Justices get fiscal support from Fair Districts' backers
With Florida's legislative redistricting plans now before the state Supreme Court, proponents of the Florida Fair Districts amendments are donating heavily to three justices who may face conservative challenges in their November merit retention elections. The same conservative forces targeted two justices in 2010, resulting in comparatively narrow merit retention votes for James Perry and Jorge LaBarga. They're now targeting Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Barbara Pariente. Pariente and Lewis are appointees of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, and Quince was appointed by an agreement between Chiles and his Republican successor, Jeb Bush. The three have raised unusual amounts of money for Florida judges in merit retention campaigns: $161,000 for Lewis, $158,000 for Pariente and $156,000 for Quince, as of March 31.That included a maximum $500 each from the Miami law firm Freidin & Dobrinsky given on Feb. 27, just two days before the court heard arguments on the districting plans. The firm's Phil Freidin is the husband of Ellen Freidin, who was head of the Fair Districts Florida campaign. The challenge to the justices is coming from Restore Justice 2012, a group headed by Orlando tea party activist Jesse Phillips and aided by former state Sen. Carey Baker of Eustis. Nelson notches big lead over challengers A recent poll by Public Policy Polling shows Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is leading potential GOP challengers Connie Mack IV, George LeMieux and Mike McCalister by margins of 10 to 14 points, despite Nelson's less-than-stellar approval numbers. "The Republican field still suffers from low name recognition and favorability numbers," said Dean Debnam, president of the polling company. PPP is a Democratic-oriented, North Carolina-based polling and political consulting firm which says its published polls are neutral. Some of the outcomes of this poll: Asked whether their views of the GOP candidates were favorable or unfavorable, Mack got 20 percent favorable, 27 percent unfavorable and 53 percent unsure; LeMieux got 10 percent favorable, 25 percent unfavorable and 65 percent unsure; and McCalister received 6 percent favorable, 17 percent unfavorable and 77 percent not sure. The poll included 700 Florida voters surveyed from April 12 to 15, with a 3.7-point error margin. Mack lands critical GOP endorsement The influential American Conservative Union, led by prominent Florida GOP activist Al Cardenas, has endorsed Connie Mack IV in the Senate race, a piece of good news for Mack at a time when he needs it. Mack is "the innovative, conservative leader ready to take on Bill Nelson this fall," Cardenas said in the endorsement. Mack has led by a healthy margin in polls of Republican voters over primary opponents George LeMieux and Mike McCalister; but the most recent polls showed him losing to Nelson, the Democratic incumbent whom the GOP nominee will face in November. Bush won't be vice presidential nominee Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told Bloomberg News that he won't be GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate, saying he "wasn't clear enough" in a statement made earlier that he would consider the vice presidential slot if it was offered. In comments made to the conservative news website Newsmax, Bush had said if Romney asked him, "Well, I'd consider it, but I doubt I'll get a call, and I don't know if it's the right thing for me to do. I didn't run for president for a similar kind of reason, so I'm all in to try to help him get elected." But he now tells Bloomberg, "I am not going to be the veep nominee. Lay that to rest." "I guess I wasn't clear enough," he added.
William March has covered state and national politics since 1994. He can be reached at (813) 259-7761.