Long-shot candidate Bennett starts campaign early

Robert L. Bennett is the definitive early bird. Getting the worm remains another story.

The worm in this case is elected public office. Bennett, 65, filed to run in 2012 against Rep. Richard Corcoran nearly two months before Corcoran officially won the District 45 seat in November. Bennett filed his candidacy papers Sept. 9 and said he voted for Corcoran in the Aug. 24 primary and has nothing bad to say about his opponent "at this time.''

I suspect that will change.

Not to be outdone, Corcoran filed his re-election papers Nov. 17 and started accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists two days later. That means the incumbent will have spent all 24 months of a two-year term campaigning for re-election.

"Is it too early? No,'' said Bennett who retired from Ford Motor Co. at age 48. "You can wait to 2012 and push or you can start now.''

His push includes a campaign website at dropthehammer.com, position statements and an appearance five days ago before Pasco commissioners inquiring about the sign rules at county parks. He wants to hang campaigns sign there; the county says it's about to establish some definitive regulations.

In an interview, he mixes self depreciation — "I'm just an old Yankee, three fries short of a happy meal'' — with a platform shaped by discontent at government spending and his own experiences as small business owner befuddled by regulations. His resume includes martial arts instructor, retailer, farmer (dairy, hogs, ostriches) and pawn shop owner.

His campaign can be boiled down two words. No, not tea party, though Bennett is clearly from that political spectrum. He's a flat-tax advocating, motorcycle riding, NRA-hat wearing Ohio native transplanted to Trinity concerned about two different words: Bullet train.

High-speed rail is driving his candidacy. He's against it. Thinks it's a waste of money. He believes ridership projections on an Orlando-to-Tampa route are too rosy and the expense so great that the state will have to turn to its residents for an income tax to keep it afloat.

I reminded Bennett that the Florida Constitution prohibits a personal income tax. I didn't get a chance to point out that the no-new-tax Republicans control the governor's mansion, the Cabinet and the Legislature. He's not convinced.

To his credit, he does offer alternatives beyond just criticism. Instead of rail, he supports dedicated lanes on Interstate 4 for bus service. He is a fan of Pasco's public transportation and says it should be expanded.

"I would pay more taxes if we can improve it even more.''

Well, there goes the Republican vote. He left the GOP in September as part of his non-partisan run for the Legislature.

Ask him for the a-ha moment/issue that provoked his candidacy he says he's just "so sick and tired of what's going on in this state.'' But, much of his platform is out of his hands. The fate of high-speed rail likely will be decided before the November 2012 election. A national sales tax is a federal matter.

He bemoans students' (and their parents) ignorance of history then grumbles about high schools that provide child care so teen mothers can get their diplomas. He should visit the Cyesis program at Moore-Mickens Education Center in Dade City so he can rethink that gripe. If you're unhappy about student achievement, making it harder for students to stay in high school is counter productive. He wants mandatory recess at schools even though the Legislature already requires 150 minutes each week of physical activity for elementary pupils.

Certainly, it is a long-shot candidacy. Corcoran is the incumbent, an experienced campaigner and fundraiser, and a former political consultant who now doubles as Sheriff Bob White's lawyer and handler.

Then again two-term Rep. Ron Schultz of Crystal River was an expected shoo-in against a tea partier who didn't have a strong grasp of the issues. But Schultz is now out of office and Rep. Jimmie Smith represents District 43 in Tallahassee.

Drop the hammer, indeed.

Long-shot candidate Bennett starts campaign early 01/15/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 15, 2011 3:31am]

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