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With Jeb Bush out, angling begins for Florida Senate seat

ORLANDO — So where do things stand for the GOP now that Jeb Bush is out of the running for Mel Martinez's open Senate seat in 2010?

The widely perceived front-runner, Attorney General Bill McCollum, looks anything but certain to launch a third attempt at the Senate. Former House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami looks all but certain to run, and several U.S. House members are testing the waters.

"I'm interested. I'm getting a lot of encouragement," said Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, who by virtue of sharing the name of his father, the former senator, would start out with significant name recognition.

Mingling with the party activists at the state Republican Party's annual meeting in Orlando this weekend, Mack naturally stressed how he's focused congressional business. "Not that I'm not making calls, but I've got to stay focused on that. It's way too early for any decision like that."

Also schmoozing in Orlando were McCollum, who usually attends such party functions, Rubio, who sometimes does — tellingly — and Reps. Mack and Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who rarely do.

"I'm getting a lot of encouragement, and it's something I'm strongly considering," Buchanan said, stressing that he's focused on the stimulus package in Congress. "I've got some time. … Who's in, and who's in on the other side are things I'll consider."

McCollum said he is just starting to examine the prospects of another Senate race, having been sure Bush would run: "I chatted with him before Christmas, and he seemed inclined to do it."

It may seem absurdly early to jockey for a Senate election two years off, but Florida is an enormous and expensive state.

"If you're going to raise $30-million, you have to get started," said George LeMieux, who managed Charlie Crist's campaign.

When will Martinez go?

Amid all the speculation about which Republicans will run a big question remains: Will incumbent Martinez really finish up his term, or might he step down early and have Crist appoint a temporary successor?

Martinez has said he will complete his final two years, but announcing plans to retire has a lot of politicos wondering. The GOP, after all, would have a big leg up with a quasi-incumbent in that seat heading to 2010.

"It all depends on what Mel does," former state GOP House Speaker John Thrasher said of the potential candidates. "If Mel stays his term, it's an open field."

Local Democrats on TV

Check out newly elected Pinellas Democratic chairman Ramsay McLauchlan and his wife, University of South Florida St. Petersburg political scientist Judithanne, on Political Connections today on Bay News 9. The show airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Property tax cap could go down

State Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, intends to file a bill revisiting the 1.35 percent property tax cap. The plan would restrict taxes to 1.35 percent of the taxable value of property. In 2006 the statewide property tax average was 1.84 percent.

The proposal, which surfaced before under then-House Speaker Rubio, began as a citizen initiative and is pending review before the Florida Supreme Court, with an eye toward the 2010 ballot. But Rivera and other Republicans think it would save time and money to approve it in the Legislature or to correct any deficiencies found by the court.

Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.

Winner of the week

Mike Scionti: Unlike a lot of his legislative colleagues in these dire economic times, the Democratic state representative from Tampa puts taxpayer money where his mouth is. In his first two years in office, Scionti cut his own taxpayer-funded office expenses by 22 percent, or $17,000. Simple common-sense belt-tightening did the trick: forgoing the Blackberry provided each member; buying newspaper ads instead of sending letters to constituents; using leftover campaign funds for office expenses; taking a pass on conferences out of state; eliminating unnecessary office equipment. "Setting the goal was the easy part," said Scionti. "Actually achieving the savings meant finding different ways to cut costs both big and small without diminishing services."

Loser of the week

Ray Sansom: Maybe the Florida House speaker thought resigning from his Northwest Florida State College job would quell the controversy engulfing him, but it may be too late to stop the bleeding. Especially after the words "grand jury" pop up.

With Jeb Bush out, angling begins for Florida Senate seat 01/10/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 6:52pm]

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