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Facebook rant costs Hillsborough Republican a prominent appointment

— Valrico businessman and Republican kingmaker Sam Rashid has never been known to pull his punches.

But the outspoken Rashid managed to go a rant too far in a Facebook posting last week, referring to three unnamed Hillsborough County Circuit Judges as “dumbasses.”

Though he later edited the statement - replacing the word with “dumb mothers” - the posting cost Rashid a U.S. senatorial appointment to the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission nominates candidates for federal judgeships, U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals.

The posting also could prove an embarrassment to the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime friend of Rashid who appointed him to the commission.

After accepting Rubio’s appointment on Friday, Rashid had to formally decline it a day later. In a Saturday letter to the senator’s general counsel, Gregg T. Nunziata, Rashid said he was clearly not the appropriate person to fill the commission post.

“I appreciate the Senator’s confidence,” Rashid wrote, “but I actually pre-judged some un-named Circuit Judges in Hillsborough County.”

Rashid credited Chris Ingram, a Republican consultant and columnist for The Tampa Tribune’s editorial page, for calling him out on the potential bias in his comments about the judges. Those same judges Rashid disparaged could someday come before him to seek an appointment to the federal bench, Ingram said.

“What Chris said made a lot of sense to me,” Rashid said. “I sent an e-mail to the senators saying, ‘You know what guys, I am biased. When it comes to these judges in Hillsborough County, I have a really strong bias.’”

Rashid would not name the judges but said they had presided in litigation involving him or his company, Holtec, which manufactures machinery used in the lumber industry.

Ingram said he thought Rashid’s withdrawal from the commission appointment was probably more about saving face for Rubio than for Rashid.

“I think damage to Rubio was at the forefront of his mind,” Ingram said.

Rubio’s campaign could not be reached for comment.

Rashid, a wealthy businessman, was the Hillsborough County chair for former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign in 2012. Rashid contributes money at all levels of the political spectrum.

Most recently, county Commissioner Al Higginbotham named Rashid as one of three Republicans trying to lobby him on behalf of Janet Dougherty, a candidate for director of the county’s Environmental Protection Commission. Dougherty won the position, with Higginbotham voting in her favor.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Rashid to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority in June 2014. Rashid said he accepted the appointment to the Aviation Authority because he wanted to continue the changes initiated by his close friend, Steve Burton, who died in April 2013.

“I don’t seek nominations,” Rashid said. he said the 77 employees who work for him are more important than honorary positions.

The Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission is divided into three conferences corresponding with the three federal judicial districts in the state. Each conference has 25 members. Because a Democrat is president, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, picks 15 of the members; the other 10 are picked by Rubio, a Republican.

The nominating commission conferences meet to interview applicants for a federal vacancy. The conference can send up to three names for each judicial vacancy to Rubio and Nelson.

Nominating commission members don’t have to be lawyers, but they are often prominent citizens in their communities, said attorney John Fitzgibbons, the statewide chair of the commission.

“They are highly sought-after, very prestigious appointments,” said Fitzgibbons, a former federal prosecutor. “It’s very important because when you’re submitting the name of a U.S. District Judge who will serve a lifetime appointment you want the very best and brightest.”

msalinero@tampatrib.com

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