Water runs through governor's race 

The governor's race is about water pumps. While Buddy MacKay emphasizes his intimacy with government, Jeb Bush dismisses that (as solutions from "Mount Tallahassee") and swaggers about his business acumen. However, Bush is mostly silent about the Bush-El company's sales of farm water pumps to corrupt Nigeria (which is so corrupt that it is paying off The F State not to describe it as "super-corrupt") with loans arranged by the U.S. Export-Import Bank (which loans of course have not been repaid).

It is so unfair to accuse Bush as an opportunist simply trafficking in the family name because all biographies of the Bush family mention the hours and hours little Jeb put in as a kid, cajoling Bar to take him to water-pump trade shows, building plastic-kit models of water pumps and collecting water-pump trading cards. The Bush Model of Business Acumen seems to be: (1) Meet lots of businessmen; (2) identify the ones with the most obscure enterprises; (3) make sure they operate enough on the edge that they will eventually be sued; (4) allow himself to be handed a 40-50 percent stake in the company for just showing up; and (5) eventually sell out for $450,000-$650,000. This could work for Florida. We may not need the Lottery.

(A Miami Herald reporter several weeks ago quoted a Bush-El pilot as saying Bush was actually on board a plane to Nigeria with suitcases o' cash. When MacKay repeated the story, the pilot wrote him a pseudo-correction which never contradicted the main fact. But, after the Bush campaign's English majors got a hold of the pilot, he conveniently released a full denial that Bush was on that plane.)

Off guard

Marion County (Ocala) sheriff Ken Ergle got caught with his fingers in his $170,000 discretionary investigation fund and immediately quit. He could get 35 years. (In happier times, Ergle appeared on "60 Minutes" defending his department's use of high-tech military weapons.)

Shelter shock

On Tuesday, Miami was abuzz when a 12-year-old boy was found dead of no apparent cause, at a sheltered bus stop. Mulder and Scully were notified, but before they could get a travel voucher, the death was blamed on a city contractor's unlicensed electrician, who poorly cobbled some wires and a transformer to power the shelter's lights, which of course had been installed with great fanfare for safety. Turns out the boy was at home Monday evening studying with the TV set on, which violated Mom's rules, so she zapped it, and he left in a huff. The economic status of the boy's family, currently middle-class, is expected to rise dramatically, lawyers say.

Fruitful Gardens

Owner Jim Turner of the defunct Sunken Gardens tourist park in downtown St. Pete, rebuffed trying to sell the land for condos after the city declared it historical property, announced he'd found a historically sensitive buyer. Galen Ballard intends to convert it to the Gardens of Eden nudist camp, with holdover flamingos and parrots. How 'bout Adam-and-Eve-Historical? Not a done deal yet (City Council was skeptical), but Turner said he's got a "real nice hard contract." (Seriously.) Ballard's previous public issue was ending hippopotamus poop from a wildlife park into the Homosassa River.

Stuff you may have missed ...

• Florida's air (the ozone, not the TV campaign commercials) got worse for the third straight year.

• According to the state disclosure form for candidates, Newell Daughtrey, the Democrat running for comptroller (state's chief financial officer), owes $52,000 on 23 different credit cards. But, apparently, he's current. (Let's see, $15 a month, times 23, is $345 ... .)

• Hey, Willie, need farm aid: Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement said the wretched weather of 1998 was particularly bad for the state's major cash crop, marijuana. The authorities found only 50,000 plants this year instead of the usual 100,000 (out of the 300-400,000 they believe are out there).

• Two Pensacola companies have agreed to import 300,000 tons of construction debris a year from Philadelphia and bury it in landfills for $600,000 per. (25,000 tons a month, five days to offload it, 1,400 truckloads to the landfill. That's a helluva business. Sounds like something Jeb Bush would be into.)

• Knight-Ridder and Reuters wrote features on the Inmate Opera Club (50 members) at the Dade Correctional Institute at Florida City, pointing out the roles played by vicious thugs (e.g., "Jorge Padrera, 46-year-old baritone"-murderer) who have turned their lives around by bellowing Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" (or writing and performing their own criminal-themed show, "El Caido," The Fallen).

• The three Orlando tourist guys are still missing. How could that happen in a city only 30 miles from Cassadaga? Must be a bottleneck over exactly which psychic will be consulted first.

• Miami is apparently the kind of place where a couple gets into a cab carrying $842,000 (jewelry, bank CD's, cash), and when they go to get out, neither one of them remembers it. (After a day of scrambling, the honest cabbie returned everything.) (No, seriously.)

• Former Miami Commissioner Humberto Hernandez Jr., serving a year in jail in the mayoral vote fraud fiasco of last November and awaiting sentencing for mortgage fraud, learned last week that his wife was having an affair with his lawyer.

• The day before seductive Seattle ex-teacher Mary Kay Letourneau popped out another kid (reportedly also fathered by her ex-student lover), Tampa's own seductive Denise McBryde, 38, phys-ed teacher, was accused of "ed"ing a 15-year-old male ex- student about the "phys" five times last summer.

• A 21-year-old University of Tampa art major from Vermont disappeared early Tuesday morning, but unlike the Orlando crew, authorities have a pretty good idea where he is, i.e., at the bottom of the Hillsborough River. According to roommates, the guy was way drunk (like, six hours' worth of black Russians), was having trouble even negotiating a cigarette to his lips, and all of a sudden at 2:30 a.m., says, Hey, ya know what we oughta do now? Scuba!

• And also missing in water for many days now is a man who attempted to mug a valet parker in Miami Beach on Tuesday, then fled on a bike with police in pursuit until he reached the beach. He sprinted into the water. More officers, plus a police helicopter, plus Coast Guard boats turned up nothing.

Copyright 1998 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Chuck Shepherd, who lives in St. Petersburg, also writes the syndicated newspaper column News of the Weird.

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