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Bill McCollum may be from here, but Paula Dockery was good for here

Maybe you're pulling for our hometown candidate in the governor's race.

Attorney General Bill McCollum has spent most of his life in Washington, Tallahassee and suburban Orlando, but he grew up as Brooksville as could be.

His maternal grandfather was a lawyer for the forerunner to SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast (and, at the time of McCollum's birth, one of only two registered Republicans in Hernando County).

McCollum played touch football with future Brooksville lawyer Joe Mason and ran after fire trucks when they rolled out of the old station near his house on Liberty Street. A big thrill was retrieving a watermelon from the ice house in town.

Listening to these sweet-tea memories back in 1998, it was easy to forget that McCollum had been groomed from the start to become what he is: a right-wing ideologue. He gave this interview during a break from a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, where he was leading the charge to impeach Bill Clinton for the offense of being a terrible husband.

In his current job, McCollum not only decided that the state's moronic ban on gay adoption was worth defending, but approved paying George ( Rekers $120,000 to testify as an expert witness.

So, maybe more of us should have supported our other hometown candidate — now former candidate — state Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland. She doesn't have McCollum's Brooksville roots, but has represented the east side of the county in Tallahassee since 2002.

Her big problem was money, she said when she dropped out of the race on Monday. And it's true her campaign account was tiny compared to McCollum's and looked even tinier next to the many millions of his own money that former Columbia/HCA CEO Rick Scott seems willing to dump into the race.

It hurt that Scott is spending this cash pretending to be what Dockery really is — a maverick. It hurt even more because she established her position the old-fashioned way, by alienating party leaders. Plus, she didn't have much name recognition.

But even with everything going against her, how could so few Republicans prefer her to a phony such as Scott, who was forced to resign from his company before it was fined $1.7 billion for bilking the federal government out of Medicare and Medicaid payments? Or to McCollum, who, it turns out, tried to protect what is now HCA Inc. from fraud prosecution when he was in Congress?

But that was the result of a poll sponsored by the Times and other media outlets released two days before Dockery dropped out: McCollum was favored by 46 percent of Republicans, Scott by 22 percent and Dockery by 3 percent.

Sure, money and name recognition were problems. But so are the priorities of Republican voters.

Dockery is experienced, well informed and reliably against anything that makes the Legislature look like a trading floor for favors between special interests and lawmakers.

Drilling in state waters? Months before the current disaster, she said, "One spill and Florida is not Florida anymore.''

The now-vetoed bill from this year's session that made it easier for corporations to funnel money to leading lawmakers and last year's gutting of growth management laws? She voted against them both.

Also last year, her history of protecting the environment earned her the Teddy Roosevelt Award from Audubon of Florida.

Maybe that kind of endorsement and this kind of favorable write-up in the Times is as welcome to a Republican as a hug from President Barack Obama. Maybe it's worked against her — proven to some that she isn't a real conservative.

Okay, but look back at her sweeping water bill from 2005. It protected the aquifer from over-pumping while trying to make sure the state had enough water to continue to grow. Some people even called it a handout to developers. To me, it's the classic work of a moderate Republican, the kind the state needs more of, the kind that, with the backing of her party, could have lured voters from uninspiring Democrat Alex Sink, and the kind that, if I were a Republican from Brooksville, I'd want to claim as my hometown candidate.

Bill McCollum may be from here, but Paula Dockery was good for here 05/25/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 7:12pm]
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