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Politics is the real spectacle at next week's fair opening

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, center, hangs on to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, second from left, and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam as the trio zips down the Giant Slide at the 2013 Florida State Fair in Tampa. To the left is Florida FFA Association vice president Ashley Hassan.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, center, hangs on to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, second from left, and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam as the trio zips down the Giant Slide at the 2013 Florida State Fair in Tampa. To the left is Florida FFA Association vice president Ashley Hassan.

Not far from the deep-fried Oreos, the sword-swallowing guy and the concession serving burgers sandwiched between Krispy Kreme doughnuts comes a true Florida State Fair spectacle when it opens Thursday. (Politics-wise, anyway.)

Smells of cotton candy and cow manure in the air, the Governor's Day Luncheon kicks off tradition. See high-ranking state officials ride the giant slide! See the state attorney check midway games to make sure they're fair! (One year a basketball hoop didn't meet regulation height, so proprietors changed the name to ASKETBALL.)

The governor-of-the-moment is traditionally front and center — last year, Gov. Rick Scott in black cowboy boots posed with a prized heifer. Before that, it was schmoozy Charlie Crist, knowing the names of pretty much everyone in the room. (He was described by a Times reporter then as "on time and tan as a corn dog.")

In a year as political as this, expect everyone for some epic networking.

And hey, wouldn't it be fun if the former governor (Crist) running against the sitting one (Scott) both showed? Imagine scoring the air-kisses on that one!

Alas, it's a sideshow we won't see. A Crist adviser reports that date is "smack dab in the middle of his book release" when Crist will be in Washington, D.C. Oh well. It's an election year. Maybe Scott will join them on the giant slide.

Speaking of where politicians are and aren't, Hillsborough School Board member April Griffin is not running for office when she leaves in November. Not that she's going quietly.

In her latest battle with school superintendent MaryEllen Elia, Griffin left a workshop this week after a dispute over how Elia is evaluated and pronounced her "full of s---."

Theatrics aside, Griffin's departure is a loss.

School boards can be filled with yes-men and -women. Early on, Griffin championed gay students and refused to let public rants against Muslims go unchecked at meetings. She was a staunch advocate of kids who weren't honor students, a big supporter of career and vocational programs.

She is interesting. She is a "socially liberal Democrat" who hunts (her first deer at 12.) She still has a Metallica T-shirt. Maybe it wasn't always artful, but she was a rabble-rouser on a board that could use one.

And that last (well, we'll see) inelegant clash with Elia?

"My father was a Marine, my husband was in the Army, and sometimes those words come out," says Griffin, who for the record wishes she'd expressed herself more professionally. "But I stand by the sentiment behind those words."

In other not-running news, a judge removed from the bench years ago who recently planned to run again won't.

Betsey Hapner, removed from the Hillsborough bench in 1998 for what was called a pattern of dishonest and irresponsible behavior related to her law practice and divorce, recently filed to run for a circuit seat. The morning of an interview with a Times reporter, she canceled and said she wasn't running after all, citing demands of her practice.

Though Hapner has run and lost since being removed from the bench, it would have been interesting. Some believe that in judicial races in which candidates can't talk about much, it can come down to the most appealing name, and that women get the edge. Hapner would have faced a woman and a man with the same name as a longtime judge — not to mention a rehash of her experience on the bench.

Times staff writer Peter Jamison contributed to this column.

Politics is the real spectacle at next week's fair opening 01/31/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 31, 2014 6:48pm]
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