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Norman's conquest: good news and bad

TBO.com Staff
Published:   |   Updated: July 11, 2013 at 11:16 PM

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BY TOM JACKSON

In the seemingly endless matter of Jim Norman, craven politician and presumptive state senator, there's good news and bad news.

The good news is, because of reapportionment - looming in 2012 - all state senate seats will be up for election in two years, and District 12 voters will get to experience the thrills of (and cast their verdict on ) a Norman candidacy all over again.

The bad news is, because of reapportionment - looming in 2012 - all state senate seats will be up for election in two years and ... well, you know the rest.

Then again, for the preceding statements to hold true, Norman, the longtime Hillsborough County commissioner, must survive his ancillary difficulties with a grand jury and the FBI. Clearly, this is a situation that will continue to bear watching.

Otherwise, what can be said about this Norman conquest that hasn't already been beaten to an oozing, aromatic, gangrenous pulp? Maybe, however odious was the practical outcome, that the decision emerging from the 1st District Court of Appeal was the correct one. Not perfect. Not ideal. Not righteous. Simply appropriate, given the circumstances.

Elsewhere, fulminating editorialists, bloggers and pundits rose with ritualistic garment-rending passion to defend the wisdom of circuit Judge Jackie Fulford, who disqualified Republican primary winner Norman back on Oct. 15.

Fulford reasoned that Norman's failure to claim an interest in the infamous Arkansas lake house (bought with the late industrialist Ralph Hughes' money and listed in Mearline Norman's name) was a disingenuous dodge that violated financial disclosure laws for candidates.

With that, the judge accomplished in her Tallahassee courtroom what countless thousands of published words describing Norman's years of suspect activities hadn't. She'd called him out, dressed him down and bagged him. Done and done, and by his own hand.

It was too delicious.

Now, spoiling all that triumphant fun, here came a reversal by the appellate court's three-judge panel. Their unanimous opinion leaned heavily on only those qualifications described in the state constitution, dismissing campaign financial disclosures as matters for the state Commission on Ethics. Was Norman 21? Did he meet the residency requirements? Was he mentally competent? Was he a felon?

The decision released a cascade of complaint, most of it beside the point. Voters had been badly served by the appellate court, their interests discarded like week-old fish. An elected official was getting away with playing fast and astonishingly loose in his association with a wealthy patron. What was the panel thinking?

I mean, the trio didn't even get credit for clearing up the confusion over who voters were choosing when they inked in Jim Norman's bubble. Turns out, a vote for Norman is a vote for Norman.

While This Space is no fan of Norman's obvious willingness to trade on his influence, what it likes about the appellate court's reasoning is that it so closely mirrors its own, minus the high-falutin' legalese. Choosing refreshing constitutional restraint, the judges wrote "courts must take care in post-election challenges to avoid disenfranchising voters without clear statutory warrant."

Bottom line: Jim Norman's creepy involvement with the gift house was well known to voters when they went to the polls Aug. 25, and they still gave him a 12-point win. The subsequent revelation about the name of the investor established a distinction without a difference.

What the appellate court ruled was that sometimes voters choose poorly. And that - absent a felony conviction - voters must live with the consequences. If those consequences also irritate editorialists and certain quadrants of the blogosphere, well, what dark cloud doesn't have a silver lining?


Tom Jackson hosts "The Jax Files Weekend" Saturdays at 11 a.m. on WGUL, 860 AM.

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