Meet Joe Negron: Pinch-Hitting For Foley

In all the media furor about just-resigned Rep. Mark Foley (R.-Fla.), one little-known fact about the former lawmaker has escaped mention: He is the godson of legendary Boston Red Sox centerfielder Jimmy Piersall. Famed as much for his battle against mental illness as for his performance at Fenway Park, Waterbury, Conn., native Piersall’s life story was told in the hit motion picture Fear Strikes Out, featuring Tony Perkins as the baseball great. When the Sox won the World Series two years ago and were honored in Washington by onetime Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush, it was Foley who arranged for Piersall and onetime teammate Dom DiMaggio to join the present team at the White House.

Just as Piersall had to be relieved on occasion when he was at the plate, the fallen Foley was relieved last week by State Rep. and fellow Republican Joe Negron. After Foley resigned from Congress September 29, Republican leaders in Florida’s 16th District met behind closed doors and unanimously named three-term legislator Negron to replace Foley as their nominee for Congress.

But Negron will not replace Foley on the ballot. In one of the quirkiest election statutes in any state, Foley’s name will remain on the ballot but any votes cast for him in the Palm Beach-area district will be credited to newly minted nominee Negron. As Martin County Democratic Chairman David Dew told Congressional Quarterly: “If I’m a Republican, I’m having a real hard time punching that name that says ‘Foley,’ knowing that’s he’s an accused predator.”

Even Republicans such as House Majority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) concede that it will now be an uphill fight over the next five weeks to overcome Democrat Tim Mahoney, a businessman-rancher who has so far raised more than $1 million.

Warming Up in the Bullpen

But in a district that gave President Bush 55% of the vote in ’04 and voted to re-elect Republican Gov. Jeb Bush with 60% of the ballots in ’02, no local GOP leader is conceding anything—least of all the 44-year-old Negron, who has been warming up in the political bullpen for several years. Indeed, when Foley considered running for the Senate in ’04 and again this year, Negron was often mentioned as his successor.

When Foley opted for re-election, Negron initially announced for the Republican nomination for state attorney general but later deferred to the eventual nominee, former Rep. (1980-2000) Bill McCollum.

Most Sunshine State sources agree that Negron is more conservative than Foley (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 79%), who was pro-abortion and backed hate-crimes legislation. However, Negron lost a special election run-off for the state legislature in 1999 to social conservative Art Argenio, and then won his state house seat in a rematch a year later. In both races, Associated Industries of Florida and the Christian Coalition backed Argenio.

In office, however, lawmaker Negron has been firmly on the right on almost all issues. Rated 100% by the Christian Coalition, he backed a parental notification law and the Terry Schiavo intervention. Negron also led the house effort for corporate tax credits to provide private school vouchers to disadvantaged children and was a founding member (along with present U.S. GOP Rep. Connie Mack) of the anti-tax Freedom Caucus in the Florida house.

Negron raised more than $1 million for his attorney general’s race and says he will ask the permission of backers to turn over their donations to a congressional bid.

Edward J. King, R.I.P.

Boston, Mass.; Oct. 13, 1988: “The debate tonight is his last chance,” former Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Edward J. King told me as we were driving through downtown Boston on the day of the last presidential debate. “If he loses that, he’ll lose the race big. And then wait ’til he gets back here and being out of the state so long—the legislature is just waiting for him.”

“He” was, of course, King’s arch-rival, Democratic Gov. and then-presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. As a conservative Democrat, King had defeated Gov. Dukakis for renomination in 1978 and then lost a primary rematch in ’82. After switching to the Republican Party in 1985, King was in ’88 one of the most high-profile surrogates for GOP Presidential nominee George H.W. Bush. (As it turned out, Dukakis lost both the debate with Bush and the big race, retired from the governorship in 1990, and faded into obscurity.)
Dukakis clearly disliked Ed King and referred to his defeat by the onetime pro football player and first-time candidate as a “public death.” King, while he felt Dukakis was a poor governor and unfit to be President, never made an unkind personal remark about him, or anyone else for that matter. That is what I thought of when I learned that the former governor had died September 11 at age 81 after tripping and falling.

Born in Chelsea, Mass., King was a football star at Boston College, was drafted by the Buffalo Bills and later played for the Baltimore Colts under legendary Coach Weeb Eubank. An accountant by trade, he became comptroller of the Museum of Science in Boston and later executive director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which oversees Logan International Airport and the Port of Boston.

Ousted by Dukakis from his perch at “Massport,” King turned around and challenged the liberal governor for renomination with an anti-tax, pro-business, tough-on-crime agenda. The premier fund-raiser for Democrat King was multi-millionaire Lloyd Waring of Rockport, a longtime backer of conservative causes and candidates. Under the state’s cross-over primary voting, conservative Republicans came over to the Democratic primary in droves to back King. In a major upset, the insurgent King beat Dukakis by nine percentage points and then went on to defeat liberal Republican Francis Hatch in the fall.

As governor from 1974-78, King made good on his promise to lower taxes (which had ballooned to among the highest of any state) and then supported passage of Proposition 2 1/2, which slashed property taxes by 40%. As the Almanac of American Politics said: “Lower property-tax rates generated more revenue as Massachusetts property values and construction boomed. Personal income, which grew at the nation’s slowest rate during the first Dukakis term, was growing at one of the nation’s fastest rates … after four years of Ed King.”

King also kept his promise to woo out-of-state companies with incentives and brought the unemployment rate from among the highest in the nation to the lowest by 1982.

Although King himself was never linked to any wrongdoing, there was a tax scandal in his Revenue Department and a top aide indicted for corruption. After four years of energizing his liberal base, Dukakis hit the scandals hard and narrowly defeated King for renomination in ’82. In a joint press conference at which both were clearly uncomfortable, King made a pro forma endorsement of Dukakis—something Dukakis had not done when their roles were reversed four years earlier.

Dividing his time between Massachusetts and Surfside, Fla., King became a business and real estate consultant. When I spoke to him each year on his May 11 birthday, he would talk politics, recall old Colts comrades such as Artie Donovan and Johnny Unitas, and, recently, speak of wife Jody, who died in 1997. Asked when he last saw Dukakis, he told me it was at the dedication of the “Big Dig” project in Boston, to which all former governors were invited. “I said, ‘Hi, Mike,’” King told me, “and I think he said ‘Hi, Eddie.’ That was about all.”