Bennett and Crist clash

Jun 28, 2010

By Jeremy Wallace

Published by the Sarasota Herald-Tribuine on Monday, June 28, 2010


State Sen. Mike Bennett and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist are on opposite ends of an issue once again.

Over the last two years, Crist and Bennett, R-Bradenton, have clashed over property insurance legislation and growth management policies. Now, the two are battling over transportation issues.

Bennett ripped into Crist last week for his vetoing legislation that would have given businesses and local governments more say in stopping the Florida Department of Transportation from putting concrete medians along state roadways to prevent left turns along busy roadways.

“They’re killing businesses,” Bennett said in an interview after writing letters to local newspapers complaining about the governor’s veto of his proposal.

He said the state is not showing enough sensitivity to businesses. Look no further than U.S. 301 in Sarasota, he said. Bennett said the state’s construction is going to force businesses out. More public hearings to allow input on construction schedules and building medians could have saved those businesses, Bennett said.

Crist, however, in his veto message from earlier this month, said forcing the Department of Transportation into more public hearings and government meetings only serves to delay construction on needed safety improvements. Crist said current law already provides citizens, businesses and local government a process to have input into the decision-making on road projects.

“These important public safety projects should not be subjected to unnecessary delays,” Crist stated in his veto message.

Bennett vows that won’t be the last word on Senate Bill 1842. Bennett said he will push the bill again next year and get it passed by the Legislature again and before the next governor.

Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate, is not seeking re-election.

Bennett is the only local legislator to be the sponsor of one of the 18 bills Crist has vetoed this year.

Vetoes not so unusual

High-profile vetoes during the last two months have some questioning whether Crist has become more aggressive with his veto pen since he quit the Republican Party and became a candidate for the Senate with no party affiliation.

But the numbers suggest otherwise.

This year, Crist has vetoed 18 bills, according to records maintained by the Florida Legislature.

That’s in line with the average number of vetoes per year since 2002. Since then, Florida’s governors have averaged 18 vetoes a year.

Crist has been governor for three other regular legislative sessions. In 2007 he vetoed 18 bills, then 10 in 2008. In 2009 he vetoed nine.

Crist has used his veto pen a lot less than then-Gov. Jeb Bush in the four years prior to Crist taking office in 2007. In Bush’s last four years in office, he vetoed on average nearly 24 bills a year.

Battle lines drawn

Two Sarasota County School Board candidates are distinguishing themselves from their opponents by declaring their opposition to the recently passed school tax referendum and supporting state legislation vehemently opposed by teacher unions that would have started phasing out teacher tenure.

At a candidates forum at Sarasota Tiger Bay last week, Joe Neunder and Cathy Hodgson were the only candidates who said they voted against the March ballot question that continued an extra property tax assessment to fund local schools.

The tax passed with more than 66 percent of the vote.

They were also the only candidates who said they supported the controversial Senate Bill 6 that Crist vetoed in May. That bill would have given more weight to student performance in determining teacher pay.

Neunder, a chiropractor, is running in District 1 against Barry Woolf and incumbent Carol Todd, who was the only School Board candidate not to attend the Tiger Bay event.

Hodgson, a small business owner, is running in District 4 against incumbent Shirley Brown.

And in District 5, Kathy James and Jane Goodwin are vying to replace Kathy Kleinlein, who is not seeking re-election.

Though candidates must reside in a specific district, voters countywide vote for all three districts on Aug. 24 in the nonpartisan race.