Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Wise Unites Usual Enemies

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Wise Unites Usual Enemies

Article excerpt

It was shaping up like a Friday Night Fight main event.

In one corner, W.C. Gentry bobbed and weaved as legions of his trial lawyer buddies -- trying to remain incognito, of course -- huddled nearby with their big checkbooks.

In the other corner, Steve Wise circled frantically as chummy corporate lobbyists and doctors -- who fought their own grudge match just two weeks earlier -- twirled their moneybags.

But when the bell rang, it was a one-punch knockout.

Thanks to voters in Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties, big business and big medicine claimed a major victory Tuesday over their trial-bar enemies in the battle for supremacy in the Florida Legislature.

Wise clobbered Gentry and a third candidate, Steven Richardson, in the Republican primary in a special election in Senate District 6. The win all but assures Wise the seat, as no Democrats are running and two write-in candidates could drop out before the general election.

Wise, a former state House member, won the race by cranking up the grass-roots organization that had supported him through 12 years in the House and by hustling door to door for votes.

But campaign contribution reports also show the huge role that special-interest groups played. Hundreds of thousands of dollars poured in from throughout the state to help pay for the barrage of television ads and mail brochures that flew into voters' homes -- and, in some cases, turned voters off.

Gentry, one of the best-known trial lawyers in the state, raised $297,000 through Aug. 9, records show. Of that total, law firms, attorneys or their family members contributed at least $251,000, a whopping 85 percent.

Maybe even more telling, at least $177,000 of the legal-community money came from outside Northeast Florida. Gentry scooped up at least $31,000 from the West Palm Beach area, $31,000 from the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, $27,000 from the Miami area, $19,000 from the Fort Lauderdale area and $18,000 from the Orlando area.

The actual totals are likely higher because contributors do not have to report their occupations if they give $100 or less, making it difficult to identify all of the lawyers. …

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