Weighing in on impeachment 

The Florida Congressional delegation came up big as the House voted an impeachment inquiry, especially our guys on the Judiciary Committee. Charles Canady (Lakeland) wants his constitutional subcommittee to arrive at a definition of impeachable offense (after 211 years under the Constitution) in a one-day hearing. Caffeinated Robert Wexler (Boca Raton) was the Prez's most passionate defender.

Polite gubers

The first of two gubernatorial debates oozed out, decidedly less entertaining than 1994 (no he-coons, no angry, sputtering Republican), melting off into earnest, tranquilizing questions and dueling sound-bites. McKay served a Gotcha, demanding Bush take one stand, not two, on prayer in school, claiming Jeb said no prayer to Miami Beach liberals but yes to the Christian Coalition. Bush volleyed it Reaganesquely, praising Gov. Chiles for thinking real hard about the issue.

Oh, and Tallahassee's Kamal "King Love" Youssef was arrested at his own gubernatorial rally for soliciting hard money in downtown traffic lanes.

Tough calls

Amnesty International released a fat report dogging the United States for human-rights abuses (fronted by the AI Secretary General, who is from Senegal). As expected, the F State was prominently mentioned (detention of the Cuban rafters, police failure to assist a Fort Pierce man who swallowed cocaine-evidence and OD'd under restraint, St. Pete police officer shooting to death a minimally resisting motorist, as well as police hog-tying arrestees and housing juveniles with adults, and of course, Ol' Sparky). On the other hand, as I paraphrase a Slate columnist, who among us would rather be arrested in Senegal than in the F State?

Master mind

Gregory Smith, 9, is Florida's hottest national celebrity in that he is on track to graduate from Orange Park High School (near Jacksonville) this year, and then it's on to college -- and here's a kid who probably hasn't even learned how to masturbate yet. The presence in our state of a kid so exceptional is not surprising; someone has to balance out the left-tail urchins.

Stuff you might have missed ...

• The number of Orlando visitor MIA's rose to four when three Attleboro, Mass., guys on an adventure holiday up and vanished. A California businessman disappeared three weeks ago.

• Raymond Emilio Gomez, 17, Apopka, allegedly confessed to killing his mother with a hammer after a dispute over TV. She preferred the soaps; he wanted to watch something else. (This was late afternoon on a Tuesday. Like, what could he possibly have been holding out for? Rosie O'Donnell?)

• The Sex Wars get more frightening: Among the substances in recent Pensacola busts was a variation on the date-rape drug "scoop": Drano, diluted (but still powerful enough to make your/her esophagus look like Swiss cheese) in bottles of sports drink.

• A Pinellas County church won $10,000 from "America's Funniest Home Videos" for a 1997 Easter performance in which the guy playing Jesus loses his robe in a pulley error during the scheduled "Ascension."

• Republican Joe Chillura, challenging Tampa's incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, apologized for a high-octane press release that made several charges and contained a sentence written mostly in capital letters and ending with 28 exclamation points. Twenty- eight.

• Often claimed, seldom delivered: An 11-year-old Clearwater girl, claiming that Richard J. Augustine, 45, sexually molested her, added that he had one o' them Distinguishing Characteristics in his genital area. Police photographed him as part of a routine search for contraband at the jail, reportedly revealing the DC. A local judge said the photo was improper, but he just got reversed.

• 911 operator Steve Toncheff, 34, Daytona Beach, was suspended for hitting on a female caller, and subsequent publicity turned up another hittee, more successful in that they were having phone sex by the third call.

• Toncheff is not even Florida's scariest emergency worker. Boca Raton firefighter/paramedic Mark David, 40, resigned amidst allegations that he raped at least seven women, most of whom he had met on the job. (The cases are still under investigation, and David has not yet been charged with a crime.)

• A belatedly reported Georges casualty: A Fort Myers man grabbed a gun and took "the only way out" following an argument with his wife about hurricane preparedness.

• Mining company consultant and ex-Marion County commissioner Don Greene hoodwinked, uh, that is, settled a fraud case with the county over 38,000 tons of dirt never delivered: He gave 'em 41,000 free tons, provided they come pick it up (which will take 2,500 truckloads). Cheaper to buy dirt from a closer place.

• For the second consecutive month, a Florida mom has specifically concluded that the F State is just too cruel a place to raise her kid and so killed him. Cheryl Burns of Lakeland set a fire that killed one (Benjamin, age 7) and injured four. (This is not funny, mind you, but if I didn't point this out, you'd just pick it up on the street somewhere, but it is a special moment for journalists to report on fire victims named Burns.)

• Pensacola police chief Norman Chapman took early retirement ("health," he said) after it got out that he fired a blank at a secretary's head ("practical joke," he said). (Chapman gained fame as the detective who broke Ted Bundy in 1978 in 40 hours of grilling.)

• The other shoe falls: Ray Loewen (founder of Loewen Group Inc., Canadian funeral home company), who was bamboozled out of $2 million by Rev. Henry Lyons in a failed scheme of marketing funerals to black Baptists, was demoted by his board of directors for letting the Rev walk all over him.

• And finally, Robert Andrew Hollinger, 69, Crescent City, who had been using the name Henry Stallworth for 35 years after walking away from a prison detail, was finally nailed when he got all flustered at the Social Security office and applied for benefits under his real name. (He had been convicted of stealing 15 hogs in 1954 and sentenced to one year per hog. Recall that this was before the U.S. Supreme Court had gotten around to readjusting the Bill of Rights.)

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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