New Jeb Bush Ad Backing Thrasher in State Senate Race
The combative state Senate District 8 race continues to prove a major air war with Jeb Bush featured Thursday in a new television spot for John Thrasher. In the ad, the former governor blasts trial lawyers for attacking the Republican contender.
“John Thrasher had the courage to help me rein in frivolous lawsuits some lawyers depend on,” Bush says to the camera. “What they’re doing is wrong. I know John Thrasher. I’ve worked closely with him. I believe in him. You can, too.”
Thrasher was House speaker in 1999 when Bush and the Legislature pushed through a host of civil justice limits over fierce opposition from the Florida Justice Association, the state’s trial attorney organization. The spot is airing in the Jacksonville area, which has been flooded with sharp-edged ads leading up to the Sept. 15 Republican primary to fill the seat vacated by the late Sen. Jim King.
Thrasher, a former lobbyist for the Florida Medical Association, has been the target of hard-hitting campaign spots from Stop Tax Waste, Inc., whose supporters may include trial attorneys, and Conservative Citizens for Justice, led by Jacksonville lawyer Tom Edwards, a past president of the Justice Association.
Both organizations are 527 groups, whose contributors in Florida are not required to be made public following a court decision that declared such disclosure unconstitutional.
Trial lawyer allies, however, are also preparing a TV spot aimed at further tarring Thrasher as misleading – pointing out that as a lobbyist, the Orange Park Republican also represented a pair of trial lawyer firms on claims bills before the Legislature.
In 2002, Thrasher was a registered lobbyist for Colling, Gilbert and Carter of Orlando, some of whose top attorneys were formerly partners with mega-trial lawyer John Morgan, a major Democratic fund-raiser.
Similarly, through his association with the lobbying firm, Southern Strategy, Thrasher represented the South Florida firm Grossman & Roth that year. Neal Roth also is a former head of the state’s trial attorneys’ group.
“That doesn’t have anything to do with what we’re saying in the Bush ad,” Thrasher said. “Those are our business clients. Everybody’s name in the (lobbying) firm goes on the list representing them.”
Former Rep. Stan Jordan, whose entry into the race earlier this month coincided with the launching of the ads against Thrasher, also generally shrugged off the Thrasher-trial bar connection. “Lobbyists will take positions based on the fees they receive from clients, won’t they?,” Jordan said.
Also in the Republican primary are Ponte Vedra Beach businessman Dan Quiggle and Jacksonville City Councilman Art Graham. No Democrats have filed to run, so the GOP primary will effectively decide the area’s next senator.
Trial lawyers lost a powerful supporter earlier this summer when Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, resigned and was replaced by former Rep. Joe Negron in a special election. The late Sen. King also could be counted on to back the trial bar, and Thrasher’s election could signal a weakening of the organization’s strength in the Senate, where it frequently clashes with business and medical organizations on a host of issues.