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Smith answers what McBride failed to

Published Nov. 14, 2005

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith took a little swipe at his party's 2002 nominee, Bill McBride, last week while talking to Tampa Bay members of Democracy for America about the need for better funding for Florida schools.

"Somebody's going to ask me, so I'll go ahead and say it: "How are you going to pay for it?' By the way, that's a question I wish somebody had answered better a few years ago."

He referred to Tampa lawyer McBride's consistent refusal to spell out how he would pay for the class-size reduction amendment that he endorsed. Many Florida Democrats still wince at the memory of McBride's flummoxed response when Tim Russert pressed him on the issue in a televised debate.

Smith said Florida will see more money from expanded gambling and should have $1-billion to $2-billion in new revenue this year. "We've got the dollars. It simply takes the political will to say these other kinds of projects that we spend on, they're going to be secondary."SCHIAVO POLITICS: Think the Terri Schiavo controversy has no lasting political repercussions? Michael Schiavo last week endorsed Democrat Tim Kaine in the Virginia governor's race over Republican Jerry Kilgore.

"Even though I am not a Virginian, I care deeply about the outcome of this election because one of the candidates for Virginia governor has said publicly that he would follow Jeb Bush's lead in similar cases," Schiavo said in a statement.

DEMOCRATIC DOLLARS: A lot of eyebrows raised when the Times reported in July that the Florida Democratic Party's new executive director, Luis Navarro, would earn a salary of $180,000. We've heard less and less grumbling in the months since, but now we've discovered we didn't tell the whole story.

In addition to the $180,000 salary, Navarro is receiving $1,500 a month for housing. Total compensation package: $208,000 a year for the respected strategist recruited by Sen. Bill Nelson. In addition to serving as executive director of the state party, Navarro will lead the party's coordinated campaign. The Democrats, by the way, are looking at basing their coordinated campaign in Orlando, alongside the beefed up Orange County party.

TV TIME: St. Petersburg City Council candidates Darden Rice and Earnest Williams last week had a heated faceoff during a taping of Political Connections on Bay News 9. Check it out at 11 today and on Monday on Ch. 340 (Tampa Bay on Demand). While Rice questioned incumbent Williams' trips abroad and his vote against take-home cars for police officers, Williams slammed her for lack of community involvement and accused her of misleading attacks.

Meanwhile, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker declined to appear on ABC-Ch. 28's Flashpoint with Brendan McLaughlin today. Baker did not want to give challenger Ed Helm a "platform," said McLaughlin, who went ahead and taped a solo interview with Helm.

TEAM DAVIS: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis has tapped Jennifer O'Malley, who earned strong reviews as John Edwards' Iowa field director, for his campaign manager. She also worked on Al Gore's presidential campaign, Tim Johnson's South Dakota Senate campaign in 2002, and helped manage a staff of 200 as deputy campaign manager for Tom Daschle's Senate re-election campaign in 2004.

"Jennifer O'Malley is an experienced and talented manager," said Nick Baldick, Edwards' presidential campaign manager and a veteran of Florida campaigning. "She was key in building a grass roots organization that propelled John Edwards to a better than expected finish in the Iowa caucus. She will be a tremendous asset to the Davis campaign."

GATORS HELP "NOLE: He graduated from Florida State, but Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist was scheduled to be in Gainesville on Friday night for a fundraiser hosted by Marshall Criser, former president of the University of Florida. Also helping Crist raise money in Gainesville was former Gator and Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Scot Brantley.

Crist said he felt no disloyalty to the Seminoles: "I'm a uniter, not a divider."

TAIWAN TRAVELERS: As their constituents suffered without power and gasoline in the wake of Hurricane Wilma, some South Florida lawmakers last week headed to Taiwan as part of a long-planned cultural trip.

"The trip has been very productive," state Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, a onetime State Department employee, said in an e-mail from Taipei. "We have been able to hold several meetings with Taiwanese officials regarding increased importation of Florida agricultural products (mainly beef, citrus and winter vegetables) and more utilization of Florida ports for transshipment of Taiwanese goods to the western hemisphere."

He was joined in Taipei by Republican Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, both of Miami, and Rep. John Stargel of Lakeland. Democratic Reps. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville and Rep. Phillip Brutus of North Miami also made the trip.

The trip is legal under state laws, according to House and Senate staff members, because Taiwan had no lobbyist or issue before the Legislature in the last 12 months. Rivera said he takes a personal interest in Taiwan because it supports the opposition in Fidel Castro's Cuba.

PLAYING FAVORITES?: Officially, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is neutral in the surprisingly crowded Democratic primary for the strongly Republican 9th Congressional District race to succeed Mike Bilirakis. But Democratic former Hillsborough County Commissioner Phyllis Busansky is letting people know she's the favorite. Democrats in the race include Greg Rublee of Oldsmar, Bill Mitchell of Tampa and Fred Taylor of New Port Richey. Republicans include state Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Tarpon Springs and David Langheier of East Lake.

U.S. Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, the DCCC chairman, sent Busansky a Chicago cheesecake when she entered the race, Busansky said, and he plans to join her at a fundraiser in Washington next month. Meanwhile, Busansky said former state House Speaker Terrell Sessums and Democratic activist Don Pelligrino will lead her finance team.

BUZZ ONLINE: For more political news check out www.sptimes.com /blogs/buzz/.

Adam C. Smith and Joni James contributed to this week's Buzz.