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Carl Hiaasen
GOP’s logic: To reject Foley, vote for him
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If you think you’ve got problems, imagine what it’s like to be Joe Negron. The good news: You finally get to run for Congress. The bad news: Your name won’t be on the ballot. The really bad news: Mark Foley’s name will be.

Negron is a Republican state legislator from Stuart. He was chosen to run for Foley’s seat in Florida’s 16th congressional district after Foley resigned suddenly last month.

The move came so late that the ballots couldn’t be updated. And last week, in a blow to the GOP, a judge ruled that election officials cannot post notices at polls to explain that a vote for Mark Foley is actually a vote for Joe Negron.

Given the heated publicity surrounding the scandal, only a cave dweller wouldn’t already be aware that Foley has quit the race and has been replaced by another candidate – Negron.

But this is South Florida, where several thousand folks mistakenly voted for screamer Pat Buchanan back in 2000 and threw the presidential election into epic turmoil. This time around, it’s the Democrats who stand to benefit from voter confusion, and the Republicans are frantic with worry. That’s why they suggested helpful, prominently displayed notices bearing Negron’s name.

When Leon County Circuit Judge Janet Ferris ruled against the on-site notices, Democratic contender Tim Mahoney cheered the decision, saying it preserved ‘‘the sanctity of the ballot box.’’ It also preserved the convenient invisibility of Joe Negron. Mahoney probably wouldn’t be riven with dismay if some voters who saw Foley’s name on the ballot assumed that the ex-congressman was still in the race.

The 16th district, which includes parts of Palm Beach and eight other counties, is heavily Republican and conservative. Normally that would bode well for Negron, but Foley’s antics were sufficiently reprehensible to deflate some rank-and-file enthusiasm.

Salacious e-messages

Had Foley merely been caught taking bribes, like his crooked colleague from Ohio, Bob Ney, the challenge facing Negron wouldn’t be so daunting. However, Foley’s salacious electronic messages to teenage House pages set a new subterranean standard of sleaze that offended virtually every core constituency.

It’s so bad that Florida’s top Republicans are loath to do what the ballot plainly does – mention Foley by name. You can’t blame Negron for wanting a printed explanation of his weird predicament tacked up at all the polling places.

State Republicans, prodded by Gov. Jeb Bush, intend to appeal Judge Ferris’ ruling that barred the posting of such notices. They say it’s unfair to their candidate – an amusing argument from the same people who blocked Al Gore from getting a statewide recount in his presidential contest with the governor’s brother six years ago.

The proper spin

If the court’s decision in the Negron case is overturned, the GOP should pull out all the literary stops with their election-day ‘‘educational’’ signage. Leave nothing to chance:

Notice to All Registered Voters of the 16th Congressional District:

This is to remind you that a vote for that degenerate mollusk, Mark Foley, is really a vote for that upstanding family guy, Joe Negron!

Joe sincerely wishes his name were on the ballot instead of Mark Foley’s. It certainly would make your task easier, and ours, too. And even though it might be distasteful – even nauseating – to cast a vote for the disgraced former congressman, you can be confident that your vote won’t be wasted.

Each and every one will be counted for Joe Negron, who is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like Mark Foley, we swear to God.

For example, Joe Negron has never gone skinny dipping with a priest. Or even with a rabbi, for that matter. He has never flirted with teenagers on the Internet, or engaged in raunchy online sex while voting on an important appropriations bill.

Please don’t punish Joe Negron just because his name isn’t on your ballot. It would have been there, if only Mark Foley had been caught earlier.

That would have happened had the House Republican leadership not looked the other way, but that also isn’t Joe Negron’s fault. He is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like Dennis Hastert, we swear to God.

Look at it this way: A vote for Mark Foley is really a vote against Mark Foley and the morally bankrupt system that allowed him to run wild for all those years.

Send a strong message to Washington by electing Joe Negron to Congress. Vote for Mark Foley on Nov. 7.

See? With the proper spin, it’s really not so confusing.

Carl Hiaasen can be contacted by e-mail at HeraldEd@aol.com.
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