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Romano: Draining the swamp can be dangerous in Florida

No one wants to drain swamps in the 10,000 Islands area near Everglades City. And considering recent candidates around the state, we might have second thoughts about draining political swamps, too. [Karen Haymon Long]
Tuesday 21 August 2018 05.00

Drain the swamp. That’s the rallying cry, right?

More term limits, fewer career politicians. A ruling class of regular folks. There’s just one small problem.

The average Floridian is more dangerous than whatever you’ll run into in a swamp. Other places focus on chasing people out of the political quagmire; we have to worry about the loons moving in.

Which brings us to Florida’s political class of 2018.

A parade of liars, kooks and hustlers.

Maybe I’m overreacting. It’s entirely possible we’ve always had this many, um, earthy candidates. But it sure seems as if the bus pulled out of Yeehaw Junction early this year.

Take, for instance, the make-up-your-resume-as-you-go crowd. A former Miami Beach commissioner now running for the state House claims she has a master of science degree from MIT and an old bio says she has another master’s from Florida International University. Neither school has a record of these degrees. Deede Weithorn’s explanation? MIT must have lost her records, and whoever wrote her bio erred when they listed a degree from FIU.

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Sure, happens all the time.

Joshua Linney, a mayoral candidate in Holmes Beach, used to leave people with the impression he was an infantryman during the Iraq war, according to the Bradenton Herald. Turns out, he did serve in the Middle East but not in Iraq. And he was a cook.

But neither compares to Melissa Howard. The House candidate from Sarasota didn’t just claim to have a degree from Miami University, she went to the trouble of producing a bogus diploma, and her consultant brazenly called reports of her deception "fake news.’’ The jig was up when the university called her out, and Howard withdrew from the race a day later.

Other claims are harder to disprove.

A mayoral candidate in Key West began a debate by taking a call from God on his cell phone. It appears Sloan Bashinsky was joking, but he did insist that he got into the race on orders from God.

Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera was not divinely inspired, but she has hung out with E.T. The former Doral council member who is running for Congress says she was abducted by aliens at age 7. She now claims this is a non-issue, and the Miami Herald agrees. The newspaper endorsed her in the Republican primary.

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Then there are the candidates who have run afoul of the rules.

James Holcombe was running for the Ormond Beach City Commission until he and his father were convicted of racketeering. It seems they were in cahoots with drug users who were shoplifting from stores, returning the merchandise for gift cards, and then selling the gift cards to the Holcombes for cheap.

Former Miami Beach commissioner and current House candidate Michael Grieco once told Herald reporters to "look right into my soul’’ when he denied he was behind a political action committee. An ethics commission checked out his soul and decided he was lying.

None of this includes a pair of judicial candidates who lit up social media with anti-Muslim posts, or a school board candidate in Collier County who insists she was not fired by the school district in 2012 even though she later filed a lawsuit disputing her termination.

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Drain the swamp? Not in Florida. We’re better off as preservationists.


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