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Remember when Buddy Johnson stories were amusing?

Oh, that Buddy Johnson. Oh, the laughs we had.

He was our Buddy the Buffoon, that wacky elections chief overseeing the vote in Hillsborough County, star of his own political sitcom.

Remember Buddy playing landlord to some cows for a tax exemption? Buddy's delinquent property taxes?

Buddy running a "public" office like he was hunkered down in a bunker?

The time he played find-the-polling-place? Neglected to count a few votes? Bungled questions about the running of his office in a federal voting rights deposition?

Here's a classic for you: Buddy on election night, waxing on about how beautifully his office handled things, even though they couldn't manage to actually total the vote for days.

Not to mention those uncounted ballots they found weeks later. Vintage Buddy!

So now that he's been ousted from office, you might expect him to fade away like a schticky comedian past his prime, to become one of those quirky politicians whose name comes up years later and everyone says, oh, yeah, remember that guy?

Well, here's the not-so-funny sequel:

After he lost his bid for re-election, Buddy sent his chief of staff to beg a $2.3 million bailout from the county commission — a request he hastily withdrew in the ensuing fallout. (Perhaps being oblivious to the fact that there would be ensuing fallout.)

Where they heck did the money go, everyone wanted to know.

And what about the more than $2 million in grant money for voter education, those well-intentioned funds earmarked for getting the citizenry engaged, informed and to the polls?

Times reports raised questions about "voter education" pamphlets, ads, and TV and radio spots that also featured Buddy himself, his moniker, his smiling mug.

One hundred thousand pens with his name on them, to the tune of $23,000 — anyone got a problem with that?

The reports raised related questions about voter education money paid to a community activist who also campaigned for Buddy, as well as the roles of other paid consultants.

So was this about educating voters on voting?

Or educating voters on voting for Buddy?

By now, Buddy's doings have caught the interest of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Assorted audits have ensued. A citizen has officially complained to the state ethics commission.

Here's the most sobering headline of all: The FBI is sniffing around.

In February, the agency subpoenaed work papers related to an audit critical of Buddy's actions, including illegally overspending his budget. They're also having a look at his personal real estate doings.

So maybe not everyone is amused.

Here's enough to make you do a final spit-take: Say it turns out that "voter education" money was used not for its intended purpose but for an inappropriate political one.

That money might have to be paid back. By taxpayers. And having to take that chunk of change on the chin in this economy won't make for much laughter around here.

Had enough Buddy news? Understandable.

What we need now are answers. Then we might see what's not so funny about Buddy.

Remember when Buddy Johnson stories were amusing? 03/31/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 10:42pm]
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