Here's something you don't necessarily expect to see from a candidate trying to win votes from Florida's families: a call for higher tuition at state universities.
But Republican U.S. Senate candidate George LeMieux, running for an office that has little to do with Florida's higher education system, said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9 that he strongly supports raising tuition, something his old boss Charlie Crist only reluctantly backed.
"The tuition at our universities is way too low. We are the cheapest university tuition system in the country. I send my 4-year-old to Christian school (and) I pay more for him to go to Christian school for a year than kids (spend) for the University of Florida for a year. You're going to only get what you pay for," LeMieux said in the interview airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. "We've got a lot of great people in our university system. They need to be properly funded. … We're the fourth-biggest population, soon to be third. We don't have a public university in the top 50. If we're going to create great jobs in this state, we need better education."
LeMieux also said he opposes efforts to expand gambling in Florida to include destination casinos such as the giant casino development proposed by a Malaysian gaming conglomerate at the current Miami Herald site.
The former interim U.S. senator appointed by Crist to fill Mel Martinez's unexpired term also discussed the lucrative consulting contract he had in 2008 and 2009 with the state GOP under former party chairman Jim Greer. LeMieux earned at least $150,000 from the party.
"I helped the Republican Party on outreach issues to Hispanics, to African-Americans. I still advised the governor's office on things that were more political," said LeMieux, who had earlier served as Crist's chief of staff and top campaign strategist. "Jim Greer came to me in 2009 and said there wasn't any more money left to keep me on board. Maybe we know now why that was, because the money was going someplace else," he said, referring to the pending criminal charges against Greer for allegedly stealing from the party.
Democrats look to Florida to win House
Buzz caught up with the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, while he was in the Tampa Bay area last week raising money and trying to recruit candidates. Between the Democratic incumbents retiring and the overall political climate, he has a tough climb to win back 25 seats and take the U.S. House, but Israel sees Florida as a crucial part of that effort.
That's because there are several Republican-held seats in Florida that President Barack Obama won in 2008 or that Obama and John Kerry won as well in 2004. On top of that, the state's congressional districts are so skewed to favor Republicans that it will be hard for Democrats not to wind up with at least one additional seat when districts are redrawn.
"Florida is going to be pivotal in the congressional elections of 2012," said Israel, whose main Republican targets include U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota; C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores (Good luck there); Steve Southerland, R-Panama City; Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden; Allen West, R-Plantation; and David Rivera, R-Miami.
Former Republican state Sen. Nancy Argenziano had planned to run against Southerland as a Democrat, but a new state law thwarted her because she did not switch parties in time. Israel did not close the door on the DCCC supporting Argenziano if she runs as an independent candidate.
"If there could be some consensus by the local folks, Democrats, activists and others that she should be the candidate, we'd be pleased to support her," Israel said, "so long as she reflects the values and priorities of Democrats and says that she would not vote as a Republican to support the (Paul) Ryan budget, which would end Medicare. That is our litmus test."
Sarah Palin is going to Disney World
Sarah Palin will headline the Florida GOP annual Victory Dinner on Nov. 3 at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort in Orlando.
"This gala dinner comes just a year before one of the most important elections in Florida and the nation's history," said party chairman Lenny Curry. "Having a Republican leader of Gov. Palin's stature and importance is yet again proof of the crucial role Florida will play as the year unfolds."
Follow Adam Smith on Twitter at AdamSmithTimes.