On Aug. 30, the Florida Democratic Party registered the domain name scottmaddox2006.com for its chairman, former Tallahassee mayor and gubernatorial wannabe Scott Maddox, to reserve that website name should Maddox actually make the race. Maddox paid the $35 registration fee himself, a party spokeswoman later told reporters. But the move raised concerns among Democrats about a looming conflict of interest. Might the chairman end up fighting for a nomination against others in his party?
This story hit mainstream newspapers statewide, but not because of the Tallahassee press corps' investigative prowess.
No, the fact that Maddox, other Democratic staffers and Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings had registered website names for future campaigns came from a Florida State University student named Mike, who broke the story in his blog, Florida News (www.flnews.blogspot.com).
"I'm really just an FSU student with no real qualifications," Mike said in an e-mail. (He declined to give his full name or to provide more personal details about himself.) "I just happen to read all of the Florida newspapers and a lot of books on politics and campaigns."
The domain story is the first major instance of Florida political blog news forcing its way into the mainstream news. It represents a breakthrough for Florida poli-blogging.
"He did a very obvious thing, just an obvious way of seeing who is laying [political] foundations," said Mark Lane, a columnist for the Daytona Beach News-Journal who follows political blogs in Florida and writes one, too, Flablog (www.flablog.net). Obvious, but missed by the Tallahassee press corps, Lane added.
"Newspapers generally don't have as much state commentary as they did 20 years ago," Lane said. "There's fewer people covering the Legislature now."
And that's where bloggers see themselves stepping into the picture.
"We are not journalists. I have no responsibility to get the entire story," said Mike of Florida News. "I have no responsibility to be fair. I'll leave it to reporters to gather up all the facts. And when they fail, that's when bloggers can step in and hold them accountable. But not because we're 'bloggers,' rather because we're part of the public."
While there are gains being made in terms of healthy poli-blogging, Florida still lags behind the national political scene, where dozens of blogs, from Wonkette to the Daily Kos, are must-reads for activists, Capitol Hill staffers, K Street lobbyists and the political press corps.
Many newshounds have fond memories of the first Florida poli-blog, The Grapefruit. Its anonymous author was a biting insider who dispensed rumors and commentary out of Tallahassee with lists ("Top 5 Lobbyists," "Top 5 political consultants") and "news" that infuriated many in power, especially the report that a state senator was seen late at night in a hot tub with two female lobbyists. The Grapefruit disappeared a few years ago, leaving politicos speculating about its author to this day. (Lobbyist Mike Corcoran called The Grapefruit a "very mean-spirited publication that many, many people would love to get to the bottom of.")
Today's must-read in Florida poli-blogging is the Sayfie Review, written every morning by Fort Lauderdale lawyer, lobbyist and former Jeb Bush communications director Justin Sayfie.
The Sayfie Review (www.sayfiereview.com) is simply a set of headlines and links to all the political stories in Florida newspapers, without any overt spin or political bent. But Sayfie has become a virtual newswire service for Florida political insiders. Gov. Jeb Bush and Attorney General Charlie Crist are regular readers, Sayfie said. Almost all the Tallahassee press corps and many of the Washington, D.C., reporters who follow Florida politics subscribe to its daily e-mail updates. Tallahassee staffers and lobbyists find it an essential start to the day.
"It's a pretty influential audience," Sayfie said. "I like to say that the Sayfie Review has the highest power quotient of any political publication in the state."
Sayfie, in fact, helped drive Florida News' Maddox-domain name story into the mainstream press by including it in his daily wrap-up. So now, he is not only linking to newspaper stories but to other blogs, too.
Even though Sayfie is a Republican, the Florida blogging scene is dominated by the left and far left on the political spectrum (see below). I guess that the party in power has no need to get their message out; they have the mainstream media for that.
Wayne Garcia is a political columnist for Weekly Planet in Tampa; he may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE FLORIDA POLI-BLOG LOG
The Sayfie Review / www.sayfiereview.com
The big dog in Florida political blogs. Written by a Republican lobbyist without any political spin, it is the best compilation of the day's top Florida political headlines.
Mark Lane's Flablog / www.flablog.net
The online alter ego of Daytona Beach News-Journal columnist Mark Lane; interesting and nonpartisan.
Florida News / www.flnews.blogspot.com
Written by an FSU student. Broke the Democrats' domain-name story. Leans left: his e-mail address is ihaterepublicans@hot mail.com.
Florida Politics / www.flapolitics.blogspot.com
Links and commentary to the day's news; strong leaning to the left.
Blogwood / www.blogwood.com
A Tampa-centric left-leaning blog written by computer repair firm owner (and former WMNF DJ) Norwood Orrick.
Discourse.net / www.discourse.net
A more intellectual approach to political blogging, written by University of Miami law professor Michael Froomkin.
South of the Suwannee / www.southofthesuwannee.blogspot.com
Political commentary with a healthy dose of historical perspective and sociology thrown in.
Interstate 4 Jamming / www.interstate4jamming.blogspot.com
Written by a former radio reporter now living in Lakeland.