Charlie Crist names George LeMieux to Senate
By ANDY BARR & CAROL E. LEE | 8/28/09 11:05 AM EDT
Updated: 8/28/09 12:53 PM EDT
Florida GOP Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday named former aide George LeMieux to fill the seat of outgoing GOP Sen. Mel Martinez.
LeMieux, a longtime Republican insider in the state, has served as chairman of the Broward County Republican Party, deputy state attorney general and campaign manager for Crist’s 2006 run for governor. He ran unsuccessfully for the state House in 1998.
LeMieux was among nine other candidates who made Crist’s short list, which included several former congressmen, former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney and former state attorney general and secretary of state Jim Smith.
Martinez, who announced on August 7 he would step down when his successor was named, congratulated LeMieux and promised a smooth transition.
“George is bright, capable, and an accomplished administrator,” Martinez said in a statement.
GOP state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, another contender for the vacant seat, told POLITICO that she found out LeMieux was the pick when Crist called her Friday morning to inform her.
Carroll said Crist made the pick because “he probably felt safe in knowing George, he’s been his chief of staff and confidant for years.”
Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer said he thinks LeMieux is a “well qualified” and “excellent” choice.
“I think the governor recognized that George brought much to the table to be considered,” Greer said.
Greer added that governor’s comfort and history with LeMieux played a major role in Crist’s decision.
“There’s no doubt about it,” said Greer. “When you’re making an appointment like this you want to make sure that the person you’re appointing is not only qualified but that you feel comfortable with them.”
Mac Stipanovich, a top Florida Republican lobbyist who supports Crist, told POLITICO that he is “surprised” by the governor’s choice of LeMieux.
“I’m dumbfounded. I’m never without something to say and I’m practically speechless,” Stipanovich said in a telephone interview. “The governor certainly won't have anything to worry about in terms of the new senator doing anything contrary to his interests.”
Stipanovich said he spoke with Crist as the governor mulled selecting a replacement for Martinez, although he declined to discuss the details of their private conversations. He said LeMieux is a peculiar choice when looking at the breadth of experience present on Crist's short list of possibilities.
LeMieux, by contrast, Stipanovich said, has “never held public office. He’s never run a large business. He's not a war hero.”
Stipanovich said the reception of the selection among Republicans “depends on how [Crist] explains it.”
Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen L. Thurman wasted little time in attacking the pick as an example of cronyism and accused Crist of playing “political games with the public’s trust.”
“In appointing LeMieux, someone who has made millions over the past several years selling access to Crist to the highest bidders among Tallahassee's special interests, Charlie Crist once again put his own political ambition above doing what is right for Florida,” Thurman said in a statement. “Floridians are sick of the Republican culture of corruption and the Tallahassee back room dealings that clearly led Crist to pick LeMieux, whose only qualification is being Charlie Crist's crony.”
LeMieux will serve out the remainder of the Martinez term. Crist, who is running for the seat in 2010, faces Senate primary opposition from Marco Rubio, the formerstate House Speaker.
Amie Parnes contributed to this report.
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