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George LeMieux: I Would Have Beat Nelson, I Endorse Lenny Curry, and You Haven't Seen the Last of Me

November 27, 2012 - 6:00pm

Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux spoke to Sunshine State News Wednesday, his first interview since Election Day less than a month ago.

The Florida Republican, appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. Charlie Crist as a replacement for retiring Sen. Mel Martinez, tells the News he is glad to be back in the private sector, has no plans to run for elected office in the near future, but will stay engaged in statewide and nationwide debates over public policy, especially on the issue of Medicare fraud.

He wont be running for leadership within the Republican Party, either. In his interview, LeMieux for the first time makes public his endorsement of Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chairman Lenny Curry, calling him a good man who in his next two or more years as chairman [is] going to have a chance to put his own stamp on the state party.

He believes he would have had a better chance of beating incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in the Senate race than primary victor and general election loser Connie Mack IV, and in the coming weeks he will be announcing reforms to give state and local Republican Party apparati a greater role in the selection of nominees in the primary process.

Finally, he insists he has no regrets for having introduced into the primary race attacks on opponent Macks pre-congressional moral character. The attacks were taken up by Nelson during the general election.

SUNSHINE STATE NEWS: Its been a few weeks since the Nov. 6 Republican electoral doomsday. Looking specifically at the Senate race between your primary opponent [Connie Mack IV] and Bill Nelson, the questions on everyones mind are: What happened? What went wrong? Did something go wrong?

SEN. LEMIEUX: To be perfectly honest, I havent spent a lot of time analyzing that race. Certainly it didnt turn out the way Republicans wanted it to turn out. I hoped to be the nominee; I think I would have had a good chance against Sen. Nelson. But Sen. Nelson won the election, and my view is once the election is over you have an obligation to support the people who win even if theyre not of your party and give them the benefit of the doubt that theyll do the right thing. Thats my view with the president, Sen. Nelson, and others, even though I supported their opponents, I hope theyll do the best thing for the country now.

Do you feel in any way vindicated by [victorious Republican primary opponent] Connie Macks loss to Bill Nelson?

I supported Connie Mack [after dropping out of the primary race in June]; I wanted him to beat Bill Nelson, so I dont feel vindicated.

I do believe we have a problem in this state about how we choose our candidates [for general elections]. And I think there needs to be some real look at the way that we choose our candidates. I am going to be in the coming weeks and months offering some opinions on that subject, because I believe there are some structural changes that need to be made to make sure that we put our best players on the field and give us the best chance of winning our general elections.

Do you believe that the Senate election would have turned out differently had you been the Republican nominee?

Of course I do! Anybody who ran for office and tells you differently shouldnt have run. I think the race would have been a lot closer; I believe I was the best person to face Sen. Nelson. It would have presented a really good comparison, I believe.

But thats not the way it worked out, and its no use crying over spilled milk. We need to go forward, and hopefully now our lead in both parties will come together and work on these tremendous challenges that our country is facing.

As you surely know, Sen. Nelson took up some of your own primary attacks against Connie Mack, particularly the Two and a Half Macks ad portion of the campaign [calling attention to Macks youthful history of bar fights, arrests, and management of a Hooters restaurant] drawing on your primary opponents personal record before he was in Congress. Do you feel in any way responsible for that being used against him by Nelson in the general election?

That information was out there, and it was not difficult to find. And it had been brought up in prior campaigns. Whether I raised those issues or not, they would have come up.I dont feel responsible for Sen. Nelsons using them.

Where should the RPOF go from here?

Im hoping to talk with leaders of the Republican Party at their upcoming quarterly meeting [Dec. 7-8]. I have some thoughts about that, but am not ready to talk about them publicly yet. But I have some ideas of how our party can become more relevant. Im a former party chairman, and I really dont think that our party structure our county parties and our state party is having a significant impact on who become our nominees. ... The way the system currently is [donors and pundits] who dont live in Florida can have more impact on who the Republican nominee is than the Republican Party of Florida. And thats not right.

Can you elaborate on that? In what ways do you believe the current structures keep the local party apparati from selecting candidates for the general election?

Again, I dont want to talk too publicly about my ideas yet, because I want the opportunity to discuss them first with Republican Party leaders; but right now, the way the system is ... its very hard to have a process like we have in the presidential campaigns that make [candidates] go through small states that give real opportunity for party leaders to vet candidates.

For example, in Iowa or New Hampshire, and other states, you have to meet the people. You cant just run a media campaign in order to get a nomination for major office. You have to be out with the people. In Florida thats no longer the case. You can throw money around and become the nominee of the party, without having to interact with the grass roots. I think that takes away the partys impact and the ability of the party to effect change and pick candidates it believes in.

I campaigned all over the state. I went to Republican clubs, Lincoln Day dinners, tea party meetings, participated in straw polls, and the truth of it is, because of the way our system is structured, that has little impact on the outcome of the election. I feel pretty confident that if these folks [local and state party leaders] were deciding who the nominee should be, then I would have had a good chance of being the nominee. Unfortunately, with the power of money and media they have little say in who becomes our nominee. There are other states that use different systems and thats the kind of thing I want to discuss with our party leaders to make our party more relevant again.

What prompted you to pen your recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal, on Medicare fraud?

This is an issue close to my heart. One of the things I was most proud of in my time in the U.S. Senate was my efforts to combat this epidemic of fraud in our Medicaid system, and no place is worse for it than Florida, especially South Florida. Were losing $100 billion a year in Medicare fraud alone. We [legislators] came out with a common-sense solution to stop the fraud before it starts by using the same technology that credit card companies do: predictive modeling, where the computer sees a suspect transaction and they call you; most everyone has had this experience. With this same technology applied to Medicare, we could save $20 billion a year.

This bill had bipartisan support, the president [Barack Obama] signed it, and as usual the bureaucrats in Washington screwed it up and its not doing what it should be: they hired vendors who dont have any experience in this area to put together this system. Theyre not implementing the system, and we are losing tens of billions of dollars, if not more, that we could be keeping in Medicare to make it more solvent.

I recently learned about this when visiting D.C. Thats why I was frustrated and wrote the op-ed.

Does your op-ed presage any future projects you will be launching with regard to this problem?

Im going to actively continue to advocate for these systems to prevent this fraud; once my former colleagues get past this fiscal cliff. I will be going to Washington next year to urge them to make sure that this is working, because no one is for fraud -- we have bipartisan opposition to fraud. And this is just a matter of ineffectual management in Washington, D.C.: bureaucrats unwilling to do what they need to do to get the job done. That should change, and I will continue to advocate for that.

Where does George LeMieux go from here? Have we seen the last of George LeMieux when it comes to elected public service?

I have no plans to run for office right now. Im very pleased to be back in the private sector, with Gunster Law Firm, of which I am privileged to be chairman of the board. I enjoy being back in my law practice and Im still doing things that keep me involved in public policy.

Next month, Im going to be announcing something, about how I will be staying involved in issues that are important to Florida.

My wife and I have four children, age 9 and under, and running after those children takes up a lot of time, as it should. Were enjoying that. Well see what the future holds. I have no plans for elected office right now, but I certainly want to stay involved in public policy.

Can you give our readers any hints on what youll be announcing in the next month?

I dont know if I can give you any hints without giving it all away, but we will be announcing a way to stay engaged in public policy, and its an exciting announcement that will come out in the first part of December.

Is there any truth to rumors that you might be running for chairman of the RPOF?

I am not running for chairman of the RPOF. Im just focused on Gunster, my family, and these public-policy initiatives were going to announce in December.

Are you supporting the retention of Lenny Curry?

Lenny is a good man, and I support him. Im sure hell do a good job over the next couple of years.

Do you in any way lay blame for some of the Florida Republican setbacks that were suffered in the last election on the RPOF or on Currys administration?

I dont lay blame with them. When I have a chance, I will propose some changes to make the party more relevant. Lenny has inherited this system; Im sure in his next two or more years as chairman, hes going to have a chance to put his own stamp on the RPOF, and it will be a good one.

Reach Eric Giunta at or at (954) 235-9116.

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