TAMPA — Some people talk. Others lead and accomplish.
That's the fundamental argument Mike Haridopolos is making as he shifts from presiding over the Florida Senate to revving up his U.S. Senate campaign.
"If you want a person who has a history of taking on tough issues, I'm your guy. Not just talking about it or tweeting about. I did it,'' the Merritt Island Republican said Wednesday, touting his legislative record while campaigning in Tampa Bay.
His tone was starkly different from the final rocky hours of the session, when Haridopolos looked despondent as he apologized to senators about how it closed. On Wednesday, he said he was thrilled with the session overall but disappointed the state House did not take up measure to compensate a Brevard County man wrongfully incarcerated for murder and a Broward man disabled after a deputy smashed into his car.
He brushed off criticism from former interim Sen. George LeMieux and a former state House speaker that the Florida Senate blocked several conservative priorities, such a tough immigration law and making it harder for unions to collect dues.
"Mike Haridopolos promised to pass E-Verify, then he broke his promise when the going got tough,'' said Rick Wilson, a campaign adviser to Adam Hasner, referring to a bill that would require employers to use a federal computer system to check employees' immigration status. "He didn't even speak in favor of the bill.
"The Florida Senate president has tremendous power over legislation, but he chose not to exercise it on a vital issue. That's not the kind of leadership we need in Washington to turn our country around."
Haridopolos said he was disappointed senators would not pass that measure, but that he pushed it harder than any legislative leader ever has before and that he will try again in 2011. His rivals need some issue to jump on, he said, because they can't point to major accomplishments themselves.
"I'd much rather be in my position of accomplishment as opposed to just talking about what they'd like to do," said Haridopolos, 41, ticking off some major legislative accomplishments: cutting spending and taxes, requiring public employees to contribute to their pensions, and reforming education and Medicaid.
Haridopolos met with nearly a dozen businessmen and women at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Ybor City, drawing praise for the Legislature pushing to challenge the federal health care overhaul, requiring drug tests for welfare recipients and cutting unemployment benefits.
"By offering you the stability of no new taxes, no new fees, actually making it harder for one Floridian to sue another, you would feel you could actually grow your business with confidence and not worry about the government coming and knocking on your door saying, 'I need a little bit more,' " Haridopolos said.
The Florida Senate president is the nominal frontrunner in a primary that still appears to be wide open. None of the Republicans vying to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson are well known across the state, but his position as Senate president has helped Haridopolos raise more than $2.6 million so far.
"If you'd told me a year ago that I'd be the No. 1 fundraiser in the country and that Mike Huckabee and (Chief Financial Officer) Jeff Atwater would endorse me, I'd be overjoyed," he said.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.