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  1. Florida Politics

Carlton: Political activist, Facebook sexist

Sam Rashid, a Republican activist, says his remarks aren’t sexist.

Forget Donald Trump. We've got Sam Rashid.

This week on Facebook, the powerful Republican activist whom politicians have appointed to important boards called the woman handling public relations for a Hillsborough transportation initiative a "tax-payer subsidized slut."

What's more, Rashid said Beth Leytham — who has never met him, by the way — has made millions by having "an intimately close relationship with three of our local elected officials."

And your jaw. Just. Drops.

What year is this? And is this really the guy you want appointed to committees that nominate federal judges and oversee a $953 million renovation of Tampa International Airport?

Rashid, a Valrico businessman, is a longtime Republican kingmaker in these parts, a writer of campaign checks and an opinionated voice. He recently boasted that sullied former politician Jim Norman — who left office in a scandal over who bankrolled a house for his wife — has $100,000 in campaign pledges ready for his comeback.

Has Rashid got political juice? Last year, Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Rashid does not care for Go Hillsborough, the county's proposed sales tax increase to fund transportation going to a referendum in 2016. That's his opinion and his right.

But his Facebook post Wednesday focused on Leytham, whose name he misspells: "I really love this Beth Laytham, she's being paid $300,000 of our tax dollars to try and deceive the voters and taxpayers of this county." (Actually, it's $187,500.) Rashid railed on that Leytham has made "several million dollars" as an "unregistered Lobbyist by having an intimately close relationship with three of our local elected officials" — two on the county commission and one in the city, he wrote.

"Well done Commissioners, you've given this tax-payer subsidized slut another $300,000 of my money to intentionally deceive me into thinking LA is Tampa."

At some point, he tried to qualify that characterization: "And I may be talking about the Go Hillsborough Plan with this pejorative reference." Not sure that changes much.

And there you have it — Rashid's ugly Trump/Megyn Kelly moment.

Because hey, how else could this woman have built her successful public relations business?

Leytham is a name in Tampa, with clients that have included Newland Communities, the Tampa Housing Authority and Bright House, among others. She also does crisis management for people like Hoe Brown, the prominent political fundraiser exposed as a slumlord in 2013.

Leytham says she'll go all day duking it out over the substantive issues in that transportation package, but Rashid's attack clearly floored her. "To lend this sexist, demeaning tone to it … it's just wrong," she said.

Leytham does not represent politicians, but Rashid's reference to relationships likely refers to her longtime friendships with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, whom she sometimes advises. Those relationships have always been platonic, Leytham said. And should not have to say.

In an emailed response to me Thursday, Rashid focused on criticisms of the transportation plan and whether Leytham is "an illegal lobbyist" rather than a consultant. But he said he stands by what he wrote, denied his remarks were sexist and said there was "no gender associated" with them. Any inferences I somehow derived were "entirely incorrect" and "out of context," he said.

No word on who that second alleged dalliance on the commission was, though.

"He's always known for his candor and for playing hardball," Commissioner Hagan said. "But this is over the top even for Sam and is an attempt to obfuscate the issue at hand — meaningfully addressing our transportation crisis."

This was not the first time — not even the first time this year — for a problematic Rashid rant. Jointly appointed by Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson to the commission that nominates federal judges, Rashid stepped down soon after. Why? After he got the job, he took to Facebook to gloat that certain local judges are "dumbasses," later edited to "dumb mothers," according to published reports. This might have been a problem for Rubio in his current ambitions.

Rashid is entitled to his opinions. And so are the rest of us who watch who our elected officials let serve in prime positions with their seal of approval — regardless of how inappropriate and offensive those appointees show themselves to be.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

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