Mitt Romney hates earmarks. But it wasn't always that way, and when he needed one — $60 million to provide security for the Salt Lake City Olympic Games — Romney went to Florida's earmark king.
"He came to me; we worked it out together," recalled Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, who was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in 2002. "After it was all over, he surprised me one day, he brought me in a replica of the Olympic torch."
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee's Olympics earmarks came to light amid his repeated attacks on Rick Santorum's pursuit of budget goodies while he was in the Senate. Santorum called him a hypocrite.
"Some of the things in the primary got off track," Young said. "I did not like it all. But I remember that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did the same thing right to the very end, and it didn't hurt Obama."
"Politics is an interesting profession," he went on. "It's flexible. It changes. Moods change. Perceptions change. Except for me. I guess I'm the same guy that I was when I first got here. … My votes are basically the same."
Young said he thinks conservatives will rally around Romney: "He is a very likable guy, and he is a really smart guy. They are thinking he can't compete with Obama on the stump; I believe he can."
Rubio defends party credit use
In an interview Monday on Fox News, Sen. Marco Rubio defended his use of a Republican Party of Florida credit card and said he would stick by his friend, embattled Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami.
On his use of Republican Party credit cards while a state legislator: "At the end of every month, we would get those statements, we would see what was on there that was party related and the party would pay that. If it wasn't party related, I would pay that directly to American Express. Now, obviously, in hindsight, it looks bad, right? Why are you using a party credit card at all. Well, some of these expenses were because the travel agent had the number … and they billed it to that card instead of the other card. Sometimes it was just a mistake — literally just reached for the wrong card. But it's important to understand I did not bill personal expenses to the Republican Party of Florida. The Republican Party of Florida never paid my personal expenses. Never. But look, I shouldn't have done it that way. It was lesson learned."
On his relationship with Rivera: "He's a friend. … I know he's going through a tough time. … Maybe it's acceptable here, it isn't to me, to turn your back on friends when they are going through a difficult time, no matter what they may have done or not done."
Putnam declines governor run
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Tuesday chances are "nil" that Gov. Rick Scott will face serious opposition within the Republican Party when he seeks a second term in 2014. Such a forecast means that Putnam has again ruled himself out as a candidate for governor in two years.
In an hourlong discussion with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, Putnam said he would have gone along with Sen. J.D. Alexander in voting to spin off Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland as the state's 12th university and that lawmakers have long tinkered with the higher education system by creating law schools and medical schools. "This is not the first time politics have intervened," he said.
The Cabinet member saved his toughest criticism for the 2006 gift ban that prohibits lawmakers and state officials from taking anything of value from lobbyists or their clients. Calling it "dumb," he said: "A lot of the camaraderie that allowed solutions to take place … has been removed from the process."
Putnam arrived by asking a Times reporter if he'd "booked his room at Innisbrook yet," referring to the resort in Palm Harbor that will house the Florida GOP delegation at the Republican National Convention in August, 32 miles from the Tampa Bay Times Forum. A proud resident of Bartow in Polk County, Putnam asked: "Who would have thought that Bartow's closer?"
Herman Cain endorses LeMieux
Former presidential candidate Herman Cain endorsed George LeMieux for U.S. Senate last weekend in Hernando County. Not to be outdone, Connie Mack on Tuesday rolled out an endorsement from former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.
Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.