State Senate candidate Jim Norman touts himself as "A New Voice In Tallahassee." But the shadowy groups beating up his opponent, Rep. Kevin Ambler, are trafficking in the same old sleaze. Hills- borough County Commission candidate Josh Burgin has a helping hand, too, from an Orlando political group attacking his opponent, incumbent Commissioner Mark Sharpe. The common thread for these groups: targeting conservative Republican candidates who have the gall to think for themselves and casting them as liberals.
Norman is a career politician who in his 18 years as a county commissioner presided over one of the largest spending binges in Hillsborough history. Yet he has the nerve to paint himself as a fiscal conservative. That's rich from a commissioner whose anything-goes development stance had the effect of shifting the tax burden from newcomers to existing area residents. Meanwhile, the people behind Norman are depicting Ambler as liberal. It's a ridiculous accusation against a state House member who has faithfully backed the GOP agenda during his time in Tallahassee.
Ambler's flaw to extremists is that he occasionally stands up to the Republican leadership, which doesn't like the sheep straying off the farm. Top Republicans have faulted his votes on fee increases and tax breaks, distorting the record and overlooking one key fact: These bills were priorities of the Republican leadership, and the legislators assailing Ambler now voted the same way. The GOP leadership endorsed Norman not because he is a "new voice," but a reliable back-bencher who will follow orders.
In the County Commission race, the Orlando-based group Ax the Tax has attacked Sharpe for his support of a referendum that would increase the sales tax by 1-cent to pay for transportation improvements. The last thing anyone in Orlando is qualified to lecture any community about is transportation. But that hasn't stopped the Ax group from going off half-baked about a transit plan several counties away and four years in the making.
If Ax the Tax wants to blame anyone, why did it single out Sharpe? Two other Republicans voted with Sharpe to put the tax on this year's ballot. And it was Republican commissioners — not the Democratic ones — who put the referendum over the top with a 5-2 supermajority vote. This is a back-handed way to help Burgin. The referendum won't appear until the November ballot. But Sharpe is under attack now as he faces Burgin in the Aug. 24 primary.
Norman and Burgin want to coast into office on platitudes and on the wings of third-party groups doing their dirty work. Do Republicans really believe that candidates so beholden are going to change once elected? Voters need to look beyond the garbage on TV and in the mailbox. Ambler and Sharpe are conservative Republicans, and any suggestion they are liberal big spenders is an attempt to deceive the voters.