Joe Henderson: 'Oops' doesn't quite cut it as Ross Spano's excuse - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: ‘Oops’ doesn’t quite cut it as Ross Spano’s excuse

Ross Spano

I live within the boundaries of Florida’s 15th Congressional District, which soon might be represented — but hopefully not — by Republican Ross Spano.

That feeling has nothing to do with Spano being a Republican and everything to do with the coat of slime dripping off his empty suit. That’s what I thought Spano was when he was representing my district in the Florida House — an empty suit with a title.

I see now that I overestimated him.

The charge that he broke the law to win the CD 15 Republican primary over Neil Combee, a bit of an upset, and then the general election over Democrat Kristin Carlson is serious. Since he already fessed up, it should disqualify Spano from being sworn into office.

By his own admission, he broke campaign finance laws by borrowing about $180,000 from two different people and then categorized the money as personal loans to himself in the effort to win.

That’s not the worst of it though. The revelation was followed by a clownish attempt to blame the misdeed on bad advice he received about the lawfulness of the gambit.


Democrats are demanding a full investigation. They need to get in line.

This might be a good time to bring up the fact that Spano first wanted to be Florida’s Attorney General, a quest that, thank the Good Lord, got about as close to reality as me starting in center field next year for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Being Attorney General kind of requires knowledge of, well, the law. His ham-handed response to being caught red-handed was telling. What he basically is saying was, “Oops. Ya got me!”

You don’t get an “oops” in campaign finance violations. He can look it up in the law books.

Combee has a legitimate gripe. He appeared in control to win the primary. Spano had even earned the wrath of wildly popular Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd for implying he had the law officer’s endorsement when it wasn’t close to true.

Judd stays out of primary politics, although he did endorse Spano in the general election.

Back in the primary though, Combee was stunned in the closing days of the campaign by a fusillade of expensive attack mailers.

As he told Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics, “We didn’t know what was happening behind the scenes. We were blindsided in broad daylight. Now it all makes sense.”

Sure does. Spano used the extra campaign money, obtained illegally, to pay for the attack.

And now he has some explaining to do, not that Combee will buy any of it. As he told Ogles, “If you commit a crime, then you are a criminal.”

Like I said up top, I live in CD 15.

Not long before the Nov. 6 general election, an earnest young man knocked on my door. He was stumping for Spano, particularly trumpeting his pro-life stance.

Being nosy, I fessed up I was a reporter and asked several questions about where candidate Ross Spano stood on issues like transportation, education and so on. The volunteer didn’t have many answers — hey, I’m not blaming him — and after a few minutes said he would ask Spano to call me.

“He’s real good about that,” the volunteer said. “He will call you.”

Spano did not call. I was not surprised.

Spano has promised to repay the loans by the end of the week. But if he has $180,000 laying around that he can use to repay the illegal loans, why did he need the loans in the first place?

Just another question in a long line of them for which Ross Spano better have a better answer than “oops.”

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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