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Best Democrat to Run Against Rick Scott? Not Charlie Crist or Nan Rich

October 15, 2013 - 6:00pm

The best Democrat to run for governor is a name not even being mentioned. He is their best hope because Nan Rich and Charlie Crist are not going to defeat Gov. Rick Scott.

Nan, because she is way too far to the left ideologically and will only inspire support from those who represent a plurality, not a majority, of the party and thus is never going to be the nominee, nor should she.

Charlie, likewise, is not a strong candidate because he is simply a chameleon he is whatever he wants to be whenever he wants. In other words he is a populist, but unlike the famous Louisiana Gov. Huey Long of the 1930s, he actually believes in nothing.

For Charlie its whatever will get him elected. That doesnt mean that he will stay long in the governorship should he ever win it again, because his true north is Washington, D.C., and the presidency -- thats his Achilles heel.

Mind you, I dont think that Gov. Scott can be defeated. He has reduced property and corporate taxes, invested more than $1 billion in education (never mind that he cut education because so did every other governor in the country!), reduced the states debt by over $2 billion, made our state pension system sounder by requiring state employees to contribute something, and has kept his focus on job No. 1 create new jobs for Floridians.

But, if he could be defeated there is only one person who can do it Rod Smith. The former state senator and Democratic Party chair is a charismatic politician who hails from north Central Florida. In his first race for office he defeated a Republican state attorney and he went on to serve with distinction for eight years.

Then he decided to run for the Florida Senate and he swept it, especially in the rural counties where a Democrat must be able to secure the votes of conservative Democrats who are Bible-thumping, gun-toting, and law-abiding citizens.

Now I know that Rod has run for governor before. But the Democrat establishment went with former Congressman Jim Davis of Tampa who got roundly defeated by then-Republican Charlie Crist. And Rod was also the running mate for Alex Sink in 2010, but she relegated him to the Panhandle so that he wouldnt upstage her. Nevertheless, it was a defeat in albeit a tight race.

Democrats continue to push left-of-center candidates on Floridians, and the voters just dont buy it because they are, by and large, centrists with a right-of-center tilt. Thats where Rod comes in. Hes a perfect Democrat: a fiscal conservative who is progressive on social issues.

In fact, Rod was a union lawyer for the firefighters and unions early in his legal career. Hes also a staunch law-and-order politician who can go toe-to-toe with ol Chain Gang Charlie in the primary. Remember it was Rod who put Gainesville-killer Danny Rolling on death row for his heinous murders. Consequently, Rod is admired by sheriffs and state attorneys around the state for his intellect and his courtroom skills.

When Rod was in the Senate he was a Democrat who Republicans liked. In fact they liked him so much and trusted him that he was the chair of the committee which rewrote Article 7 of the Constitution which relates to the court system.

Rod was also routinely selected by Senate presidents to serve on conference committees to help thrash out differences with the House on important issues of the day -- again, not something that is very common these days.

All of which speaks to his ability to garner trust and admiration from the political opposition. This makes him the kind of Democrat that every Republican in the state would fear most. A right-of-center Democrat on the issues that matter most to Floridians public safety, while being attuned to the social issues in a way that makes women voters comfortable with him: the most sought-after bloc besides independent voters.

Finally, Rod has something that you just cant teach: the ability to small talk, back slap and tell jokes with the best of them. Hes a throwback to the kind of Democrats that once ran this state, one that can carry North Florida while sweeping the southern end of the state where seemingly every Democrat is to the left of Karl Marx.

He took himself out of the race early on because a close family member had a serious health issue. But if Democrats want a chance to recapture their old glory, a chance to win, they need to support a real Democrat, not one that is half-baked.

Barney Bishop, former CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, who recently created his third company, is an outspoken, lifelong Democrat with a strong fiscally conservative streak. He believes that government is not the answer to our problems, that civil discourse is obligatory, that compromising on details will not undercut ones core beliefs, and that a resilient, robust private sector is the elixir needed for a true democracy to grow and survive.

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