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Incoming leaders promise more conservative Florida Senate

For all the drama surrounding Florida's statewide campaigns, it's easy to overlook a major political development in Florida that's already a done deal: the sharp rightward shift of the Florida Senate.

Ever since Republicans came to dominate Tallahassee, the GOP-led Senate has been a moderating force on the more partisan and conservative Florida House. That practice appears sure to end as incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos takes the helm.

The 40-year-old Merritt Island conservative has already replaced a dozen high-level Senate committee staffers, and has made it clear he's done with the Senate's image as a check on the conservative activism that is often associated with the state House. Where the Senate used to be known as where bold conservative ideas would die, Haridopolos likes to say, it's about to be a place where they thrive.

"The Senate president and the speaker of the House not only like each other, but are hard right-wing conservatives and that's a very good sign," incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon said at a recent rally.

There may be no stronger sign of the changing climate than John Thrasher, the state GOP chairman and former state House Speaker, winning the Jacksonville area Senate seat of the late Jim King, a moderate Republican who counted among his best friends Rod Smith, who is now Alex Sink's running mate.

"The most conservative Florida Senate in at least 40 years,'' predicts Thrasher.

'Political Connections' features Bondi, Gelber

Speaking of former Gainesville-area prosecutor and state Sen. Rod Smith, one of the more striking moments on a Political Connections interview with Republican Pam Bondi airing today on Bay News 9 is when she said she wouldn't be running for attorney general if Democrat Rod Smith had run. A former assistant state attorney who has campaigned as an ardent conservative bent on killing President Barack Obama's health care overhaul would have been happy with Smith? Yup, she would have stayed out if either Smith or former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker ran.

Today's Political Connections also features her Democratic rival, fellow former prosecutor Dan Gelber, who was outraged over Bondi having recently likened him to former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who as attorney general was known for aggressively prosecuting white-collar crime but is better known for a prostitution scandal.

"Words matter. I think it was really irresponsible,'' Gelber said. "My wife was really upset and I was really upset. We have young daughters who wanted to know why I'm another Eliot Spitzer.''

Bondi said the comparison was based on Spitzer wanting to rise from one political office to another.

Former GOP officials loved their gadgets

Among the striking things in the Florida GOP investigation into questionable financial activity under former chairman Jim Greer is how often party leaders were buying electronic equipment. Indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom spent more than $10,000 at Best Buy alone and bought an Apple computer in New York City for $2,112.

Former GOP executive director Delmar Johnson also spent thousands of dollars on electronics that could not be connected to party business. Johnson kept one laptop because he said he had permission, and he returned to the party a GPS and digital camera. In both cases, the report says, they were cheaper models than what was charged to the party.

Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Adam Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com.

Winner

of the week

Marco Rubio. He is now the undisputed front-runner in the U.S. Senate race. Not all polls are created equal, but the trend line is clear: The four latest polls in Florida show Rubio with a double-digit lead over Charlie Crist, anywhere from 11 points to 16 points. The average of recent polls compiled by Pollster.com has Republican Rubio with 41 percent support, nonpartisan Crist with 30 percent and Democrat Kendrick Meek with 21 percent. On top of that, a newly released internal GOP review conveniently glossed over some of the considerable questions about Rubio's use of a party credit card.

Loser

of the week

Alex Sink. She remains the nominal front-runner for governor, but surely it has to sting that the Florida Chamber of Commerce would endorse Republican Rick Scott over her for governor. Not only is she a longtime banking executive who served on the Florida chamber's board, but the chamber spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to beat Scott in the GOP primary.

Incoming leaders promise more conservative Florida Senate 09/19/10 [Last modified: Sunday, September 19, 2010 12:01am]

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