TAMPA, Fla. - State Senator Jim Norman abruptly ended his bid for re-election Tuesday. His press release included a long list of accomplishments, but made no mention of his recent ethics problem. Still, the long time Hillsborough County Commissioner leaves a blemished political legacy.
The ABC Action News I-Team was first to report on a half-million-dollar lakefront house in Arkansas, held in the name of Jim Norman's wife, Mearline. It was paid for with money by Ralph Hughes, a political backer of Jim Norman's when he sat on the County Commission.
"I'm telling you, whatever she does with her business, with decisions that come before the Board of County Commissioners, is between my wife and her investors," said Norman in a July 2010 interview.
Norman was found guilty of ethics violations for not disclosing the house, but federal prosecutors declined to prosecute criminal charges. Still, the episode raised questions with voters and fellow politicians.
"You end up with a half-a-million-dollar lake house for your family without paying a nickel for it? That's just ripe," said former State Representative Rob Wallace.
Wallace was tapped by the party to run for Senate when Norman was briefly taken off the ballot by a circuit court judge. Now that Norman has dropped out, Wallace is back in the race to replace someone he thinks needs to go.
"In my opinion, it is of a caliber that qualifies for a one-way ticket out of public service," said Wallace.
John Korsak, running for Senate in the northern Hillsborough / southern Pasco district refuses to pass judgment on Norman.
"You know, I didn't really run because of Jim Norman. I ran because we need real solutions to real problems," said Korsak.
Norman's office didn't return calls to explain why he's dropping out, but the loss of support from powerful Republicans including the incoming Senate President Will Weatherford may have pushed him out.
It's also possible Norman could yet face state criminal charges.
"I would think that his troubles are not over with the situation in Arkansas," said Wallace.
Including Representative John Legg, there are three candidates in the Republican primary race for Senate in District 17. The winner will face Democrat Wes Johnson.
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