Examining District 8 Candidates: John Thrasher
The campaign to replace the late State Senator Jim King will intensify this week, as he is laid to rest by family, friends, and colleagues. Throughout this special election there is sure to be plenty of excitement in Florida’s 8th District.
In the next few days, we will take a look at the candidates in the race. Today we’re starting with the most well known candidate, former Speaker of the House John Thrasher.
The story of John Thrasher’s career sounds more appropriate for a Hollywood movie about a back-room dealing, ethically challenged lobbyist/legislator, rather than the background of a potential replacement for the admired and respected late Jim King.
However, we’ll let you be the judge.
In his first term in the House, in 1992, Thrasher violated a state law prohibiting a legislator from lobbying a state board on behalf of a paying client. An Ethics Commission report found that Thrasher, a longtime general counsel for the Florida Medical Association, called the chairman of a Florida Board of Medicine subcommittee to lobby against a proposed rule and appeared in person a week later before to advocate for the FMA. The result was a public reprimand on the floor of the House in 1995 for his ethics violation.
Due to term limits, Thrasher was eventually forced out of the legislature, but that wasn’t the end of his ethics violations. In violation of Florida’s law against former legislators lobbying their colleagues for two years after leaving office, Thrasher organized and hosted a luncheon for legislators on behalf of one of his special interest clients in 2001.
Thrasher was fined $500, a slap on the wrists considering the maximum fine proscribed for the infraction is $10,000. In the course of the ethics committee investigation, it was revealed that one of his appointees to the board refused to recuse herself and actively argued in favor of the low fine. Following the legally proscribed two year wait, Thrasher stepped right back into his lobbyist role, becoming one of the most powerful lobbyists in the state of Florida.
Now, John Thrasher wants to leave lobbying to become the next State Senator representing the people of Florida’s 8th Senate District. Thrasher purchased a small condo to become a resident of the district earlier this year, although he has not yet sold his former home.
Thrasher has quickly become the best financed candidate in the special election, amassing $268,645 in campaign contributions in the most recent reporting quarter. However, nearly 90% of his contributions have come from donors outside the district, 11% coming from outside Florida. Which begs a question: Who’s interests does John Thrasher want to represent?
If history is any indication, the most likely answer is himself, his clients, and his donors. This leaves one very important group of people in the cold: the voters. We have a hard time believing that voters will accept an outsider, financed with outsider’s money, and a history with numerous ethics violations. However, as a former Speaker of the House and plenty of money, it might be hard for any candidate to eclipse John Thrasher’s star power.