By Zayida Baker

Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, R-Broward County, wants to oust incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, in November. To win the Republican primary, LeMieux must first shed his image as a “Charlie Crist Republican” beholden to green energy.

LeMieux served in the Senate from September 2009 to January 2011, after being appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist to fill the remaining term of Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Orlando. Current freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, won the seat in November 2010 against both Crist, who ran as an Independent, and former Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami.

LeMieux, now chairman of law- and lobbying-firm Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, said, “I’ve spent most of my life just being a lawyer.” Before his Senate term, he was, in chronological order, a lawyer at Gunster, chairman of the Broward County Republican Party, deputy attorney general under then-Attorney General Crist, and chief of staff to former Gov. Crist.
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EDITOR’S NOTE _ LeMieux’s quotations are taken from his presentation to the Republican Club of South Sarasota County.
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LeMieux long ago referred to himself as “a Charlie Crist Republican.” To those who wonder nowadays about his responsibility for Crist’s moderate politics, LeMieux quips, “After I left, he went left.”

LeMieux seems to have support from at least one Gunster lobbying client, Florida Power and Light, a utilities company that won large tax credits for investing in alternative energy and also backed Crist. FPL is a subsidiary of self-described “leading clean-energy” firm NextEra Energy, Inc., which grossed $15 billion in 2010. According to OpenSecrets.org, LeMieux has raised more funds than any other Republican contender still in the race, and Gunster is his top donor. NextEra Energy, General Electric, and Honeywell are recent energy-sector donors.

LeMieux often reminds voters to judge him by the record he earned in D.C., which he says makes him the conservative in the race. Among his highlights are voting against Dodd-Frank, ObamaCare, and card check. He also introduced a bill he calls the “2007 Solution,” which, he said, would have rolled back federal spending to 2007 levels, balanced the budget in two years, and reduced the debt by $4 trillion within 10 years.

He emphasized the Constitution’s grant of limited congressional powers but did not mention introducing two energy-related bills that further bloat federal agencies of dubious constitutionality: one bill he sponsored would have permitted the Department of Housing and Urban Development to guarantee loans for the purchase of renewable-energy systems leased for residential use.

Another bill he sponsored would have increased to $8,500 per dwelling Department of Energy funds available to weatherize homes for those with low incomes. These subsidies, via the Weatherization Assistance Program, benefit donors such as Honeywell, General Electric and NextEra Energy that provide weatherization and efficiency-maximizing products.

LeMieux said he wants to cut taxes and plugged his Taxpayer Hero Award. His score was 90 percent, equal to the average for Senate Republicans in 2010.

He also touted ‘A’ ratings from the American Conservative Union, the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has butted heads with conservatives on bailouts of big business. LeMieux voted to extend a stimulus provision that subsidized green installations.

LeMieux seemed to stress his loyalty to the Republican Party and its principles, noting that he endorsed Rubio for Senate the day after Crist left the party in 2010. Although he said that he was a Republican before he was old enough to vote, “Republicans don’t have a monopoly on good ideas; in fact, we’ve had a lot of bad ideas in our party over the last few years.” Overall, he was upbeat about America’s prospects with Republicans at the helm.

He spoke proudly of Republicans’ role in opposing ObamaCare: “We showed the American people what this bill was all about. Twenty-three consecutive days, the longest continuous session of the . . . Senate since the Senate decided to go to . . . WWI. And what happened after that? People in this country figured out that [ObamaCare] was a problem.”

LeMieux is a strong supporter of Israel and continuing foreign aid to allies with shared values: “We got to stop trying to be the alleged neutral arbiter of these disputes between people who don’t believe in what we believe in and our friends.”

Yet he admitted that some military installations could be safely eliminated. “The military is a bureaucracy too, and we as Republicans are not going to be credible about spending cuts unless we come truthfully to the fact that we got to cut spending in the military.” He anticipated that this would save hundreds of billions of dollars over the decade.

Bob Root, chairman of the Taylor Tea Party, opposes LeMieux’s attempts to pass laws subsidizing the energy sector. Furthermore, Root thinks HUD and DOE are unconstitutional agencies that “ought to go.”

LeMieux’s staff ignored multiple requests for comment on the constitutionality of these bills.

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George LeMieux for Senate

Zayida Baker covers Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Steve Southerland for Tea Party Patriots’ Government Accountability Project. She can be reached at zayida.baker@tppjournalism.org.