Palm Harbor House Democrat has target on his back Palm Harbor House Democrat has target on his back

Published May 1, 2014

There are few Democratic state representatives in Florida with a bigger target on their back this year than state Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor. He beat Republican incumbent Peter Nehr in 2012, and Republicans are determined to win back that seat and confident they will.

It's an ominous sign for Zimmermann — today's guest on Political Connections on Bay News 9 — that through March he had raised about $63,000 for his re-election, compared to the $140,000 raised by Republican challenger Chris Sprowls and $6,800 by Republican Debbie Ann Faulkner.

Zimmermann, a public school teacher, says that when he arrived in Tallahassee, Republicans determined to make him a one-termer told him they "weren't going to agenda a single bill of mine."

Having spent nearly two years in the Legislature, he sounds less than idealistic about how Tallahassee operates.

"So much of the legislation appears very obviously influenced by a tremendous amount of money going to a party behind a particular issue," Zimmermann said. "When you read the bills and you look for the motive, it is amazing how blatantly obvious some of this stuff is."

Political Connections airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Jolly opponents

So far only one credible and prominent Democrat has emerged to challenge newly elected U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores: the Rev. Manuel Sykes. But we're hearing buzz about another serious contender, Eric Lynn, who grew up in Pinellas but currently works in Washington as a senior Obama administration adviser on Middle East policy. A onetime aide to former U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch of South Florida, Lynn in 2008 also helped lead the Obama campaign's outreach to Jewish voters.

Rubio, gun owner

Sen. Marco Rubio spoke Friday to the National Rifle Association in Indianapolis, and he came to the gathering with some bona fides: He owns a .357 Magnum and has a concealed weapons permit in Florida.

Still, the Florida Republican is a relative newcomer to gun ownership, and it has coincided with his political rise. In September 2009, while he was running for the Senate, Rubio went through training for the permit.

"He's a good shot," instructor Charlie Berrane told the Buzz at the time.

Rubio said he decided to get a permit because he talks a lot about the 2nd Amendment on the campaign trail and wanted to show the importance of safety. He wanted to lead "by example."

"Every right we have comes with a corresponding responsibility. And part of that responsibility is to be a safe owner of guns. Concealed weapons permit holders are the most law abiding, safest gun owners on the planet," Rubio said.

He indicated in 2009 that he was in no rush to actually get a gun. But he told the Washington Times this year that he purchased the revolver in February 2010. "For the same reasons a lot of people want to purchase a gun in America: to be able to defend your family."

Rubio told a conservative columnist that he and his wife train at a gun range "two or three times a year."

As a state legislator, Rubio was a consistent backer of legislation favored by the NRA but a "guns-to-work" bill that pitted the gun lobby against the Chamber of Commerce caused him headaches. Rubio, as House speaker, pushed for a compromise bill.

"He was a big disappointment to us when he was the speaker," NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, who saw Rubio do little to help pass a bill allowing employees to bring guns to work, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2009. "He talked the talk, but he didn't walk the walk."

Rubio did vote for the legislation that passed.

Hammer, it should be noted, was a backer of Charlie Crist in the early stages of the Senate run. Crist had a solid pro-NRA record as well. But in 2012, as he morphed into a Democrat, Crist came out in favor of gun control after the Newtown school shooting.

Polls don't agree

Two polls, two different pictures.

A poll released last week by the Republican-leaning Rasmussen Reports showed Crist leading Rick Scott for governor 45 percent to 39 percent. But a Mason-Dixon poll found a dead heat, with Crist and Scott each winning 42 percent support.

Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.