Saturday, August 29, 2009

Florida governor names aide to replace senator

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday named one of his closest confidants to fill out the term of resigning Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., assuring that he will have an ally serving as a caretaker senator as Crist seeks election to the seat himself in 2010.

Crist, a Republican, named George LeMieux, 40, a lawyer and Crist's former chief of staff, to serve the final 17 months of Martinez's term, ending speculation about how the governor would deal with the politically tricky issue of appointing someone to a job he wants for himself.

Florida governor names aide to replace senator

"I'm happy for my friend and I'm extremely happy for my state," Crist said in announcing his choice.

Democrats immediately raked the governor for his choice. State Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman accused Crist of "political cronyism" in naming someone who has been at his side politically for so long. Thurman said LeMieux "has made millions over the past several years selling access to Crist to the highest bidders among Tallahassee's special interests."

LeMieux was Crist's campaign manager in 2006 and also served as deputy attorney general of Florida when Crist was attorney general. He is regarded as one of the shrewdest political strategists in the state and, like Crist, is a moderate conservative.

Martinez said Aug. 7 that he would resign from the Senate as soon as a replacement was selected. He had long ago announced that he would not seek re-election in 2010, but his announcement that he would not serve out his term was unexpected.

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