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The People Person

A Bridge to Nowhere of her own
Newscom

Shortly after John McCain chose his running mate, state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff enlisted in the "Sarah Palin Truth Squad."

Don't let the name fool you — it's not about uncovering the truth regarding the Alaska governor. The group of Republican women was set up to counter "attacks" and "liberal smears" about Palin on the internet, according to the McCain campaign.

One of Bogdanoff's first public comments as a "charter member" of the squad was to chastise Barack Obama, implying that he had referred to Palin as a lipsticked pig.

Of course, Obama said no such a thing; the Democratic contender used the popular expression in describing McCain's record. But make no mistake — Bogdanoff and the Sarah Palin Truth Squad weren't about to let something as quaint as the truth get in the way of defending the would-be VP.

Bogdanoff wrote in a release that, since the Obama campaign had been "unable to combat the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding " McCain, it had resorted to "personal attacks."

Leave it to Bogdanoff to elevate the national debate with some good old straight talk. She has reason to get her name into the news as often as possible, since she's running for reelection in November. For the second time, she faces Democratic challenger Chris Chiari, a smart and dedicated, if relatively unknown, campaigner who gave Bogdanoff a run for her money in 2006, garnering 46 percent of the vote.

But this year Bogdanoff is running on Palin power. And its no wonder she sees in the VP nominee a new political hero: The two women have a lot more in common than just lipstick.

Both, for instance, seem to have an aversion to tough questions on the campaign trail. While Palin has largely been sheltered since the nomination, Bogdanoff failed to make it to a political forum on September 15 at the Rio Vista Home­owners Association where Chiari was waiting to debate her. Chiari says he's been stood up by Bogdanoff five times in the past two elections.

The same day, though, Bogdanoff managed to make it to a high-rolling fundraiser held for her and fellow Republican representative Adam Hasner at the posh Boca Raton Resort & Club, where you can bet the questions went down as easy as the cocktails and prime rib.

Don't get me wrong. Bogdanoff's campaign slogan is "People Over Politics" — and she lives by those words. It just helps if you happen to be the right kind of people.

On Monday, for instance, Bogdanoff graced Fort Lauderdale's Republican elite with her presence at a $500-a-head fundraiser at the AutoNation building, hosted by the high-powered, politically connected Tripp Scott law firm.

Favoring people over politics is one thing, but for Bogdanoff, cash trumps all. She's already raised more than $400,000 for this campaign, and the people who like her most seem to be insurance agents and their companies, flooding Bogdanoff's coffers with tens of thousands of dollars.

On July 3 of last year alone, a horde of insurance agents, most of them from State Farm, contributed more than $15,000. This brings us to the issue that is to Bogdanoff what the Bridge to Nowhere is to Palin: the state's personal injury protection (PIP) insurance laws, popularly known as no-fault.

Like Palin and the infamous bridge, Bogdanoff changed her position on PIP reform — though in reverse order. Before Bogdanoff worked out a plan to save it, she found a way to kill it.

Ending the system, of course, was exactly what her friends at State Farm and other insurance companies wanted her to do. And with the use of some legislative gamesmanship, Bogdanoff actually engineered the expiration of PIP laws.

It led the Sun-Sentinel to accuse Bogdanoff of devising an "end-around to kill no-fault" and of "carrying water for special interests." Bogdan­off, a former insurance agent herself, angered more than just the newspaper with the move. People from around the state complained.

Bogdanoff then went to work on reforming the PIP process, saying there was too much fraud in the system (again, precisely the tack used by her friends at State Farm). For most people, though, the new Bogdanoff reforms would only make it harder to collect claims from insurance companies.

One of the main provisions Bogdanoff wanted was to cap attorney's fees for people suing insurance companies. This, of course, would have a devastating effect on tort cases involving people denied injury claims.

Here's the funny part: Bogdanoff is herself a lawyer. According to her law firm's website, she "focuses her practice on insurance defense and mediation." In fact, she has an open insurance defense case in court right now, according to Broward County Clerk records. Her firm, Fertig & Gramling, includes several attorneys who specialize in insurance-related cases.

Ultimately, even her Republican colleagues in the Senate rejected her attempt to cap attorney's fees for the other side. She was, however, still successful in making it harder for people to win claims from all those benevolent auto insurers she champions.

It might seem that Bogdanoff had a slight conflict of interest, but she has always been a strong voice for honesty and against crime. In fact, when she ran for the State Senate in 1996, she famously accused her opponent, Steve Geller, of being "soft" on crime. That backfired on her, and she lost what was widely considered to be one of the dirtiest campaigns in recent Broward memory.

Bogdanoff is surely tough on crime — and she's not one to forgive anyone their past offenses, either. Earlier this year she sponsored a bill to guarantee monetary payments to people imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit ($50,000 for each year of incarceration).

To make sure only good people — Bogdanoff's kind of people — got the money, she added what was called a "clean hands" provision that denied any payments to anyone who had a previous felony.

This made the bill almost meaningless since almost everyone who is wrongfully convicted of a crime has a rap sheet.

In her personal and professional life, Bogdanoff appears to be more forgiving. She's extremely close to Christopher Fertig, who heads the law firm where she works.

Fertig pleaded no contest in 1986 to racketeering, a felony, for helping to launder drug money for a former law partner and client, according to Florida Bar records. The records show that Fertig knew the client was a drug smuggler when he transported the illicit funds to the Bahamas. The Bar let him continue to practice law (with just a 90-day suspension) because he'd cooperated with investigators after he was caught and because he had "turned his life around since he committed [the] illegal acts," according to records.

So Bogdanoff can forgive people their sins. Again, they just have to be the right kind of people. (In the interest of full disclosure, Fertig represents libel plaintiff Buddy Nevins, a former Sun-Sentinel reporter, in a lawsuit against this writer and New Times.)

And Palin obviously represents Bogdan­off's kind of people. They're even coming closer together on abortion. While Palin is staunchly anti-abortion (even in cases of rape and incest), Bogdanoff has always portrayed herself as a moderate on social issues who favors abortion rights.

But her stance has evolved (though we're not sure where Bogdanoff stands on creationism at this point) as she's become a power player in the Republican-dominated state house. Earlier this year, she voted for a bill that forced women to submit to an ultrasound before they had a first-trimester abortion.

She also voted against an amendment that upheld a woman's right to an abortion in the first trimester without "undue burden from the state."

Makes it sort of tough for Bogdanoff to claim she's for abortion rights now, but it brings her more in line with the Republican nominee. And it highlights the fact that a vote for Bogdanoff is very much like a vote for the Alaska governor, only on a local scale.

Not even the Sarah Palin Truth Squad could disagree with that.


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