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Rob Wallace: Preserve Free Election

Posted Jun 19, 2012 by Joe Henderson

Updated Jun 19, 2012 at 10:38 AM

Here’s my column in today’s Trib on the State Senate District 17 race:

The determination shown by the Republican establishment to ensure John Legg replaces Jim Norman in the state Senate is impressive. It has the look and feel of, oh, what’s the word?

“An anointing.”

That’s how Rob Wallace described the rapid-fire round of endorsements for Legg in the District 17 Senate race after Norman dropped out last week. Legg’s wide support includes incoming Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford. Even the Florida Medical Association chimed in for Legg.

It is designed to make Legg look invincible in the Aug. 14 primary, and he just might be.

“I was originally trying to unseat someone with ethical issues who deserved a one-way ticket out of public service, but now I’m trying to preserve the right of a free election,” Wallace said.

Indeed, Wallace – a former two-term state representative – jumped into the Senate race after Norman was accused of financial disclosure issues during his successful 2010 campaign. In March, he admitted his guilt to the Florida Ethics Commission.

The Senate was considering what to do about that, but Norman saved everyone the bother by dropping out of the race instead. By that point Legg, who also spent two terms in the House, had strong support that hasn’t stopped growing.

“I’m not a political genius, but I figured out in March this was a possibility. Pasco has always been interested in getting two senators they could call their own, so I think this has been a plan that was evolving since Norman’s problems emerged,” Wallace said.

“When he dropped out, I thought I could get some traction and financial help in Hillsborough, but they moved quickly in Tallahassee to get Legg. They said, ‘Don’t bother, don’t help Rob.’ The message is clear that people might be in peril if they support me. It’s frustrating because they’re undermining the primary process.”

Wallace said he has raised only about $25,000 and estimates Legg will have much more. It’s a tough climb.

“You’ve got a David-and-Goliath thing going on,” he said.

Wallace has been out of the game since 2002, when he left the state House because of term limits.

“I think I did it the right way. I was in (the House) for eight years and the constitution said, ‘Rob, go home.’ So I did,” he said. “I built my business and raised my family, but all these other alliances were being formed.”

Voters still have the last say, though, and they have begun to show a fiercely independent streak. Legg also could have a recognition problem with the people he is asking to elect him. This newly drawn Senate district includes no voters from Legg’s old House district.

So endorsements or not, anointing or not, Wallace keeps up the fight.

“They are educated voters, they know the issues, and they will look at the qualifications and make the decision,” he said. “I hope they will revolt against the Tallahassee aristocracy trying to make the decision for them. That’s how it should be.”

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