Sunday, January 21, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: A senate race filled with, well, politicians

Judging from all the in-fighting, snubbed egos and all-purpose conniving, you would be forgiven if you mistook the Florida Senate District 19 Democratic primary race as a sort of Borgias on Tampa Bay moment.

It's a very strange Senate district, with about 58 percent of its registered Democratic voters in Hillsborough County, before the district skips across Tampa Bay into southern St. Petersburg. In theory that means a candidate who can carry Hillsborough County has a very good chance of winning the Senate seat. What it also means in practice is that this election season is ripe for some lovely back-stabbing, not to mention an exquisite touch of feigned indignation.

Four Democrats are vying for the District 19 Senate seat — former state Rep. Betty Reed and her successor, Rep. Ed Narain, on the Hillsborough side, and Rep. Darryl Rouson and lawyer Augie Ribeiro on the St. Petersburg end of the district.

Let the plotting begin!

At first the race appeared to pit Rouson in Pinellas County against Reed in Hillsborough. Indeed, Narain, who is only completing his first term in the House, had assured Reed he wouldn't run for the job if she was in the race. Muddying the waters even more, Reed had enthusiastically endorsed Narain to take her seat in the House two years ago.

But that was then. That was before the pol whisperers began to flutter about the hustings like a Greek chorus of hand-wringing.

In a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, Reed explained she had decided to come out of political retirement to pursue the state Senate seat because so many people, including Narain, had encouraged her to run. Seems fair enough.

People. People who need people.

And thus it was with a heavy heart, laden with sadness and regret that Narain reluctantly entered the District 19 race against his old, dear friend and mentor Betty Reed. Why?

Well it was those darn people. For it seems all sorts of people started cooing in Narain's ear, suggesting that perhaps Betty Reed simply wasn't up for the daunting challenges of a state Senate campaign. There were concerns about the 75-year-old Reed's health, so the naysayers naysayed. Her fundraising wasn't going so well. And, according to the conventional wisdom, there was the fear Reed couldn't beat Rouson.

"I feel betrayed," Reed said. Gee, do ya think?

But who are all these "people"? Narain was less than forthcoming.

Was Narain being courted by an imaginary friend? Was it a burning bush? Perhaps the Wizard of Oz? Did the candidate pay a visit to Fatima the fortune teller, who read his palm and saw the word "Senator"? Or perhaps as he walked down the street, legions, scores, masses of people called out to him pleading, no, demanding that he throw his hat into the Senate ring.

This was certainly good news for Rouson, who is figuring if Reed and Narain split the Hills-borough ballot he'll be nicely positioned to win the bulk of the Pinellas vote to claim the District 19 senate seat.

Narain has criticized Rouson for being too calculating during his tenure in Tallahassee, too willing to cross the aisle from time to time to support Republican measures for crass political purposes. Well, one can only hope so. It is Tallahassee after all, a den of legislative intrigue and wink-wink mischief-making. Perhaps Narain might have learned that had he stuck around the House for more than one term.

But it is a bit disingenuous to indict Rouson for being a self-serving glad-hander when Narain himself was more than happy to renege on his promise not to run against Reed because he saw an opportunity to advance his own political career. And let us not forget — the "people" have spoken.

Such an approach would fit in rather well in the Senate, where one's word is one's ironclad bond, until a better deal comes around.

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