Jeff Atwater: Not Who You Think He Is

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater has cultivated an image as a business-savvy moderate Republican.While Atwater is far from the most ideologically driven Republican, he is no moderate. What is even worse is that he has created a network of crony capitalism while in office that has not benefitted Floridians or many of his constituents while in the Legislature well.

As a State Representative and State Senator Atwater had a unique ability to connect with Democratic leaders in his Palm Beach County home and win key support from Democrats in local elections. Atwater quickly became a superstar after defeating Carl Domino in the 2000 State House District 83 GOP Primary despite being heavily outspent. He then defeated Democrat Pam Dunston easily in the fall, despite the fact that Al Gore carried the district by six percentage points over George W. Bush. In a study I did for the Palm Beach County Democratic Party in 2001, we determined that upwards of 15% of the electorate in House District 83 had voted for Gore, as well as Bill Nelson for US Senate, but then switched to Atwater in the State House race.

Two years later Atwater was the beneficiary of a feud between Senator Debbie Sanderson and former Senate President Jim Scott. Scott, serving as legal counsel for the Senate on reapportionment,  helped engineer the drawing of Sanderson’s district (which Scott had formerly represented for 24 years) into areas that would make her re-election less likely. Sanderson, after initially running against Atwater, dropped out and Atwater was elected by a wide margin over statewide Democratic superstar Bob Butterworth, the sitting Attorney General, in November. Butterworth’s campaign never really took off, but Atwater had defeated the most popular statewide Democratic official and was instantly a player in Republican party circles.

Atwater had contributed  to the overall moderation of the Senate in his first term when he joined a majority of Senators in working to water down the onerous provisions of the Medical Malpractice bills favored by Governor Bush, Speaker Johnny Byrd and Marco Rubio among others. He also compiled a decent (for a Republican) record on legal and insurance issues from 2004 to 2008. In 2008, Atwater was to face a potentially strong Democratic challneger in former Senator and 2006 Attorney General nominee Skip Campbell. But that race, much like Butterworth’s  attempt, was ill-conceived and Campbell eventually dropped out.   Free from the prospect of running for re-election again in a moderate south Florida district in 2009, Atwater turned partisan and ideological.

Despite the support Atwater received from Democrats in his legislative races, he compiled a record as Senate President which was to that point the most conservative since the GOP gained a majority in the body. Unlike his predecessors as Senate President, Ken Pruitt, Tom Lee, Jim King and John McKay, Atwater made no attempt at moderation once Senate President. In fact,  two of his final acts as  President  were especially telling.  One was to steer through the Senate a dangerous union-busting teacher tenure bill which was promptly vetoed by Governor Crist. The other was the ideologically charged vaginal ultrasound legislation that would effectively have severely restricted a woman’s right to choose in Florida. This bill, considered a model by right wing activists and talking heads across the country was also vetoed by Governor Crist. A year later, a similar bill was signed by Governor Scott.

Now many Florida Republicans are looking to Atwater to be their savior in a US Senate race that could determine control of the chamber in January 2013. Bill Nelson has served the people of Florida well over the past decade, working hard in the Senate on local issues much like Bob Graham did, while his counterpart Marco Rubio pushes an ideological agenda and promotes his own national campaign aspirations. Now Florida Republicans, dissatisfied with Connie Mack IV’s ineffectual campaign and the moderate history of George LeMeiux, are trying to place a crony conservative capitalist into the Florida Senate election.

Atwater’s record as a banker with close ties to the financial sector effectively made him Florida’s version of Mitt Romney while he served in the Legislature. He has continued to govern in that manner as CFO. When several Democratic leaders and activists gave quiet support both financially and politically to Atwater in 2010 many leading Democrats turned the other way. Lorrane Ausley, the Democratic nominee, was crushed in the fall election partly due to the disloyalty of many Democrats in Southeast Florida. Some of these Democrats had ties to Atwater through the network of patronage and cronyism that has permeated the political culture in the region. In retrospect, Atwater’s moderation in the 2003 to 2008 period was based almost entirely on his need to be re-elected in a moderate district.

Below are several examples of why Atwater is not fit to be a US Senator:

  •     Atwater used his position in the Florida Legislature to pass a bill giving $1 million dollars to one of the clients of his brother in-law ,who is a lobbyist.  The client, which itself would become entangled a corruption scandal in Palm Beach County,  gave Atwater over $70,000 in contributions and support.
  •     Atwater supported building a $120 million dollar private prison that was not requested by the Department of Corrections and cost more than the existing prison it replaced.  Atwater’s chief of staff previously worked for the prison company.
  •     Atwater actively supported massive hikes in college tuition for Florida’s students trying to balance the budget on the backs of college students rather than millionaires.
  •     Atwater was a highly-paid executive vice president of a local Florida bank that had to be bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of $500 million – just two months after Atwater left his post there.
  •     Atwater supported the extreme anti-abortion ultrasound bill in Florida that would have required a woman to pay out of pocket for an ultrasound before receiving an abortion.  Governor Crist vetoed this bill.
  •     Atwater helped marshal through the Senate a dangerous  union busting bill regarding teacher tenure. Governor Crist vetoed this bill.

24 thoughts on “Jeff Atwater: Not Who You Think He Is”

  1. calliopeinbroward

    He’s everything I thought he was. Problem is so are the players from SE PBC you mention.

  2. Nowhere in the article does it mention Democrats from SE Palm Beach county. I believe the Democrats the author refers to are lobbyists. The S Palm activists helped Butterworth and Dunston in the races Krishnaiyer mentions.

    Atwater while conservative is nowhere as bad as Mack. Obviously we want Nelson but Atwater certainly preferable to Mack.

  3. calliopeinbroward

    I know exactly who the author is referring to when he writes “Despite the support Atwater received from Democrats in his legislative races”. And so do you. I am starting to wonder if you do spin for a living.

  4. Atwater’s record is not good. He is a civil man but he looked pretty stupid in 2010 showing up at teaparty rallies screaming like an idiot. No one knew he had it in him. S Palm Beach County (Rs/Ds) the same phony group that are pushing Aronberg are pushing Atwater just in case Nelson backs out. Atwater is a crook with the rest…Crist, Greer, Hasner and Aaronson. I think he won’t do it. Just like Rich is running for Governor. Who are you kidding? Again Democrats need to get some real leaders. It is a joke. Stop with the polling calls too. Seriously. I got a call today about Abruzzo, Sachs, Laxer, Slosberg, Merchant, Benaquisto. What is that about?

  5. I am not worried. Atwater resembles a stiff Wall Street type like Romney and does not have the charisma to be elected in a competitive statewide race.

    Mack will still beat him in a primary if they actually have one.

  6. No south Palm Beach democrats endorsed Atwater.

    Merchant is done having run how many times???? and Laxer has hard time holding jobs even menial ones. No one is including Laxer in polls. No one wants he to run except a small group of activists.

  7. LOUD activists that like to scream like Laxer running for office but practical politicos here do not think she can hold a job let alone make a good candidate.

  8. Laxer is fantastic. She is consulting now and we activists aka voters want her to run. I don’t know if she is because she is busy consulting women to run. Why do you hate her. She is smart that is why she probably won’t run. I hope to get her to speak at our club next month. I didn’t get the call but she should run for that seat. The Ds need her.

  9. Atwater won’t do it. Laxer won’t run either for a seat. Deutch, Wexler, Slosberg, Aaronson and the red head don’t like her because she is not willing to be their puppet like Skidmore, Abruzzo, Clemens and Bernard. They don’t just threaten judges as I have been told.

  10. I agree with you David S. Laxer is what the party needs but the party needs cleaning up down in South County. Until that happens she is doing a great job helping to get more people to run. In regards to Atwater South County has always helped him with Bogdanoff and Hasner. The “Democratic” establishment is the same group who has made sure that the Rs are in office in the first place. I remember when Adam and Ellyn first ran. They both ran as being pro-choice and pro-public education. See what they have done since they have been in office. We need to get people to run where the “establishment” doesn’t make money off of them through the few law firms down here. I say we get Dyer to run for Governor with Aronberg. That is the ticket!

  11. You activists are loud and fabulous workers. But trust us when we say we’ve given Tara opportunities in the last few years and she has blown them. She acted entitled and did not do the work. She cannot hold a job.This is a problem. Running for office after being fired from several jobs isn’t good. But I am pleased she is helping female Democrats and speaking at clubs. But the continued discussions here, tolerated by the blogger, Mr. Kartik who is a close friend and longtime promoter of Laxer wand who has a vested interest in her success are annoying. But it is a free country. Anyone can run and talk about running and have their allies promote them. But the real leadership network in PBC does not want Laxer to run unless it is for school board or against an incumbent Republican.

    Hey, K don’t delete this post or you’ll show you censor comments that tell the truth!

  12. I am a huge Laxer fan. Maybe she can’t keep a job because that sellout Deutch screwed her and keeps screwing her. She is to honest for him and his yes sir staff.

    All us activists love her so and hope she runs either against Slosberg, Perman, Sachs, Abruzzo or Berman. She would be better than any of then.

  13. Tara Laxer would be great!

    She is a great young leader who speaks her mind and is fantastic on women issues.

    Run Tara win! You we do great if you run against Joe.

  14. This morning star person is crazy. A royal pain on the a**

    Take your hatred and propaganda elsewhere.

  15. We need to promote young people to run. It is in bad taste that slander that is going on within the site. As someone who has worked with Wexler, Aronberg, Deutch and Laxer, I am well aware of Morning Star’s real identity. I have worked with all of them including Laxer within Jewish community. I advise you as a friend not to continue because with all of the gossip you are making Deutch and Aronber & my good friend Robert look very bad. So I ask you to stop…period.

  16. I do not believe in censorship so of course I will not delete this post.

    However, we do not believe personal attacks against any indivudal who is not a public official. Tara Laxer is not currently an elected official nor a filed candidate for any elected office. Nor am I. If you have past scores to settle or have some personal issues you would like to address please do it on your own accord but not on the public forum which is read and used by Democrats across the state of Florida.

    Tara as well as many of the names you consistently mention have been great for our community and I believe in this election year we need less divisiveness and more unity for our party.

    Thanks for reading and you are welcome to continue posting on any and all subjects regardless of your opinion so long as you refrain from personal attacks.

  17. I’m not sure who formally endorsed Atwater and who didn’t, but I know Ausley did not exactly get much support from Democratic leaders in the county. Understand Lorrane Ausley had worked closely with all of us during Buddy MacKay’s campaign in 1998 for Governor. She was the statewide campaign manager. Many of us were disappointed in the lack support our sitting Lt Governor got against a right wing ideologue in Jeb Bush from some “leaders” in our party in Palm Beach & Broward. Understand the lack of support for Ausley reopened old wounds for some of us from 12 years earlier and to me was not a coincidence. Again, no names need to be mentioned here, but enough local southeastern Florida Democrats were not committed to this race just as they were not committed to Buddy MacKay in 1998.

  18. Valeria Waterson

    This is a great piece. I like the fact that we are actually looking at the big picture and the history of these politicians. It is their record that is so important which it seems far to often the “party” people don’t look at. I have been following the Post recent articles. I am a fan of Aronberg’s but I am seriously reconsider helping or even voting for him. Maybe he will surprise all of us and help with any potential investigation that are going on. I see a bright future for him if he save PBC from the corruption that exists. Dave is a good guy he just now has to prove it.

  19. Atwater poses a threat to the Democrats statewide.

    He beat Ausley overwhelmingly as is noted here. He also beat Butterworth by a much larger margin than Sanderson had beaten the Democrat just two years earlier.

    The Ds don’t have a whole lot of statewide potential with good appeal. Maybe nobody other than the party switching Charlie Crist.

    Atwater has an aw shucks public posture but a business like acumen. He will beat Nelson if he gets the chance.

  20. Agree that Atwater is formidable. But I don’t think he’s strong enough to neat Nelson unless a huge GOP tide occurs statewide and nationally. Could that happen? Sure, the unemployment rate is about 8.5%.

  21. Atwater has a chance. Crist won’t because of all that is coming out about him that the Dems won’t want to be tied to. If the unemployment rate is that high or trending that way..the Ds will loose everything including the WH. I read in the paper how Rich is running for Gov. The author in the Sun Sentinel was right on point. She has everything against including; libral, Jewish, Broward, etc but with all of that she is exactly what the Democratic party needs in order to find themselves. It will be good for the party and the voters. So far Rich has been strong on her convictions which the Ds don’t normally do. My hope is that she has not made a deal with Crist in the long run.