GOP to Jim Norman: Who?

Published June 1, 2012

With the flurry over a property appraiser porn scandal and an attorney general's wedding-that-wasn't, you might have missed other intriguing political news, about state Sen. Jim Norman and his future in Tallahassee.

You might have thought him unstoppable. He is, after all, the guy who made the leap from the Hillsborough County Commission to the Senate despite all those headlines, despite a federal investigation and ethics questions about that vacation home bankrolled by a businessman friend for Norman's wife.

You might have assumed a smooth ride to a second term with the full support of his party, Florida politics being what they are.

But here's Norman in a real race and a fight for his political future — without, it seems, the full and fierce party backing that incumbents traditionally enjoy.

Who would have thought it? No less than House Speaker Dean Cannon and Sen. Mike Fasano confirmed this week that they are endorsing not Norman but the newcomer to the race, state Rep. John Legg. More endorsements are expected to follow. (Though interestingly, no word from Norman's former commission pal Sen. Ronda Storms, who is running to replace the property appraiser in the porn scandal. Yes, you need a scorecard.)

Norman, already facing a challenge from former state Rep. Rob Wallace and a Lutz homeland security consultant named John Korsak, got the bad news last week: Legg, who was running for a Senate seat that includes west Pasco, Hernando and Sumter, announced that he was jumping into Norman's race for the district including south Pasco and northwest Hillsborough.

Legg, whose family has homes in both districts, says he and his wife picked the one where they want to raise their kids. But he also says this: "The Jim Norman baggage was absolutely a factor.

"We usually frown upon people challenging incumbents. That's something we don't rush into quickly," Legg told me. "But quite frankly, this is a different circumstance. Jim Norman should not be in the Florida Senate."

Norman did not return calls for his take on the race or on his fellow Republicans backing Legg.

That federal investigation into his wife's half-million-dollar home in Arkansas, paid for by Norman's millionaire political benefactor and friend Ralph Hughes, ended with no charges. But this year, Norman signed an admission of guilt to the Florida Ethics Commission for not disclosing the gift.

Here's a how-we-do-politics-in-Florida scenario for you if Norman wins his seat again: On the Senate's to-do list is deciding the ethics-related punishment for one of its own:

Second-term Sen. Jim Norman.

Maybe that is just unpalatable enough for the party to sidestep the tradition of protecting its own.

All that said, don't count Norman out. Legg is well-known in Pasco, less so in Hillsborough. Norman was a popular longtime commissioner and still a name in these parts — though this cuts both ways, if your name evokes the picture of a sprawling house on a pretty lake.

But Jim Norman has a race on his hands. So maybe controversy can catch up with you. Maybe the smell of something rotten does linger. And maybe elephants, as in the GOP kind, don't forget, especially if they believe voters won't either.