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In land of ethically challenged, Norman blends in

Here's what you have to swallow if you want to believe that state Sen. Jim Norman, R-Will Work for Gratuities, isn't dirtier than a Florida swamp ape.

You have to con yourself into accepting that when the late Hillsborough County tycoon Ralph Hughes gave Norman's wife, Mearline, $500,000 it was merely a gift because the magnate thought the commissioner's spouse was the cat's pajamas.

You have to delude yourself into accepting the notion that Norman never bothered to ask his little apple blossom why Hughes gave her the money without so much as a shred of paperwork.

And most of all, you have to believe that when Norman claims (wink, wink, nod, nod) he did ask Hughes about the money, he was told to shut up and look the other way. And thus the commissioner blindly followed instructions and went about his business as a professional potted plant.

Is anybody dense enough to accept any of this?

Norman, R-Blue Light Special, was preening the other day over a decision by the Florida Commission on Ethics that he should be prosecuted for failing to disclose Hughes' $500,000 door prize when he ran for the Senate. The senator argued the ruling had cleared him of wrongdoing.

Only in Florida would a scruple-challenged politician regard it as a resume builder that an ethics commission wanted to prosecute him for a lack of ethics.

In deciding to prosecute Norman, the commission also said it couldn't pursue an additional charge that the money represented a conflict of interest, which is only reasonable since the guy who gave Mrs. Norman the money has gone off to that brown bag in the sky.

Hughes' personal foot massager insisted his only error was improperly failing to reveal his payoff. "Basically, it's a reporting issue," Norman said.

Well, yeah!

In all fairness, you can feel some twisted sympathy for Norman in not disclosing Hughes had laundered a half-million dollar tip through Mrs. Tammany when the commissioner ran for the Senate against fellow Republican Kevin Ambler.

As a practical matter, if you were running for the Senate, would you want to publicly disclose you were the beneficiary of a $500,000 "gift" from a politically powerful patron?

Of course not. Much better to deny, dissemble, misdirect and obfuscate that the $500,000 fell out of the sky and hope for the best.

What do you suppose the chances are that Norman would have won his election to the Senate if he had admitted while serving on the County Commission and preparing his campaign he knew about and did nothing to prevent a big shot from infusing the family bank account with $500,000?

Would the senator have everyone believe if he had simply been working at the Salvation Army (his former employer), Hughes would have still insisted on forking over $500,000 to the Normans in a fit of charity?

Norman has defended the money from Hughes on the grounds that public officials only need to report gifts to a spouse or family member if they come from a lobbyist, which Hughes technically was not.

But Hughes did wield considerable juice, spending vast sums of his money to support politicians he liked and promote his conservative views. And he really, really liked Jim Norman, who was always ready to serve as the potentate's sedan chair carrier.

By any commonsense definition, Ralph Hughes was a lobbyist's lobbyist.

Of course, by the Florida Legislature's minimal standards for ethical behavior, Jim Norman is a perfect fit. In Tallahassee, Spiro Agnew would have been welcomed with rose petals tossed at his feet. Maybe that explains why Senate President Mike Haridopolos viewed Norman as just the chap he needed as the new chairman of the Finance and Tax Committee.

And so a public official who insists he knew nothing about a $500,000 "gift" to his wife from a de facto lobbyist and who is being prosecuted by the state's ethics commission is now in charge of a Senate committee responsible for overseeing Florida's finances and tax policies.

This makes about as much sense as asking Aerosmith's Steven Tyler to join the Three Tenors.

In land of ethically challenged, Norman blends in 02/06/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 6, 2012 6:05pm]
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