Media forum for candidates draws out political fireworks

Eager to rev up his suddenly troubled campaign, Bill McCollum on Thurday vowed as governor to mandate that all local governments freeze property taxes for at least two years.

``A [tax rate] freeze is going to make local governments make the same tough choices I'm going to make at the state level,'' the Republican attorney general told news editors at a Florida Press Association and Florida Society of Newspaper Editors convention in Sarasota.

Republican gubernatorial front-runner Rick Scott missed the event, but it was still the largest single gathering of major statewide candidates to date in this hectic political year. It produced some striking moments:

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio, who has been hazy on his immigration position, for the first time said he would not support Florida pursuing a tough anti-illegal immigration law like the one passed recently in Arizona: ``I think it should be solved at the federal level.''

Gov. Charlie Crist, running as an independent for U.S. Senate, said he no longer supports Florida's ban against gay couples adopting children: ``A better way and approach would be to let judges make that decision on a case-by-case basis.''

McCollum professed to be unaware of the activities of two stealth political committees attacking front-runner Rick Scott on TV -- even though McCollum's campaign advisors are directing the committees' spending and he has been urging supporters to contribute to one of them.

Not exactly pandering to the assembled media, McCollum waxed about the limits of open government in the state legislature: ``I'm not sure the Legislature is the place for open government,'' he said. ``I was a legislator and you can't negotiate and do deals in the Legislature and get business done in 60 days or 90 days or whatever your session may be with open government.''

Little-known Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Alex Snitker of Pasco County crashed the candidate forum, snatching a microphone and demanding speaking time.

``Let me speak! Come on, media!,'' shouted Snitker, who is among more than a dozen candidates who have qualified to be on the ballot for Senate.

A moderator explained that only candidates who have received at least 10 percent support in a credible poll were invited. He let Snitker vent for several minutes before the candidate stormed out.

``You are stopping the freedom of speech of someone who spent eight years defending your right to do it,'' Snitker, a former Marine, shouted at the uncomfortable media executives.

Also speaking were Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek, the Miami congressman, and Democratic challenger Jeff Greene, a Palm Beach real estate magnate and billionaire political newcomer who is spending millions on TV.

Highlighting how rough that primary is becoming, Meek derided Greene as a carpetbagger who made hundreds of millions betting on the housing market collapse.

``Not one Florida homeowner lost a penny because of the investments I made,'' said Greene.

Greene said that unlike Meek he at least understood what was happening with the economy. He also alluded to an ongoing scandal in which a developer for whom Meek sought federal funds paid Meek's mother, former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, for consulting work and bought her a Cadillac.

Referring to his own elderly mother, Greene said, ``She won't be doing any consulting She won't be getting an Escalade.''

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@