So, what's the deal, Jim?

What's Hillsborough County Commissioner and state Senate candidate Jim Norman got to hide when it comes to his wife's mysteriously purchased house in Arkansas?

Nothing, he says. Nothing being pretty much all he's saying, which is sure to raise questions with voters who prefer transparency to mystery.

The story so far: Norman resides in the suburbs outside Tampa. But it turns out his wife Mearline also owns a lakefront home in a resort town in Arkansas, bought in 2006 for $435,000 cash.

Cash! Must be nice, huh?

But when asked about it — reporters tend to inquire when politicians are connected to large, unexplained sums of money — Norman says only that it belongs to his wife and was "bought through investors."

Whom he will not name.

Norman is a veteran of nearly two decades in local office, a popular politician who has built powerful allies, dodged controversy and gotten re-elected. Somehow, though, he doesn't think the public has a right to much explanation on how that house happened into his family.

Sure, he's been to the place. Has a couple of boats docked there, even.

But, hey, her house, her bidness, right?

Now here is one excellent reason We the People get to know the financial doings, ownings and owings of our elected officials: So we can be confident no rich-guy fat-cat is lining a politician's pockets in exchange for his vote.

Given his years in office, Norman knows that scrutiny is the tradeoff when you make $92,000 a year on the public dime. Remember reporters tracking him down in Vegas in 1999, where he was gambling with a local lobbyist on a trip arranged by a political supporter? That kind of scrutiny.

So I asked Norman if the Investors Who Must Not Be Named have appeared before the County Commission, or if they have been his political benefactors. He would only say that none of them "benefit from me being a county commissioner."

Guess we'll have to take his word on that, at least for now.

Norman says he has correctly reported what's required of him by law, and his wife has a right to her investments. Well, sure she does.

There's also his duty to help ensure public confidence in the politicians we elect.

Norman, who faces Kevin Ambler in the Republican primary, calls all of this a political attack on his wife. And, I'm sorry, is someone attacking his wife?

By asking about cash connected to a public official to whom we've given a significant amount of political power?

And who is currently asking for more?

If there's an above-board, nothing-untoward-going-on-here answer to this Mystery in Arkansas, great. Let's get on with the election, the candidates and the issues. Otherwise, we might sit around worrying about the possibility of a shell game, with Norman's wife's name as one of the shells.

He is right: His wife is not the one bound by the rules. She's also not the one responsible to voters, not the one we expect to be transparent and to give us confidence all is on the up-and-up.

That would be Norman, the guy who expects us to trust him all the way to Tallahassee, no questions asked.

So, what's the deal, Jim? 07/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 9:25pm]

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