McCollum takes shots at Scott, jabs from St. Pete Dems

07/27/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Tiger Bay Club meetings are not for faint-hearted politicians. Facing a tough crowd this afternoon at the swank Feather Sound County Club, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill McCollum fielded questions from local movers and shakers, including some lawmakers. McCollum, the state’s attorney general, spent much of the time laying into Rick Scott, his opponent in next month’s GOP primary.

"He was responsible for the largest and most massive fraud against senior citizens in U.S. history. Perhaps the largest. I think it is the largest, maybe close to it. And that is a Medicare rip off. I don't think people realize that, but if you think about it for a minute, Medicare is senior citizen's money. It's your money too, it's tax payers' money. But he was condoning, or at least permitting the up coding that is charging more for every one of these services in over fifty hospitals that they raided. The FBI did, in the ten years that he was there, charging more than he was supposed to. Again and again and again."

Scott is a multi-millionaire who has made a killing in the polls, thanks to a self-financed ad campaign attacking McCollum, who also didn’t answer the question of whether he would endorse Scott if he won GOP nod. Instead, McCollum attacked Scott for bashing government spending while having controlling interest in a company that took federal stimulus money.

"I opposed that stimulus bill. I wouldn't have voted for it had I been in Congress. And I wouldn't have gone up and given a big hug to President Obama, that's for sure. Well, Governor Crist did do that, obviously. We all know that. But on the other hand, I wouldn't be standing and saying I would never take a dollar from the federal government for our highways, or for our transportation system. And I certainly wouldn't say that if I did feel that way, and then turn around and take that money for my company to benefit me."

But McCollum was far from the only venomous one in the room. State Rep. Janet Long, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, asked McCollum if he saw the legislature’s acceptance of stimulus funds to plug holes in the state budget as a character flaw.

"I believe that the Legislature has done as good a job as it can not to have made any mistakes, with respect to this, and try to protect as may people as it could by taking whatever money was on the table at the time. But we're going to pay the piper. That stimulus money is not going to be there. That's why we're going to have this larger amount that we're talking about in part."

Long later said she thought that was a non-answer.

"Were he to become governor, in November, he's looking at over a $6.2 billion deficit. And he has said that he won't raise taxes."

St. Petersburg’s first openly gay City Council Member Steve Kornell asked McCollum why he spent so much of the state’s money hiring an expert to present questionable evidence on the supposed dangers of gay adoption.

"He was the only available witness that had the credentials, willing to testify, and willing to produce the evidence. What we needed to have done was to put the records in the evidence. He's not a scientist, like somebody who does experiments or issues his own opinions. He's simply a scholar. He was producing the written reports, and the records, and the studies that had been done, and introducing them into evidence."

Kornell said afterward that there aren’t any credible studies that demonstrate that gays shouldn’t be considered as adoptive parents.

"There are none. I am a member of the National Association of Social Workers. I'm familiar with that type of research. There are no studies. They had to stretch. That's why he could only find Dr. Rekers. And that's why he paid him $120,000 of our money to prop up an argument that is clearly failing. That's clearly not true. That clearly is not right. And I want people to understand that it's not that you should be able to get a kid if you're gay. It's that me, for example, after twenty years of working in recreation and in the school system. After a master's degree in social work. All this time with working with kid's, would not be allowed to even apply to adopt a kid, because I'm gay, automatically."

He added that any state law banning the practice is backwards, as are those in leadership who don’t challenge such laws.

"It's clearly an outdated way of thinking. To say we're going to defend outdated thinking because it's a law and we shouldn't change, is not the kind of leader that I think should be the governor."

Linda Nhon, a recent St. Petersburg High School graduate and recipient of the Dorothy Walker Ruggles Democracy Scholarship, asked the attorney general about his thoughts on gay marriage. His answer came straight from the GOP’s greatest hits.

"I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. I think that is the nature of the family. And I believe that is a religious conviction, a personal conviction. I think it's a lifestyle conviction. I just think that's the correct thing to do."

Nhon said she hopes to find a candidate who does support it.

"I actually believe in gay marriage, which he doesn't approve of. So that kind of sways my votes a little more. However, there are some other points, like improving the public school system, that I agree with."

The Attorney General did have some fans in the audience. One was former Pinellas Park Police Chief David Milchan, who said he agreed with most of McCollum’s policies.

"He is a conservative, and I like his approach on the Arizona law. The support for the Arizona law, although he seemed to change his mind on that. And I think he's going to be someone who's tough on crime."

The Attorney General also spoke extensively about his role in two lawsuits pitting states against the federal government. One deals with the massive health care overhaul Congress passed in March. The other challenges Arizona’s harsh new immigration law some say promotes racial profiling. McCollum faces Rick Scott in the August 24 primary.

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