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Florida Chamber of Commerce backs McCollum in GOP gubernatorial primary

TAMPA — With the two leading Republican candidates for governor peddling their economic plans, Attorney General Bill McCollum on Wednesday got an endorsement in his bid from the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

"He's been the most consistent supporter of the things that are important for business and he's been doing it a long time," said Steve Helverson, chairman of the chamber. "We have a lot of faith and confidence in his record."

The chamber, which represents 139,000 businesses that employ 3 million Floridians, rarely issues endorsements in state races.

"Our state is at a crossroads. We've never been at a time where public service is more important and more meaningful to all Floridians," Helverson said, calling McCollum, the "right man at the right time."

Helverson said the group will reconvene after the primary and decide whether to endorse a candidate in the general election.

Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce donated $500,000 to the Florida First Initiative, a political committee affiliated with McCollum that has been attacking his rival, Rick Scott, in television ads.

McCollum has proposed a plan he says will create 500,000 jobs.

When announcing the endorsement, McCollum said, as governor, he would market the state's agriculture and tourism industries but would also seek to diversify the state's economy.

"We need to bring more headquarters here. We need to bring more production facilities here. We need more high tech and biotech and aerospace," he said.

To do that, McCollum has pledged to lower corporate taxes, ease regulations and revise state laws governing civil suits.

He also has proposed a corporate income tax credit that the state would extend to some businesses to guarantee a certain long-term return on their investment.

For example, he explained, "somebody who wants to partner in expanding the facilities at this port, or rail or highways — there can be contingent tax credits provided by the state in case there's not a certain guaranteed return on investment 20 or 30 years down the road."

McCollum has been losing ground in the Republican primary for governor to former Columbia/HCA head Scott, a political newcomer who has made headway by spending millions on television ads.

Another business group, Associated Industries of Florida, Wednesday co-endorsed McCollum and Scott.

"They supported me. They didn't not support me," McCollum said of the double backing. "I suspect they endorsed both of us because (Scott's) a board member."

Associated Industries chief executive Barney Bishop said Scott was a board member for nearly four years but is no longer on the board.

It takes a two-thirds vote of the board to win an endorsement, and both candidates have positions on issues that are compatible with the group's views.

Bishop said the fact that Scott is running a competitive race and may win was not a factor, and neither was his ownership of Solantic, a health care company that is a member business.

"His conservative philosophy is one that all of the business community can embrace," Bishop said of Scott.

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Florida Chamber of Commerce backs McCollum in GOP gubernatorial primary 07/28/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 9:05pm]
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