Yep, while nobody (except maybe the unsleeping eye of Anthony Man) was watching, Dr. Marion Thorpe announced that he would be proud to serve Florida in the U.S. Senate. That declaration didn't make much of a splash. Hell, the Quinniapac poll released last week didn't even bother factoring Thorpe, the state's former chief medical officer, into its survey. I asked Thorpe why that was, and he laughed: "I'm hoping you can find that out for me, Tom." (Research pending) "I suppose it's that if I have to choose between talking to donors and the opportunity to roll my sleeves up in help people, I'd rather help people."
South Floridian news observers probably remember Thorpe as the guy who spent some time atop Rep. Alcee Hastings' List of People to Kill. I mentioned this episode, and again Thorpe chuckled. "I'm laughing because both Mr. Hastings and I were taking great pride in running a gentleman's race. We almost made it all the way."
Back to that kerfuffle in a moment. First, let's talk about what Thorpe will do for Florida as its Republican senator. Thorpe's main focus is fixing the health care system. His second main focus is fixing national security. But the youths also need fixing. "How can we get our young people into the American dream?" asks Thorpe. "We have to give them a good education. We have to teach them to be good citizens, to have good health practices. They become stakeholders in our state and in our nation."
In Broward County, for instance, Thorpe points to the high dropout rate among public school students. "Their job prospects will suffer as a result," he says. But Thorpe does not blame the teens. He blames the school system. "The way in which young people learn has changed, and the education system hasn't caught up." That means a multimedia education. But since there's always going to be some dropouts, why not teach basic life skills? "I want the schools to teach financial literacy in the middle schools and the high schools," says Thorpe. "I also think we should teach -- if you'll pardon the term, because it's a bit corny -- a manners approach to life. Help young people to understand social norms that may not appear in movies or in music videos -- basic courtesies."
Thorpe is the first Republican to declare his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, and he's the first African American candidate of any kind to seek election to that office. I asked him how he stacks up against the presumptive contenders within his party, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, and former House Speaker Marco Rubio.
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"I can talk to people from different walks of life, in different regions, and I don't have to change my message." Sadly, there tends to be an inverse relationship between that kind of candor and the size of one's campaign purse. Basically, Thorpe gets to be blunt. The other guys actually get their message on the airwaves.
If he's to win, Thorpe has to hope that Floridians have a soft spot for the underdog -- and that he has superhuman handshaking ability. "A slick, glossy campaign is a turn-off to some people and to me," he says. "That's not my approach. Now, can I shake all of the 18 million hands in Florida? I don't know, but I can try."
Then again, if there's any time for an unsung Republican to break through, this is it. "Politics is one of those rare professionals where you can toil away for years and still be considered a newcomer," says Thorpe. "I'm a fresh face. I have an advantage on the health care front. The Republican brand is fractured, in my opinion. It will take fresh faces and fresh ideas for it to resonate in the 21st Century."
As to that incident with Hastings, Thorpe says it was mostly a misunderstanding. The two candidates made introductory remarks, in which Hastings talked about how he managed to rebound from being impeached for bribery and perjury to sustain a political career. "Then I introduced myself and I said I commend him for 18 years in Congress, especially in light of being put in this impreachment box," says Thorpe. He didn't think he'd caused offense until the candidates forum was over, when they shook hands and Hastings whispered some un-sweet nothings. "I didn't appreciate the threat that he was 'going to take (me) out permanently,'" says Thorpe. But he thinks the congressman's temper has cooled since then and that as a fellow African-American Hastings appreciates the "historical implications" of a Florida U.S. Senate race in which a black Republican goes up against a black Democrat, Kendrick Meek, the only Democrat to declare so far. At any rate, Thorpe says he's not currently in fear of his life. "Had he said that in his heyday, perhaps I would have," says Thorpe. "But 'taking me out' is not a priority of his, because I'm not in his way. I hope to earn his support in this race."