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Senate President Mike Haridopolos tries to shake his book troubles

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos doesn't always agree with his own advice.

In his now-controversial book Florida History & Legislative Processes, Haridopolos warns that campaigning will "occupy every moment of the candidate's life" when he runs for office.

"Perhaps the most critical personal lesson that campaigning has taught me is this," he wrote, "a campaign cannot be compartmentalized." Haridopolos emphasized that last line by repeating it.

But on Monday, he gave a different answer when asked if he can "compartmentalize" his Senate presidency from his U.S. Senate campaign.

"Absolutely," he said. "I think I'll be successful or unsuccessful based on my performance as Senate president. And my goal these next 60 days is to improve the business climate in Florida."

But Haridopolos' Senate presidency and his campaign have started inauspiciously — with Haridopolos' $152,000 book deal at the center of his troubles.

Political observers and critics question whether he deserved to get paid so much money by Brevard Community College, which required him to spend little time teaching to write his manuscript from 2003 to 2007. In that time, lawmakers cut the budget in a flat-lining economy. Universities — especially community colleges — seldom pay teachers to write books.

The book, which provides a rare glimpse into the mind of a top legislator, became an instant target of derision from the left to the right Wednesday when it was made available online at Amazon.com for $9.99.

Liberal New York Times columnist Gail Collins mocked the common-sense advice the Merritt Island Republican gave — "most importantly, a candidate should avoid wasting money on useless novelty items such as wooden nickels."

Then, a conservative with the highly influential Republican blog Red State savaged Haridopolos as "a creature of the inbred Tallahassee Republican Machine. He represents the 'The Getting Elected Trumps Principle' school of politics."

Haridopolos has dismissed the criticisms as the worn-out product of political foes. "We all know about it. It's a 3-year-old or 4-year-old story, I believe, and because I'm running for United States Senate, of course it got brought back up," Haridopolos said.

Despite its title, the book reads more like a campaigner's manual than a scholarly history. It reveals insights into Haridopolos' beliefs about government that he's reluctant to say publicly now that he's Senate president for two years and a leader in the 60-day lawmaking session that starts today.

"During those two years, he is a king, exercising more power within his chamber," Haridopolos wrote of his post, comparing other senators to servants.

On Monday, though, he made it sound as if he didn't have life-or-death say over bills.

"I'm not a dictator," he said when asked about the fate of a court measure. "As you know, we go through three committees. Obviously, it's going to have fair consideration."

Though he talks about the committee process, Haridopolos' book also indicates that the committee chairmen aren't so free.

"Traditionally, a member who accepts a chairmanship tacitly agrees to support the president's agenda," he wrote. "As a result, Senate Presidents expect a degree of loyalty, if not complete obedience, from their committee chairs."

Haridopolos, who has appointed two Democrats to committee posts, wrote that it's a good tactic because it gives him "an ally in and influence over the opposition."

Haridopolos' book stresses the importance of fundraising ("up to 40 percent of time spent campaigning will be spent raising money") and it points out that people with a regular job without "flexible" hours won't be successful in campaigning.

Haridopolos also advises candidates to correct errors, something he has experienced firsthand now that his own Rules Committee admonished him for failing to accurately detail his financial disclosures.

Haridopolos apologized for the error.

"A candidate who handles a mistake well, once made, will usually recover because people understand that, in the words of Alexander Pope, 'to err is human.' "

Haridopolos never mentions the importance of humor, but he used it to good effect Monday when he cracked a joke about how his blond hair has become such a topic of opinion writers. "I do refuse to talk about my hair anymore," he laughed. "We can't talk about my hair."

The news media asked no more questions about his book.

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@miamiherald.com.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos tries to shake his book troubles 03/07/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 7, 2011 11:19pm]

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