.

Pick to replace Norman on ballot considers himself more conservative 10/25/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 12:31am]
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