Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Gambling lobbyist extols (wink-wink) Tom Lee

Please forgive me if a bit of my Chicago is showing, but I have to admit a guilty hustings pleasure. When performed with great skill and an unwavering commitment to duplicity, there indeed is something to be admired about a truly well-crafted and expertly executed political dirty trick.

And thus how can one gaze upon the handiwork of Tallahassee gambling lobbyist Marc Dunbar and not compare his deliciously devious effort to undermine the Florida Senate candidacy of Tom Lee to, say, standing before DaVinci's Mona Lisa and not being overwhelmed by the deft flourishes, the subtle strokes of understatement, the unspoken insouciance of it all?

Excuse me for a moment, I'm getting a bit verklempt.

Lee is locked in a competitive Republican primary fight to win back his old east Hillsborough Senate seat against state Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Who's the Fairest of Them All?

So it was that Dunbar rode to Burgin's rescue by penning a letter extolling Lee's winning charm and solid support for gambling interests around the state.

And yes, you might want to insert a "huh?" here.

But therein lies the craftsmanship of Dunbar's scamming with faint praise.

Lavishing superlatives on Lee for his advocacy of gambling in this particular Senate district would be like a lobbyist praising a pol for his commitment to introducing scores of saloons in Ryadh.

This was more than an air kiss from Dunbar to Lee. The kiss of death is more appropriate.

In reality the two men clearly don't laugh at the same jokes. For it was Lee, as the then Senate president, who ordered a 2005 ethics investigation into a cushy $48,000, two-day all expense paid for junket the lobbyist had greased for some Florida senators to observe gambling activity in Canada.

You might well think Dunbar adores the casino ground Lee walks on, describing him as a friend of gambling concerns and encouraging other gambling executives to feel free to give early, often and generously to Lee's campaign.

And just to round out the image of Lee as one of those ooey-gooey politicians who will stoop to new moral lows by actually speaking to the party opposite, Dunbar took pains (and no doubt some joy, too) in noting that the candidate often was willing to work across the aisle with liberal Democrats like Steve Geller and (quick, get the garlic and the wooden stake) Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Dunbar might as well have suggested Lee was palling around with Toyko Rose, Lord Haw-Haw and Jane Fonda.

It is noteworthy that Dunbar's manifesto of mendacity clearly is attempting to scuttle Lee's campaign inasmuch as it includes the word "gambling" no fewer than 15 times. The industry prefers the more benign sounding "gaming" to describe itself, because if it actually employed the term "gambling," it might cause people to think these folks were promoting "gambling." No good can come of this.

Why would a lobbyist like Dunbar go to such lengths to inaccurately link Lee with the expansion of gambling in Florida? It's simple really.

Dunbar is betting the body politic is dumber than a sack of dice. He's betting gullible voters will accept at face value that Tom Lee is really the Cincinnati Kid in a Republican plain cloth coat.

And the sad thing is Dunbar's wager is probably pretty much on the money.

But that doesn't make it any less a stump stunt thing of beauty.

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