Sunday, May 27, 2018
Politics

An actual race for state Senate instead of business as usual?

Rob Wallace lays claim to a record in Florida politics: the shortest senatorial campaign ever.

An engineer, he has calculated each minute between being picked by the Republican party after a judge kicked Jim Norman off the ballot for state Senate in 2010 right up to the moment Norman was back in, courtesy of an appeals court.

"Sixty-one minutes," Wallace says.

Expect his current campaign to represent parts of north Hills­borough and Pasco in the state Senate to last longer — and to be a bigger headache for Sen. Norman.

In the improbable soap opera that is Tallahassee politics, the environmental engineer who has logged his own years in the Legislature is running again. He's already out on Dale Mabry Highway in the morning rush waving a sign that says "Engineer For A Change."

Norman for the moment basks in a hero role for his efforts to save the University of South Florida from the worst funding cuts. Wallace, who served in the state House for eight years until term limits ended his run, is not likely to let the momentary cheers drown out lingering questions about that house.

Yes, that house. That pricey lakefront vacation house in Arkansas, financed by $500,000 given to Norman's wife by his politically active millionaire friend. The house he called his wife's "investment." The one he would probably like us to forget already.

After he announced his intent to run against Norman, Wallace said, "I think he needs to spend more time at the lake." And, we're off!

I am sure Norman would prefer to focus on the USF drama, political theater that could even save his seat. Hey, the feds already determined there was nothing to charge him with regarding the house. And in a politically brilliant move even as that USF green-and-gold confetti was still falling around him, Norman admitted to related ethics charges. So no public hearing, no cross-examination, no rehash of explanations the judge in the ballot battle called absurd. If all goes well, failing to disclose that house could one day be remembered not as a question of ethics — maybe just a difference of opinion on whether he had to, or just something that plum slipped his mind like mailing the electric bill.

But now Norman has a race on his hands. Homeland security consultant John Korsak had already thrown his hat in. But now Norman has Wallace to contend with, a conservative small-business owner with a legislative record of opposing big government and high taxes. "In eight years, not a whisper of impropriety," Wallace says, and throws in a little Jefferson: "My hands were as clean as they were empty when I left office." At the very least, he will be the guy whose wife did not get a house.

So how did fellow Republicans react to Wallace jumping in? He says he didn't ask permission, but no one's called to chew him out, either. It will be interesting to see how the party (and the money) lines up, how Norman's loyalty weighs against his damage.

But does business as usual ever change?

As you might have heard, Rush Limbaugh recently called a woman whose views he disagreed with a slut, and a lot of people said: enough. In a recent moment in Tallahassee, an antiabortion bill was blocked by a bipartisan coalition (remember bipartisan?), with a Republican calling for focusing on jobs and other critical matters instead.

A break from business as usual? Stranger things have happened.

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