Thursday, March 10, 2016

Carlos el Senator?

Senator Beruff?

From the Bradenton Times

Dennis MaleyThursday, Mar 10, 2016

Note: for some reason this article from Bradenton Times does not mention the Democratic contenders for the seat being vacated by Sen. Marco Rubio.

Last week, Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff of Medallion Homes announced that he would join the already crowded GOP primary race for the United States Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio. Does he have a chance to win? Let’s take a look.

On the surface, Beruff’s chances don’t look all that promising. He’s entering the race very late, and there are already three contestants who have much better name recognition: Congressmen David Jolly and Ron DeSantis, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Jolly is ahead in most polls, while DeSantis is consolidating much of the establishment money in fundraising and PACs. Beruff will obviously have his work cut out for him in overcoming those candidates’ advantages and the growing perception that it’s essentially a two-candidate race, no matter how many people are actually running.

It’s probably fair to say, however, that Beruff knows the political game as well as anyone and should be adept at playing it himself as a politician, the same as he has as a businessman, where he’s used political ties to his advantage in order to bend or even change the rules that apply to his business whenever they get in the way of the bottom line.
When the rules say he can only build so many houses per acre in a development and he wants to build more, Beruff routinely goes before the county commission and receives amendments to the comprehensive land use plan to allow for more density. When Mr. Beruff has wanted to destroy wetlands that stand in the way of his proposed development plans, he’s found ways around that as well.
By spreading around a lot of campaign cash all over local, state and even federal races, Beruff has managed to ensure that his requests are likely to go before friendly faces. In other instances, his has been the friendly face that others like him have been happy to find. Through his political connections, Beruff has managed to get himself appointed to a number of boards over the years, including that of the local water management district, the local airport authority and, currently, the board of trustees at State College of Florida. His last act before stepping down from Swiftmud was to approve a controversial application by his friend and sometimes business partner Pat Neal, giving him the the board’s approval to destroy wetlands on Perico Island.

Beruff’s favored status began under former Gov. Charlie Crist and has continued uninterrupted under Gov. Rick Scott, for whom Beruff has funneled around $90,000 in campaign donations over his two terms. Despite no experience in education, Beruff was appointed by Crist to the State College of Florida Board of Trustees, where he has proven himself something of an activist, working to oust the school’s president before leading a movement to have SCF become the first of the state’s 28 former community colleges to end its continuing contract status for instructors, a status that could be achieved by those who met rigorous standards in order to protect them from being terminated without just cause. Beruff managed to get that initiative passed earlier this year.

Beruff was also appointed as the chair of Governor Scott’s panel on health care, ostensibly formed to come up with solutions to the state’s indigent care problems in lieu of Scott’s stubborn refusal to accept federal tax dollars to expand Medicaid coverage. Again Beruff had no experience that suggested he would be a qualified member of such a body; however, like Crist, Scott seems very comfortable with him acting as an emissary. Whether and to what degree Beruff will be able to leverage his relationship with Governor Scott to aid his success in a Senate bid remains to be seen.

Beruff’s willingness to not only financially support political causes, but get out in front and carry the water on them has undoubtedly won him many friends and supporters among the Florida Republican establishment. Beruff and his wife have given at least $522,650 to campaigns on the state and federal level since 2003, according to a Herald-Tribune analysis. That’s a lot of back scratching. At 58, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s tempted to seek a title like Senator, following in the footsteps of many other wealthy businessmen who often look at it as the crowning jewel on their legacy.

Exactly how much money Beruff has or is willing to fund his campaign with isn't clear, but it may be a big part of the equation considering his late start in the race. In the year of the political outsider, Beruff’s campaign team immediately began painting the ultimate political insider as a change agent feared by the establishment, not unlike another politically-connected developer who's seeking an even bigger public office this year. However, as we've seen in that race, a run for such a high-profile office will bring much scrutiny to not only Beruff's deep political ties but his business dealings and multiple foreclosures in which banks lost tens of millions of dollars to companies and partnerships fronted by Beruff—including head-scratching cases like this one, in which he bought one such development back for dimes on the dollar.

Only time will tell whether the image makeover his campaign is laying out will convince Republican voters across Florida to get onboard with Beruff's bid. Where he is known best—Manatee and Sarasota Counties—there is nothing to suggest that voters will buy it. However, there are 65 more counties in Florida. Many of them have never heard of Carlos Beruff. To what degree and in what way will he be able to shape their impression by August? Only time will tell.
Dennis Maley is a featured columnist for The Bradenton Times. His column appears each Thursday and Sunday. Dennis' debut novel, A Long Road Home, was released in July, 2015. Click here to order your copy.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. We like Alan Grayson - he'll represent all Floridians - except Pat Neal, Rick Scott, and a few other corrupt wheeler dealers.