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Originally published Monday, March 7, 2011 at 5:06 PM

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A Florida U.S. Senate candidate and crimes against writing

Syndicated columnist Gail Collins considers the lackluster writing career of Florida Republican Mike Haridopolos — on the public's dime — and his intention to run for U.S. Senate and narrow the Democrats' Senate leadership margin.

Syndicated columnist

We may be embarking on a new era in politics, in which candidates and officials are just as likely to be brought down by bad writing as adultery.

Today, let us consider the case of the Florida Senate president, Mike Haridopolos.

Haridopolos is of interest to us non-Floridians for several reasons. One is his wavy blond hair, which curves around his 40-year-old forehead in a perfect dip and may be setting a whole new post-John-Edwards political hair standard.

Second, he is an early favorite to win the Republican nomination to take on U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, one of the Democratic incumbents expected to face a tough re-election battle in 2012.

"We're only four seats short of a majority," Haridopolos told a TV interviewer this week. "I can be one of those four seats ... and join Marco Rubio as a Florida U.S. senator."

Rubio, who was just elected in November, is a young man with great hair himself. If Haridopolos were to join him in Washington, they would definitely wrest the hottest-Senate-delegation title away from New York's Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.

But first, Haridopolos is going to have to get past some current political unpleasantness about the fact that a few years back, he got a community college in his district to pay him $152,000 to write a book on Florida government.

Which, The Associated Press pointed out recently, was supposed to become a textbook but wound up being a single 175-page double-spaced manuscript stashed away in the Brevard Community College administration office.

Furor ensued. Florida journalists pointed out that on a per-copy basis, Haridopolos made 61,000 times more than J.K. Rowling did for the Harry Potter series.

I am hoping that the next defining series of political scandals will be about illegitimate prose. You will remember that last year, the leading candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Colorado was torpedoed by charges that he had plagiarized chunks of "Musings on Water," a manuscript that a conservative foundation had paid him $300,000 to write.

Many of us were most fascinated by the idea that you could get $300,000 for musing about water. But the voters were upset about the plagiarism part. The candidate, Scott McInnis, lost the nomination to Dan Maes, a dark horse who turned out to be arguably the worst candidate for a major post in a year when his competition included Alvin Greene, the guy running for the Senate in South Carolina whose economic development program involved getting the unemployed to build action figures of Alvin Greene.

Haridopolos' tome, "Florida Legislative History and Process," is Literary Scandal Two, and if we get just one more we will have an official trend, suggesting that politicians can now get in more trouble with a laptop than a lap dance.

Wait! This just in! The director of the London School of Economics has resigned following charges that Seif Gadhafi, son of you-know-who, plagiarized chunks of his Ph.D. dissertation. Seif was awarded a doctorate from the London School of Economics shortly after Libya made a huge donation to the school. (This is not the Gadhafi son who got arrested for beating the servants with a coat hanger in a Swiss hotel, causing Libya to begin a campaign to have Switzerland removed from Europe. That was Hannibal, and he is not a big writer. Seif is the one you see on TV telling reporters that his father is in high spirits.)

But back to state Haridopolos. He is a dedicated fiscal conservative, and when a reporter asked him whether the taxpayers got their money's worth from his book, he replied: "I don't know. How much are you worth?" We take this as a sign of incipient testiness.

One thing about crimes against writing is that journalists tend to take them more personally than crimes against marriage. But, generally, politicians are protected from their worst literary sins by the fact that nobody actually ever reads the books they produce.

Now, the community college has agreed to make "Florida Legislative History and Process" available on Kindle, and both voters and writers will be able to judge for themselves whether Haridopolos is right when he blames the whole controversy on the fact that he is "running for office, trying to change America."

Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post gave the manuscript a quick read and reported that Haridopolos "somehow managed to write a political history of Florida that completely skips over the Florida recount of the 2000 election." But he was most taken by the section titled "Running for Office," in which Haridopolos advised: "It is essential to study the issues before deciding to run."

Other reviewers fixated on another insider tip: "A cell phone will be essential." Although I am kind of partial to: "Most importantly, a candidate should avoid wasting money on useless novelty items such as wooden nickels."

Or wooden prose.

Gail Collins is a regular columnist for The New York Times.

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