TALLAHASSEE — As the year draws to a close, editors like to compile lists of the biggest stories of the year. In that spirit, here are my favorites of 2009. Each makes a profound statement about the state of affairs in Florida.
Fundraising frenzy: On a sunny day in March, dozens of legislators held fundraisers to beat the ban on fundraising that goes into effect during the regular legislative session. Most weren't bashful about being videotaped accepting fistfuls of $500 checks from lobbyists and their clients. One exception was Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, who greeted lobbyists from the Police Benevolent Association in a cozy room in the Governor's Club. Spotting our camera, Crist told the union boys: "I am not going to have you hand me a check in front of the St. Petersburg Times."
Kenny Loggins: While Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp was busy in May fending off inquiries about his use of state planes, he had a state trooper escort him and his family to Atlanta for a lobbyist friend's surprise 50th birthday party. Florida law requires a trooper be at the LG's side 24/7, but somehow this night captured the silliness of it all. For the sake of Kottkamp, who's running for attorney general, let's hope there's no metaphorical significance. The party featured soft-rock singer Loggins, whose hit This Is It includes these lyrics: "No one can tell what the future holds. This is it — you're going no further."
Icing on the cake: The wretched excess of political fundraising reached its zenith with the 2009 revelation that accused Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein wrote a check for $52,000 at a 2008 party for Gov. Charlie Crist's 52nd birthday. A chocolate cake at a GOP fundraiser highlighted Rothstein's decadent donation, which was 10 times what most others gave.
Locked out by Sink: On the day (May 13) Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink entered the governor's race, she had a previously scheduled fundraiser for her erstwhile re-election bid for CFO. As Democrats and some Republicans headed to a Tallahassee restaurant, everyone got in except my colleague Shannon Colavecchio and me as Sink felt her donors' privacy mattered more than transparency. Usually a more gracious host, Sink said: "You're locked out." Even her husband, Bill McBride, the 2002 Democratic nominee for governor, couldn't believe it. "Are you serious?" McBride said.
Snip that stem: Desperate to save money, the state found a way to save $50,000 a year by snipping the little brown-colored stem on the orange in the middle of Florida license plates. Reducing the number of colors to three from four, an idea suggested by a (brown-nosing?) state worker, saves on production costs. Every little bit helps.
Barack who? Gov. Crist's brief Q&A sessions with reporters before biweekly Cabinet meetings rarely generate news. That wasn't the case Oct. 27 when Crist was asked why he wasn't with President Barack Obama the day before when he visited Jacksonville. "Where was he yesterday?" Crist asked. Reporters replied "Jacksonville." Crist said: "First I've known of that." Asked if his staff might have noted the president's presence in his state, Crist said: "If they want to." Subsequent reporting by the Times' Alex Leary showed that the White House informed Crist's aides well in advance of the president's travel plans.
Young dresses down: U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young arrived for a formal job interview for Florida's U.S. Senate vacancy wearing sneakers and an untucked Polo shirt. He told Crist, in between his granddaughters' ballet classes, he was not interested in quitting the House midterm. In hindsight, it's easy to see why Young dressed as if headed to a flea market: Crist's courtship was for show. The always well-dressed George LeMieux, Crist's confidante, had the appointment in the bag.
All in all, another colorful year covering state government and politics. Keep it up, everybody!
Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.