What a fine kettle of fish Hillsborough Commissioner Jim Norman landed himself in, which is pretty much what it's starting to smell like for voters.
The good citizens of north Hillsborough and central Pasco, also known as state Senate District 12, might find themselves disenchanted with the idea of electing a guy now officially connected to a lovely lakefront home bought through the "investment" of a millionaire political benefactor.
The story of the house in Arkansas emerged after months of Norman batting his eyelashes at legitimate questions, and only after he won the primary. Now the Boss Hogg candidate is getting a long hard look from a Tallahassee judge in a battle to boot him off the ballot, not to mention some special attention from the FBI.
So what to do with election day only weeks away?
Whom to pick to trust in Tallahassee if Big Jim is no longer your man?
Well, shoot, you've got two write-ins to choose from! Now, should you go for that unassuming fellow who works at Petco, or that nice-sounding young woman in college in North Carolina, even if she won't graduate till 2012?
This is but a piece of political shrapnel in the story of the powerful commissioner and his big buddy businessman who, turns out, really did bankroll a $435,000 home in Arkansas with Norman's wife. To quote Gomer Pyle: Surprise, surprise, surprise!
Norman said the house was his wife's business, bought through "investors" he wouldn't name. Rumors begat an elections challenge from the guy who lost, and an FBI probe, and finally Norman's own lawyer confirmed last week said investor was Ralph Hughes — as rumor already had it.
Hughes, who died in 2008, was a big-stick swinging, anti-tax guy who owned a construction materials company, contributed liberally to Norman's campaigns and did just fine with a pro-growth County Commission. What? Something wrong there?
Democrats had long been too scared of that Big Jim mojo to run even a three-legged house cat against him for the state Senate. And because of a perfectly legal, perfectly sleazy twist in primary elections, voters wrinkling their noses at Norman are left with — not much.
If one party has no opposition in the general election, everybody gets to vote in that party's primary — even, horrors, the Other Party. But there's a neat little fix used by both sides of the aisle and across our state: find a write-in candidate — only a pulse is required — and viola, a closed primary in which only Your Voters can vote.
Hence, Petco guy and college student. And nary a Democrat in sight. Sigh.
Some folks are calling for Norman to step down, which, if you have met the man, is as likely as snowcaps atop the Skyway. The judge could shake up the election or she could rule he did everything nice and tidy, no matter what it smells like. The feds are likely deciding whether Hughes invested in a house in Arkansas or in a politician closer to home.
Could there be a better reason than this mess for closing that write-in loophole?
For both parties, running viable candidates and giving voters a choice, even when the other guy will likely win?
That smell out there is a familiar one. Call it: Eau de Politics as Usual.