2010 — an election year that could alter the Florida political landscape

Thanks, Jeb Bush.

And thanks, Dubya and Karl Rove, too, for planting the seeds of this wildly chaotic political year more than seven years ago. You really left a mark.

The first domino fell in the spring of 2003, when news stories surfaced that the Bush White House was gently pressuring Mel Martinez to run for the U.S. Senate in 2004.

It took some high-level maneuvering, but Martinez took the plunge, only to lose interest and give up his membership in the world's most exclusive club.

For the first Cuban-American senator to walk away from a United States Senate seat was only one of the many unprecedented events of this political cycle.

Let's try to enumerate the many ways this year in Florida politics is truly like no other.

The one-termer: Gov. Charlie Crist decided he wanted to succeed Martinez, and in so doing became the first Florida governor to forgo a re-election bid since the Constitution was changed in 1968 to allow a governor to serve two terms.

Crist's move put the governorship up for grabs on the same cycle as an open Senate seat, and the political chain reaction of ambition has also opened up all three Cabinet offices at the same time. Unprecedented.

When Martinez quit the Senate, Crist put his former chief of staff, George LeMieux, in his place. A guy who lost his only previous bid for public office was suddenly bestowed the title Sen. LeMieux — for life.

When Crist cratered as a Republican Senate candidate, he quit the GOP, reinvented himself as a nonpartisan candidate, and now appears to be the front-runner for the seat. Unbelievable.

Crist is the first viable, credible and competitive candidate for statewide office in Florida who is not aligned with either political party. To survive, he declared political free agency — and his political protege and alter ego, LeMieux, broke ties with Crist and supports Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio.

Democrat Jeff Greene and Republican Rick Scott — nobodies a few months ago — are today within striking distance of capturing their parties' nominations for senator and governor. Both men are renegades who have thrown the political establishment into complete disarray.

Scott could well be the next governor of the nation's fourth largest state, yet not one elected Republican officeholder has come forward to endorse him. Not one. Unheard of.

Florida would elect its first woman governor in November if Alex Sink succeeds. That has never happened in the state's 165-year history.

Nor has Florida had a woman attorney general, a wide-open contest that features two women, Holly Benson and Pam Bondi.

Unpredictability abounds. The governorship and Cabinet could be controlled entirely by one political party. The passage of Amendment 4, the so-called Hometown Democracy proposal, would subject most growth decisions to a popular vote.

The passage of Amendments 5 and 6 could for the first time give the public some say over the next redrawing of congressional and legislative districts.

If Crist and Sink win, the Republican Party would be abruptly shut out of control of the state's most powerful offices at a time when its former chairman is facing possible prison time for alleged misdeeds. That would represent a spectacular collapse of the GOP less than 15 years after rising to dominance in the Sunshine State.

That would be unprecedented — but in this totally unpredictable political year, not surprising.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

2010 — an election year that could alter the Florida political landscape 07/16/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 11:43pm]

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