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With rivals circling, Radel full of remorse

As U.S. Rep. Trey Radel returned to Washington on Tuesday and apologized for his actions, his woes were only growing at home with the first official challenger stepping up.

Former state legislator Paige Kreegel formally began his campaign to defeat fellow Republican Radel, arrested in late October for buying cocaine, declaring that Southwest Florida voters should expect a "congressman without distractions, a congressman they can trust."

Others are expected. State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is interested and has begun TV ads that appear designed to lift her profile in the Republican stronghold district.

In a statement from his campaign, Kreegel said, "From Obamacare to Washington's out-of-control spending to the breaches of national security, the issues facing our country are serious matters that deserve serious, sober representation."

Radel of Fort Myers tried to sound as contrite as possible as he met with reporters in his office Tuesday evening. "I've let down our entire country," he said.

But Radel, 37, refused to answer specific questions about his cocaine arrest, including why it took him three weeks to inform House Speaker John Boehner. "Per attorney's advice," he replied. He also would not respond to how a drug dealer in Washington had described him as a regular customer.

Radel, who was elected in 2012, declined to say if he will seek re-election.

Legislator to quit seat for exec job

Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando, was tapped Tuesday to be executive director for the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. Precourt, 53, is the former House majority leader.

On the surface, it looked like Precourt wouldn't be eligible because of SB 2, passed last year with much fanfare as the most "comprehensive ethics reform package since 1976."

The thrust of the 64-page bill was to prevent elected officials from using their positions for private gain. It included a provision banning lawmakers from taking a job with another public agency and also banned lawmakers from lobbying the governor's office or executive branch for two years after they leave office (a ban prohibiting the lobbying of the Legislature is already in place).

In an opinion written by House general counsel Daniel Nordby, the dual employment issue is resolved because Precourt agreed to resign from his House position (the House job pays about $29,000, the authority job starts at $175,000). As long as Precourt resigns before accepting the authority job, he's okay. Nordby concluded that there was no evidence of Precourt using his position to get the job because the position already existed, the job was publicly advertised, and Precourt, an engineer, is qualified for the job.

Now Precourt must resign his District 44 seat, which has already drawn three suitors for the 2014 election.

In the mix are Democrats Lee Douglas and Shaun Raja. The lone Republican is Eric Eisnaugle, who was first elected to the Florida House in 2008 but was redrawn into Precourt's district in 2012.

Rather than challenge a fellow Republican, Eisnaugle stepped aside.

Cruz to be honored at GOP dinner Feb. 20

The Sarasota GOP has named U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz as its "Statesman of the Year" and will honor him on Feb. 20 in Sarasota.

Cruz, among the possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates, follows past recipients Sean Hannity, Donald Trump and Haley Barbour.

For more information and tickets, go to statesmanoftheyear.com.

Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.

With rivals circling, Radel full of remorse 01/07/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 10:06pm]
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