Ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair climbs back into political ring

It is oh so tempting to ignore former Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair's latest headline, to say thanks but no thanks, we've happily moved on from the days of Blair-related news.

But, darn it, like the professional wrestler he once was, Blair keeps picking himself up off the mat and coming back with a new move.

If you are familiar with Blair, maybe you weren't surprised to hear he filed a libel suit this week against Kevin Beckner, the financial planner who soundly ousted him in the November election, promising a new day in the wake of Blair's controversial tenure.

Blair claims he was wronged, defamed, wounded, everything short of pile-driven, by the content of some of Beckner's campaign mailers and ads attacking his record.

Now you might think a guy who spent time running around a ring in yellow-and-black striped wrestler britches as a "Killer Bee" and finishing off opponents with a signature double drop kick would be a little tougher than that. You might also detect a whiff of sour grapes. The ex-wrestler, defeated by the openly-gay candidate?

Blair's suit says Beckner's characterization of several issues — among them, a commission pay raise, funding for a women's shelter, flying the Confederate flag and using taxpayer money to clean up lakes, including one behind his house — were all-out falsities.

Assuming the case makes it that far, jurors will not only have to separate fact from fallacy, but spend some time parsing the boiled-down, sound-bite language of campaign ads.

Such as: Is the lake behind your house shared by neighbors your "personal" lake? Is supporting a proclamation recognizing Robert E. Lee's birthday different from being a "sponsor" of Robert E. Lee Day? Is opposing a pay freeze the same as giving yourself a raise?

Here's one for the rest of us: Does Blair truly feel so truly wronged that he's willing to rehash details of news stories that dogged his tenure? Apparently so.

To win his case, he will have a high burden to meet, as the lawyers like to say. He'll have to show Beckner's words were defamatory and made with "reckless disregard" for the truth.

Beckner's campaign manager, Mitch Kates, stands by those words. "You know how they say the truth will set you free? Sometimes it'll lead you to unemployment, too," Kates says.

All in all, you can expect a bloody battle, with big-name lawyer Barry Cohen defending Beckner and already dismissing Blair as a "crybaby."

But about the gloves-off business of running for office.

No, no one should be able to call you a pedophile or a puppy-kicker, unless this is so. But smart lawyers will tell you we have long had broad privileges regarding what's called fair comment and the right of candidates to speak harshly, critically and hyperbolically about each other. Vigorous political debate should be protected.

At a press conference at his lawyer's high-rise office, Blair would not say what gig he might be eying next. But the fact that nearly three pages of his seven-page lawsuit are spent enumerating his proud accomplishments as county commissioner leads you to believe he sees politics in his future.

If there is one truth here, it's this: You haven't heard the last of Brian Blair, even if you hoped you had.

Ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair climbs back into political ring 03/12/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 13, 2009 8:42am]

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