Behind the Lines

By Hannah Wallace October 31, 2005

In 20 years of reporting, I've discovered you have to be prepared for the story to change. Often the most revealing information surfaces unexpectedly.

Our story on auto magnate Vern Buchanan started as a straightforward profile with one central question: Why would a successful entrepreneur, accustomed to making quick and independent decisions for his $800 million company, trade his can-do CEO independence for the glacial democracy of the U.S. House of Representives, especially since freshman congressmen have little power and voice?

Buchanan, who made his fortune in the franchising business, first at Detroit-based American Speedy Printing and currently at his Buchanan Automotive Group, was prepared for my question about why he, at 54, wants to serve: "I'm looking at the next 20 years of my life and asking where can I have the biggest impact, [in gratitude] for what our country has done for myself and my family."

But then Buchanan mentioned something intriguing, and the story began to take a different shape. His career hasn't "always been straight up," he replied to a question about if he'd ever been in trouble. It was a statement loaded with suggestion.

A Lexis-Nexis search and calls to Detroit newspapers and magazines revealed that American Speedy filed for bankruptcy just after Buchanan resigned from the company in 1991. I was a bit surprised that this had never come to light before, at least not in Southwest Florida. An electronic search of U.S. Bankruptcy Court records provided a trail of case numbers and angry creditors.

As if this weren't enough, a few weeks later the mailman delivered a large white envelope with no return address. Inside were copies of a Sarasota civil court case against Buchanan, and a survey meant for voters, seeming to refer to problems in his business past. Others here and around the state also got the same package. It hinted only vaguely at what I had learned about the American Speedy problems, but it made me think that others would soon be on the same trail, and that the Republican primary in the 13th District was getting awfully nasty awfully early.

The restless Buchanan sat patiently through subsequent interviews, explaining the messy business period of a decade ago and insisting that although he might do some things differently now, he had done nothing illegal or immoral. "I think people will judge me based on 30 years of being in business," he says.

Judge for yourself.

The Buchanan profile is not the only hot topic in this issue. Healthcare is raising the hackles of consumers and companies all over America, and we found five physicians brave enough to air their sometimes controversial views about the state of American medicine. Their comments may raise your blood pressure about this increasingly critical subject.

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