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Daniel Ruth


This is what happens when you have been face down in the slop of the public trough for so long you begin to think the rules don't apply to you because you're special, because no one will the wiser, because you are — Jim Norman.

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For years Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman, R-None of Your Business, faithfully served as the very late local potentate Ralph Hughes' personal pedicurist, doing the magnate's bidding when it came to lathering up development interests.

So it really came as no huge surprise when the commissioner, now running for a feedbag in the Florida Senate, finally admitted what everyone already had surmised. Hughes was the Daddy Warbucks behind a gift, loan, gratuity, tip, door prize, payoff, whatever you want to call it, which enabled Norman's wife, Mearline, to buy a $435,000 manse in Arkansas.

No!!!!! Really????

It took a lawsuit by Norman's Republican primary opponent, state Rep. Kevin Ambler, an FBI investigation and a horde of nosy reporters for the commissioner to at last come clean (a word used here with some caution) to admit that yes, Hughes was the source of the money for the Ozarks love nest.

And now, because Commissioner Baksheesh has been exposed as a pol who can be rented out like a cheap two-bit gin joint chippie, Norman could face being tossed off the November ballot on the grounds he failed to disclose his playing financial footsie-wootsie with someone who had business interests before him as an elected official.

Norman's mouthpiece, Frank Winkles, would have been salivating like Old Yeller to go after a scruples-challenged backslapper like Norman when he was a federal prosecutor many years ago. Now he insists Hughes' largesse was little more than a fabulously wealthy man merely coming to the assistance of a Mearline Norman, whom he regarded as a friend he has mentored and counseled for many years.

Isn't that precious?

About the only people who believe that twaddle are Winkles, the Normans and perhaps the Norman family dog — and there is some doubt about the mutt.

In order for anyone to accept an alibi akin to Jack Ruby claiming he was out of town when Lee Harvey Oswald got shot, you also have to buy into the notion that had Mearline Norman simply been the squeeze of a Wal-Mart greeter instead of the spouse of a powerful county commissioner, the big shot still would have forked over roughly a half-a-million to buy an Arkansas estate.

For his part, Norman had steadfastly insisted the real estate deal was exclusively his wife's private business investment and he was oblivious to the details. He peddles the notion he never bothered to ask Mearline where the money for the Arkansas property came from. But any rational view of this tawdry mess would conclude that Norman used his wife's bloomers to hide a substantial financial relationship from a political supporter who frequently appeared before the county commission to promote his ideological and business interests.

Hughes went to that Glenn Beck Rally in the sky a couple of years ago, just as the IRS was breathing down his neck over scads of unpaid back taxes. That put a crimp in Norman's ham-handed attempt to name the county's moral courage award after Hughes.

Does any paperwork exist documenting Hughes' $500,000 "loan" to Mearline? And if so, what was the repayment schedule? What was the interest rate? Were any payments back to Hughes ever made? Did the Scarlett O'Hara of Arkansas declare the investment on her taxes? And of course, did Jim Norman at any point in this deal ever bother to ask his little lamb-chop, just where exactly did the money come from to finance the deal?

It certainly appears Norman, R-Woooo! Pig! Sooie!, tried to pull a fast one by hiding the investment. If everything was so on the up and up, it would have been easy enough to disclose the fact he had accepted a half-million dollars from his close, personal ATM.

But he didn't. Of course, Norman could man up on his effort to con the public and drop out of the Senate race. But he won't.

After all, this kind of Moral Scourge gutlessness is a virtue in the Florida Legislature.

TAWDRY TALE OF THE TROUGH 10/04/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 4, 2010 6:46pm]
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