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Ambler gets nod in state Senate race

The Tampa Tribune Published: July 28, 2010


In the District 12 state Senate race, Republican voters must choose between two veteran politicians who have their share of accomplishments and political liabilities.


Jim Norman, who has served on the Hillsborough County Commission for 18 years, faces Kevin Ambler, a state representative for eight years, in the district that covers north Hillsborough and much of Pasco. The winner will replace Republican Sen. Victor Crist, who is term limited.


Because two write-in candidates will run in November, Democratic voters will be shut out of the primary that will effectively elect the district's next senator.


Both candidates are fiscal conservatives who also understand the need to invest in a community's economic welfare. Norman favored the Community Investment Tax, a half-cent sales tax that has funded schools, roads and Raymond James Stadium.


Ambler favors the transportation initiative that will go before Hillsborough voters in November. It would increase the sales tax by a cent to pay for roads, buses and a rail system.


We have had our share of differences with Norman through the years. He can be obsessed with sports and treated the Tampa Sports Authority as a virtual fiefdom. He has fought successfully to keep impact fees so low that many of the road improvements needed by new development have either not been built or have been paid for by taxpayers.


But the personable and accessible Norman also has done much we admire. He was the leading proponent of regional parks, arranged for the county to help pay the property taxes of military personnel serving in combat zones and proposed a sensible county spending cap that was adopted.


Norman can be tenacious in pursuing his goals, but he rarely changes his mind or admits a mistake.

The Salvation Army employee has lined up the support of most of the Senate leadership, which could strengthen the local delegation's influence if he is elected.


But his favored status also makes it more likely that Norman will follow the marching orders of a team tied closely to big developers, the oil industry and other special interests.


No one can claim Ambler won't be his own man. He recently stood against the House leadership decision to abruptly end the special session Gov. Charlie Crist called to consider a constitutional ban on oil drilling in state waters - three to 10 miles from shore.


Ambler, who voted for a drilling measure last year, now is opposed to near-shore drilling - as is Norman.


An attorney and Air Force judge advocate, Ambler has never been afraid to buck Tallahassee powers, particularly when he thought citizens' rights were being compromised.


But sometimes Ambler annoys leadership simply because he does not know when to hush up, a discipline he should acquire.


Ambler understands the state budget must be slashed, but goes beyond the usual "do less with more" slogans to offer imaginative ways to raise revenue and create jobs.


He pushed a bill that provides tax credits to filmmakers that is already attracting jobs to Florida. He favors collecting the sales tax on Internet sales and has a promising idea for developing a collection system that could be sold to other states.


Ambler urged the state to inventory its real estate holdings and get rid of lands not needed. He proposes the state sell its office buildings to the pension fund and then lease the buildings, which he estimates would raise $800 million for a state facing at least a $6 billion deficit.


The race has been hard-hitting, and Norman has been on the defensive since the media reported his wife purchased, for cash, a $435,000 home in Arkansas. Norman says there are other investors, but they are not listed on the deed, which is unusual.


He says there is a binding agreement with these investors, who want to stay out of the limelight.


This may be much about nothing. Norman's wife is from Arkansas, and she is entitled to her private business pursuits.


But the secrecy only fuels speculation. If there is no conflict, releasing the names of the investors would quickly resolve the matter.


We are impressed by Ambler's independent, innovative approach. We also like Norman' genial pragmatism.


But ultimately, Ambler conveys a firmer grasp on the need to deal creatively with Florida's fiscal crisis. And Norman's failure to deal more openly with the Arkansas matter gives us pause.


For the Florida Senate, District 12, the Tribune endorses Kevin Ambler.


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