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If Dockery enters race for governor, expect fireworks

Paula Dockery for governor?

With each passing day, the Republican state senator from Lakeland sounds closer to jumping into the race with both feet, creating a primary within the GOP and potentially causing a lot of headaches for Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Dockery says she'll announce her decision in three weeks. She has enlisted the advice of David Hill, a Texas political consultant who has experience running a race against McCollum in Florida, so he knows the front-runner's strengths and weaknesses.

At this moment, nobody gives Dockery a snowball's chance of beating McCollum and becoming the Republican nominee for governor.

McCollum has the experience, the name I.D. and the money (though not nearly as much as he'd like).

But Dockery's style, message and (possibly) family money have the potential to transform the race overnight. Her husband is C.C. "Doc" Dockery, who opened his checkbook and almost single-handedly got high-speed rail into the Florida Constitution (only to see voters repeal it later).

Who is Paula Dockery? She's 48 and was born in Queens and raised in Broward (maiden name: Bono). She's Catholic. She went to high school in Coral Springs and got two degrees at the University of Florida: a bachelor's in political science, a master's in mass communications. And Dockery has a Charlie Crist-like ability to distill a complicated policy or project into stark, simple terms.

She was elected to the House in 1996, the year Republicans took control of the chamber for the first time since Reconstruction; she became a senator in 2002.

She chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, but she is best known in the Senate for her tenacious, successful crusade to defeat SunRail, the big CSX commuter rail project in Central Florida that was the top priority of the region's political and business leadership (and a priority of the governor).

In the clubby and clannish Senate, Dockery would not win many popularity contests.

But if she runs, she'll deploy that as an asset as proof of her ability to stand up to the good ol' boys and question the misuse of taxpayers' money. For McCollum, a career politician, that could be very dangerous.

Having sunk SunRail, Dockery has another crusade: slowing down Crist's plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy U.S. Sugar land for Everglades restoration.

Dockery has decided the price is too high and the wrong land is on the table.

"I question some of the big deals that have been put together, that they're not in the best interests of the taxpayers," Dockery said. "I think we're throwing things around here a little haphazardly, and someone needs to be the nerdy policy wonk and really dig into the details."

Here's what Dockery says about her fellow Republicans running things in Tallahassee: "I see an anti-establishment feeling out there and a hunger for something other than politics as usual. As you see more and more scandals unfolding, as you see more and more questionable activity, people want something different and somebody to believe in that has shown they're going to fight for the people."

If she runs, she'll have a hard time explaining a few past votes to her party's conservative base.

On April 30, 2008, she was one of seven Republicans who voted to kill a bill that would have required women seeking a first-trimester abortion to first be shown an ultrasound, an image of the fetus.

Dockery is strongly opposed to offshore oil drilling. Listen to this sound bite: "One spill, and Florida is not Florida anymore," she said.

One Dockery candidacy, and Republican politics in Florida may not be the same.

If Dockery enters race for governor, expect fireworks 10/09/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 9, 2009 9:32pm]
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