TALLAHASSEE — Lawton "Bud" Chiles III, the son of the late governor, said Thursday that he will run for governor as an independent candidate.
"The two parties are not the solution," Chiles said at a news conference. "They're caught up in this high-stakes game that pits big money against big money and leaves ordinary Floridians on the sidelines."
The move gives Chiles, 57, extra time to raise money and introduce himself to voters before November's election. In opting out of the Democratic primary, he skipped a one-on-one battle with Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who has raised $6.1 million through the end of March.
Chiles said he made his decision after he spoke on the phone with Sink and she told him she plans to raise $30 million in the race.
"My commentary was, 'Call me naive or old-fashioned, but that's really why I'm getting in the race,' " he said.
Sink on Thursday brushed off concerns that Chiles would siphon liberal voters away from her candidacy.
"There are going to be many people in the race, obviously. I'm going to be running my own campaign, regardless of who else is in," she said.
Sink denied that she told Chiles her fundraising goal is $30 million. She told reporters, "I'm going to have the resources I need to run a very competitive race."
Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, said Chiles made a disappointing decision to run as an independent: "Unlike his father and the great legacy he left for our party and our state, Bud Chiles is in this race for himself."
Chiles' other likely general election opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum, had this to say: "It's interesting he's decided to run as a non-partisan because he's clearly a Democrat. He's registered that way and very clearly supports increased taxes and the Democrats' agenda."
Spokesman Jim McClellan said Chiles, a lifelong Democrat, plans to change his voter registration to "no party affiliated" as early as today.
Chiles is poised to test the theory that 2010 is the Year of the Outsider. Another high-profile candidate, Gov. Charlie Crist, recently left his party to run as an independent for the U.S. Senate.
Democratic strategist Steve Schale, an unpaid adviser to Sink's campaign, said comparisons between Crist and Chiles are difficult to draw. The governor has the bully pulpit of his office, high approval ratings and several million dollars in the bank.
"It's an entirely new state since his dad was governor," Schale said. "I don't think Bud starts with some vote number just because of his last name."
During his announcement, Chiles made several references to his famous father, including the campaign slogan, "Walk with Bud."
The elder Chiles' 1,000-mile walk from the Panhandle to the Keys in 1970 earned him the nickname "Walkin' Lawton" and catapulted him to the U.S. Senate and two terms as governor. Gov. Chiles died in 1998, weeks before the end of his second term.
In his role as president of the Lawton Chiles Foundation, Bud Chiles walked more than 300 miles during his "One Million Steps" campaign. Though he recently resigned from the foundation to run for office, he said he will continue walking during the gubernatorial race.
"For several months and hundreds of miles, I have walked alone. Now I'm asking people to walk with me."
Chiles also mentioned his father's landmark tobacco lawsuit settlement several times and pledged to limit campaign donations to $250, half the legal limit. For many years his father limited donations to $10 before upping it to $100.
Chiles said he hasn't recruited much of a campaign staff yet and is relying primarily on his family for help. His acting campaign manager is his daughter Katie, who recently graduated from Columbia University Law School.
Chiles, who has never won elective office, briefly ran for governor in 2005, but was forced to drop out because he had not met the constitutional requirement of living in the state for the past seven years.
Chiles left Florida for the New York area just before his father ran for a second term in 1994.
At the time, Chiles owned a public relations and lobbying firm, Chiles Communications. He sold the firm in part to quell criticisms he was trading on the Chiles' name and influencing agencies controlled by his father.
After selling the firm, which the new owners renamed Capital Strategies, he moved to the New York area to be the vice president of Hope Worldwide, a charity that provides health care and education for the poor abroad.
He returned to Florida in 2003.
Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.