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Companies fork over big bucks for president's inaugural

Florida helped keep President Bush in the White House, so it should come as no surprise that some deep-pocketed Florida companies and individuals ponied up for next week's inauguration. It's expected to cost more than $40-million.

As of mid December, the inaugural committee reported these $100,000 Florida contributors, all veteran Bush supporters: the trust of southwest Florida developer Al Hoffman Jr., Jacksonville insurance executive Thomas Petway III, Well Care Health Plans of Tampa, Boca Raton developer Ned Siegel and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida. JM Family Enterprises, the Deerfield Beach Toyota distributor, gave $25,000.

RACE FOR JUSTICE: Look for state Rep. Charlie Justice to jump into the race to succeed state Sen. Jim Sebesta in 2006. The St. Petersburg Democrat expects to file campaign papers this week for the District 16 seat that includes parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough. He's the first Democrat to jump into the race that already promises a tough Republican primary between state Reps. Frank Farkas of St. Petersburg and Kim Berfield of Clearwater.

BETTY CASTOR GIVES: Federal campaign reports show that two weeks after Democrat Betty Castor lost the U.S. Senate race to Republican Mel Martinez, her political action committee, the Campaign for Florida's Future, sent $1,000 to Charles Melancon, who narrowly beat Billy Tauzin III for a congressional seat. Her PAC is expected to keep her profile raised, and some observers say it could keep her options open for running for governor in 2006. She starts with a comfortable amount of money. As of mid December, she had slightly more than $372,000, after raising more than $11.3-million. Martinez raised nearly $12.2-million for the race and finished with nearly $194,000.

HARRIS SAVES SOME TOO: U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris of Sarasota had $196,000 at the end of her $3.4-million re-election campaign.

She was by far the biggest spender among Florida congressional candidates. She's a fundraising dynamo, though, who shouldn't have much trouble raising big money fast should she decide to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson for Senate as many expect.

Still, one potential GOP rival for that Senate nomination, U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, has a big early leg up. Foley, who dropped out of the Senate race last year when his father became ill, is sitting on nearly $2.2-million he could roll into a Senate race.

COUNT THEM OUT: For all the complaints about the contested 2000 election, Florida Democrats in Congress did not exactly embrace the effort to challenge Ohio's electoral vote count last week in Washington. After lengthy debates, the challenge failed 267-31, with only Florida representatives Alcee Hastings of Miramar and Corrine Brown of Jacksonville supporting the challenge. Democrats Jim Davis of Tampa, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and former Kerry Florida chairman Kendrick Meek of Miami joined all the Florida Republicans in opposing the challenge. Democrats Allen Boyd of Monticello and Robert Wexler of Boca Raton missed the vote.

Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said of the the challenge: "Perhaps Oklahoma should follow the Democrats' lead and petition the NCAA to overturn the Orange Bowl result, too."

HE AIN'T HEAVY: Amid the tsunami devastation 10,000 miles away, the Guardian newspaper found a rare amusing vignette last week as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush toured the region with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The British paper's verbatim account:

"Who are you?" asked one slightly bemused Australian consular official as the large American stranger pumped his hand.

"I'm Jeb Bush."

"Oh, are you a relative of the president?' said the interlocutor, jokingly.

"Yes I am. I am his little brother."

"Oh," came the reply. "Good for you."

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