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Haridopolos on why he also rejected rail money

We caught up with Senate President Mike Haridopolos in Dade City tonight, where he was speaking to Pasco County Republicans about why he's the best person to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012. He got a welcome party from about 30 tea partiers thanking him supporting Gov. Rick Scott's move to reject the $2.4 billion in federal high speed rail cash.

"When Gov. Scott had the courage to stand up, I wanted to stand beside him and make sure we don't borrow money we can't afford," he said.

Haridopolos, of course, voted for a 2009 rail package intended -- in part -- to attract the federal cash Scott just rejected. As recently as January, he was keen on the plan, if the private sector took on the risk. So what gives?

"What we voted for in '09 was a different project," he said, referring to the Sunrail portion of the deal where he said locals decided to give up some of their state road money to build a commuter rail line. Regarding the private bids for the high-speed rail line, he said: "We started to look at that option, but (U.S. Transportation Secretary) Ray LaHood told us if we accepted those private sector bids and that private sector company failed, it's not like a normal private sector company. The state would be on the hook for $2.4 billion they'd have to pay back or start operating and maintenance on that area."

Haridopolos later gave a 15-minute stump speech where he invoked George Washington ("We are out of money, now we must think."); pension reform (he said it's tough to require cops, firefighters and teachers to contribute to their pension, but pledged lawmakers would do so "in a thoughtful way"); and the federal health care bill ("The good news is Ronald Reagan is the gift that keeps on giving," in a reference to federal court judge Roger Vinson, who declared the bill unconstitutional. Bill Clinton apparently is the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats, as he appointed two judges who upheld the law.)