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Daniel Ruth

A giant political pinata for '09

As 2009 dawns upon us — or as we might otherwise refer to the coming 12 months, "Love in a Time of Hubris," — a small confession, in the interest of full disclosure.

In the scribbling racket, when a pol falls from grace, the punditocracy is dutifully required to engage in the obligatory clucking, tsk-tsking and the ever appropriate raised highbrow over the disgrace of it all, the betrayal of the public trust, the debasement of the public institution from whence the naughty behavior occurred.

That brings us to Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom, a walking Blue Light Special of political opportunism, who has managed to set himself up as more ethically challenged than Snidely Whiplash before he has even gaveled his first session of the lower body to order.

Sansom has been under fire following disclosures he belly-flopped in to a cushy $110,000-a-year job with Northwest Florida State College after he helped the school secure millions of dollars in taxpayer monies to permit it to offer expanded bachelor degrees — presumably in majors such as Advanced Backslapping, Quid Pro Where's Mine?, Quantum Gratuities and the Fast Eddie Felson Chair of Hustling.

Does this sort of footsie-wootsie with such an august institution of higher yearning as Northwest Florida State College, home to the fighting Greased Palms, reek of cheesy backroom wheeling and dealing? Yes. Is it deplorable? Absolutely. Oh, the shame, the shame!

That is why I love this man.

To be sure, the coming year holds the hopefully delicious promise of countless Sansom revelations to keep editorial boards, civic activists who have ethics complaints forms auto-dialed on their laptops, and columnists in clover.

Fortunately Sansom isn't the only prideful Florida politician looking to make a mark in 2009.

Down in Miami, the Hamlet of the Heritage Foundation, former Gov. Jeb Bush, publicly at least, continues to ponder, muse and ruminate as to whether he will do everyone in the state a huge favor and bring himself to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez in 2010.

Don't you love a good mystery?

About the only thing missing from this staged drama is a fog-enshrouded moor for Bush to traipse around as he wrestles with a decision he has already made.

Really now, when you are a scion to a political dynasty that regards elections as merely an inconvenient extension of manifest destiny, does anyone honestly believe Jeb Bush will conclude he would be happier collecting speaking fees when he could be rubbing elbows with Mitch McConnell? Well, we all have guilty pleasures.

Bush's anticipated run for the Senate would seem to put a crimp in Democrat and current Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's plans.

As long as it appeared Martinez might run for the second term, it made some sense for Sink to challenge an unpopular senator . But with Bush already posing for holy pictures in the Senate race, Sink might consider her options — which range from: "I simply LOVE being CFO!" to "Gov. Sink — that does have a certain charm to it."

But as Sink herself has acknowledged, it is not a lot of laughs to try to dislodge a popular incumbent governor as her husband, Tampa lawyer Bill McBride, learned in 2002 during his own ill-fated race against Bush.

With Republican Gov. Charlie Crist's public approval ratings still riding high, does Sink really want to face the prospect of waking up the morning after the 2010 elections to find her big lug of a husband rolling over in bed to remind her: "See? I told you it's not as easy as it looks."

There's also this. With the state mired in its own economic woes — with unemployment and home foreclosures rising while state revenues decline and services are reduced — having the title chief financial officer isn't exactly a big stump benefit.

Perhaps Sink might want to change her job description to something like: "Chief of Puppy Dogs, Sunflowers and Romantic Sunsets." It's just a thought.

Finally, perhaps no politician's prospects going into 2009 are better positioned than Republican congressman Adam Putnam of Bartow, who is widely believed to covet the Florida commissioner of agriculture seat being vacated by Charles Bronson.

With five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, following several terms in the Florida House, who can argue Putnam doesn't know his fertilizer?

A giant political pinata for '09 01/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 5, 2009 4:14pm]

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