So what's it like to be Kevin Ambler these days?
What's it like to be the Republican who took on a Republican and exposed the truth about his vacation house bankrolled by a big-shot businessman?
What's it like to lose a state Senate election to that same disgraced rival? To be called a sore loser? To be the guy who embarrassed his party with legitimate dirt on a favored son and, some say, torched his own career in the process?
What's it like to be Ambler? Well, since you ask …
Pretty good, actually.
"There is life after politics," Ambler said cheerfully this week.
He was the white-haired lawyer-legislator in the state House you might spot on Fox News, arguing for an Arizona-style immigration law for Florida. He knew Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman for 20 years, worked on his first campaign, watched sports with him, represented him on legal matters, even.
In Tallahassee, Ambler says he helped his friend with a number of initiatives for the Salvation Army, which pays Norman $95,000 a year — a fat salary that has drawn the ire of folks who put hard-earned cash in those red kettles and now wonder exactly what it is Norman does to earn it.
Things got less chummy when the term-limited Ambler and Norman were eyeing the same Senate seat. If Norman ran for the House instead, Ambler reasoned, they could be "a team on getting bills done." Norman, he says, wasn't interested.
Party bigwigs threw their weight Norman's way. Mailers made it look "like I was a Democrat," Ambler says. Which in a Republican primary may as well be alley cat.
"I had nothing to lose," Ambler says. "I felt that I was the more qualified candidate. I had been a good Republican. I had deviated at times from the established path, but I'm known for putting principles over politics." (Phrases like that help you understand how his testimony last year helped win him a nearly $1 million judgment when he rear-ended a semi. And, no, that's not a typo.)
So Norman beat Ambler. Then came Ambler's lawsuit tying Norman to the failure to disclose a half-million dollar vacation home, already the subject of headlines and an ethics complaint. For a while there, Ambler got e-mails saying things like "go away" and "sore loser." Those stopped when Norman admitted the house was paid for by millionaire political activist Ralph Hughes.
So a judge booted Norman off the ballot and an appeals court put him back on. Ambler may disagree, but says he respects the ruling as "a well grounded, rational" decision that's an interpretation of law and not about what Norman actually did.
He laughs when I ask about his current relationship with the Republican Party. "There hasn't been a lot of communication there," he says. Still, he says, some supported him and privately applaud what he did.
His wife of 26 years sat beside him in court. His film school graduate son just finished working on a Ludacris video, and his daughter is a fine arts major. He just had a headline-making case about Stand-Your-Ground, a law he co-sponsored. Life doesn't sound bad.
"I'm certainly going to have an opportunity to take a breather and collect my thoughts," he says.