Last Monday, after garnering an eleventh-hour ruling from 17th Judicial Circuit Judge Leroy Moe, multimillionaire Reform Party candidate Max Linn, 47, a former Republican, startled Republican Charlie Crist and Democrat Jim Davis at Monday’s final Florida gubernatorial debate in Tampa simply by showing up.
Not one to avoid the spotlight, Linn also startled Central Florida motorists two weeks ago, when he made an emergency landing in his light plane on an Interstate near Orlando, while on the campaign trail.
Though a political outsider and not widely known among Florida voters, Linn is not new to Florida politics, having run unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 1990. He was also instrumental in helping to make Florida’s term limit law a reality.
The debate, moderated by Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s Hardball, was considerably enlivened by Linn’s surprise appearance, and may have seriously damaged Republican Crist’s campaign as Linn and Democrat Davis joined forces to attack Crist.
Because of Matthews’ presence as moderator, the debate was televised nationally on MSNBC, and Matthews conducted it as if he were hosting Hardball; asking direct, blunt, and insistent questions of the candidates, rather than taking the traditional moderator’s neutral stance. The normally unflappable Crist was visibly shaken by Matthews’ questions and Linn’s attacks, forcing him into a defensive posture, a situation unfamiliar to him as the frontrunner in the race.
As the Reform Party candidate, Linn presents an interesting and complex political ideology to the voters of Florida. He has chosen the conservative mayor of Avon Park, Tom Macklin, known for his crackdown on illegal immigrants in that rural central Florida town, as his running mate. One of his objectives as governor, Linn has said, is to make English Florida’s official language; a position that will not be popular with South Florida’s majority Latino population.
Yet, Linn supports embryonic stem cell research, is against restricting abortion, and is opposed to the death penalty. He has also plunged headlong into a major Florida controversy by announcing his opposition to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the FCAT, brainchild of Republican Governor Jeb Bush. Linn characterizes education as his "number one priority."
Linn has also focused on insurance reform as a major plank in his platform. This issue is in the forefront of voters’ concerns in this election, and Linn’s ideas for reform set him apart from the Republican and Democratic candidates. Perhaps his most controversial stance on the issue is his insistence that the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, which is owned by the state, should not be insuring high dollar waterfront properties at taxpayers’ expense. The controversy lies in the fact that Citizens is often the only source for coverage for these properties. Because of record losses from hurricane damage, private insurance companies have been reducing their exposure in Florida for several years, leaving many homeowners with no other option but Citizens.
Pollsters are divided in their assessments of Linn’s impact on the race. John Zogby thinks he will help Davis by taking two or more points (Crist’s current lead margin) from Crist. On the other hand, Brad Coker of the Mason-Dixon Poll says Linn’s votes will come from Davis supporters, primarily from among those fed up with the status quo, while Fort Lauderdale pollster Jim Kane believes Linn will take votes from both major candidates.
I find Max Linn’s political ideas to be very reminiscent of much of the Libertarian platform; he is an interesting mix of Conservative and Liberal viewpoints, and I think he will actually take votes from both candidates, resulting in what may possibly be the strongest third party campaign in Florida thus far. Orlando pollster Jim Kitchens has predicted Linn will win between 5 and 10 percent of the vote.
Florida is never dull politically, and whatever the result of his impact on this election, Max Linn has ensured the tradition will continue.