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June 25, 2018

Political Season

Mark R. Howard | 10/1/2004
Some thoughts as the November election approaches:

Senatorial? Two notable bits of ugliness in the party primary campaigns for U.S. Senate: 1. Rep. Peter Deutsch's phony smear of Betty Castor for not firing a professor linked to terrorist groups when she was president of the University of South Florida, and 2. Mel Martinez's failure to repudiate campaign ads that accused rival Bill McCollum of being a "darling" of "homosexual extremists" and "anti-family."

The issue of the professor, Sami Al-Arian, was bogus. Deutsch, for many reasons, lost resoundingly at the polls. Martinez's unprincipled attack on McCollum was likewise reprehensible. Martinez, however, won, leaving the lingering question of whether his smear helped him.

Several years ago, when Martinez was Orange County chairman, Florida Trend's editorial staff spent a few hours with him and came away unanimously impressed. Martinez seemed smart, thoughtful, honest, fiscally responsible and willing to innovate in governing. He had a fascinating personal story and an inspiring sense of service and leadership. The image that emerged during the primary campaign was much less inspiring: A flat, white-bread, I'm-a-tool-of-the-president caricature that scarcely resembled the man we'd met. And then came the attacks on McCollum, who's no paragon of tolerance himself but undeserving, as anyone would be, of the kind of venomous bigotry that the Martinez camp displayed.

Florida Trend doesn't typically endorse candidates and won't in the U.S. Senate race. But there is something to say about a candidate's accountability for how a campaign is conducted. Betty Castor and Mel Martinez disagree on a great number of issues, and the people of Florida will have a clear choice between two divergent perspectives -- without either having to resort to slime. Castor, to her credit, has taken the high road in her campaign. Martinez needs to find that road and go out of his way to stay on it. If he unleashes the same kind of bile against Castor as he did versus McCollum, he's unworthy of voters' support.

Missed Opportunity: It was painful to watch Bob Graham's speech at the Democratic convention -- his swan song on a national stage. The speech was painful not because it was a bad speech or because Graham was boring, but because no one seemed to be paying attention to either Graham's warnings or the strategy for winning the presidency that the speech implied.

Graham has a sophisticated understanding of our country's vulnerabilities and what has -- and hasn't -- been done to address them, particularly at U.S. ports. John Kerry, meanwhile, has focused only on convincing the American people that he's tough enough to command the armed forces -- witness the emphasis on his service in Vietnam. He might do better trying to convince the American people that the president has failed to competently respond to the threat of terrorism domestically -- as Graham suggested. Voters can accept mistakes from a president, but they won't choose to replace a commander-in-chief in wartime unless Kerry convinces them that Bush is worse than just imperfect.

Curriculum Vitae: Jeb Bush has almost certainly been aware for some time that he has the pedigree, connections and intelligence to become president. And in the course of the past six years in office he's added significant experience in international trade issues to his portfolio, establishing relationships with world leaders. On one of those long flights home from overseas, it's not hard to imagine him coming to the gut realization that, yes, he now had both the relevant experience as well as the credentials to do the nation's top job.

There's plenty of irony in the fact that, as the governor goes about campaigning for his brother, his best chance of becoming president probably depends on his brother losing. The country is highly unlikely to elect two Bushes in a row. And if W.'s successor serves two terms, Jeb would be in his mid-60s before he had another chance to run.

Win-Win: Miami's bid to become the headquarters of the eventual Free Trade Area of the Americas shouldn't suffer regardless who wins the presidential race. If President Bush wins re-election, he'll likely begin pushing immediately to have an FTAA agreement, including a decision on the headquarters, by early 2005. He also may well publicly throw the administration's weight behind Miami, particularly if Florida again provides him with his margin of victory. Gov. Bush -- who's in a fairly good position to know which way his brother's administration is leaning -- has felt comfortable enough to say publicly in recent months that Atlanta, Miami's domestic rival for the FTAA headquarters, isn't going to get it.

If Kerry wins, he'll likely make some noises -- prompted by labor -- about how the Bush administration mucked up the trade pact negotiations, but then he'll proceed to conclude the FTAA agreement without tinkering with it too much. Kerry, says one FTAA insider, is "about 75% pure" on free trade issues. In addition, if Kerry wins, he'll likely have won with support from Miami and Florida at large -- and so won't be eager to antagonize the Sunshine State by submarining either the agreement or Miami's bid.

The biggest factor for both Bush and Kerry is the date of June 1, 2005, when "fast-track" negotiating authority for the president expires. After that, it will become a lot more difficult to get a trade deal done regardless who's president.

Editor's note: Florida Trend has been blessed in recent years with a group of unusually dedicated and gifted reporters. For the next eight months, we will be without one of them: Cynthia Barnett, who has won a number of awards for both investigative reporting and feature writing, has received a prestigious Knight-Wallace Fellowship. She and her family will spend the academic year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Cynthia, not afraid to take on challenges in bunches, recently gave birth to her second child, Ilana Drew, who joins Will, 3. Cynthia's husband, Aaron Hoover, works as a science writer for the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Cynthia will return to Trend in May. We'll miss her. I am pleased, however, to announce a new addition to Trend's reporting staff: Gina Voss Edwards, a graduate of George Mason University who's also accomplished and gifted. Before joining Trend, she was an award-winning investigative reporter and editor at the Naples Daily News. Gina and her husband, Mike, who operates a personal training and golf rehab company in Naples, have a 2 1/2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son.

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