1. Archive

Chance to make a difference

Published Oct. 18, 2005

The race for Florida governor is about experience, courage and records of accomplishment. In all three categories, former U.S. Sen. Lawton Chiles and his running mate, former U.S. Rep. Buddy MacKay, outclass the incumbent. Chiles and MacKay represent 48 years of public service. Their record is remarkably constant: hard work, political savvy, consensus-building and thoughtful approaches to complex problems. They served in the Florida House, the Florida Senate, the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate. They took on the Pork Chop gang in the Florida Senate, trying to remove the power that had concentrated in the hands of only a few. They took on free-spenders in Congress, trying to make tough choices about spending rather than leave big debt to future generations.

Chiles and MacKay are respected by people who watch government closely. They exemplify the best of Florida's traditions. They are honest statesmen who outthink their opponents.

For nearly four years now, Florida has operated with a governor, Bob Martinez, who does not enjoy that same wealth of experience. The results have been disastrous. His poor judgment was shown in his selection as his running mate of Allison DeFoor, the former sheriff of Monroe County who simply is not qualified to be governor.

Under pressure from wealthy constituents who opposed the services tax in 1987, Martinez lost his bearings and called first for a statewide referendum and then for repeal. Under criticism for a social services agency that was not protecting abused children, he began blaming lax laws instead fixing the agency directly under his control. Unable to build any new roads because his transportation secretary had bankrupted the meager road accounts, he renounced his own $40-billion "strategic plan," fired the secretary, tried borrowing $2.4-billion, asked to put tolls on roads that were already built, then insisted on a bizarre gas tax formula that affected all but four counties so he could say he didn't raise taxes "statewide."

To compare the work of Martinez and Chiles is to appreciate some startling differences in their approaches.

Before being elected governor in 1986, Martinez was mayor of Tampa long enough to quadruple the city's debt and leave the bills to his successor. When he got to Tallahassee, he proposed massive borrowing, mostly for roads and prisons, but the Legislature stopped him. Chiles, by contrast, has been a consistent critic of government borrowing, even to the extent that he has proposed some unpopular cuts in federal programs to avoid shifting the burden to future generations. Says Chiles: "I see Florida today heading down the same route that we've seen the federal government do: Let's borrow it today and let somebody else pay for it tomorrow. That's wrong."

As governor, Martinez reacted to the Supreme Court's Webster decision last year by immediately calling a legislative session to restrict abortions further. He was trying to bask in the national media spotlight, but, as it turned out, his session was a disaster for him. This past week he said, "You don't have to overturn Roe to make another push." Chiles, by contrast, is pro-choice; he has said he would veto any abortion legislation that pushes government further into a woman's privacy. More telling, he sees abortion as a difficult and troubling personal decision, and has not exploited it in the campaign, even though public opinion clearly is on his side.

As governor, Martinez often has confronted crises and tough choices by lifting his finger and pointing elsewhere. When a state inmate escaped and was accused of killing a Tallahassee woman, revealing some serious flaws in prison administration, Martinez tried to blame others for the policies and agency under his control. After pressuring lawmakers this spring into adopting an oddly conceived and regressive hodge-podge of taxes and fees that raised $1.5-billion, he lacked the courage to sign the bill. He let it become law without his signature.

Chiles, by contrast, has been criticized by Martinez in this campaign for taking tough stands as chairman of the U.S. Senate budget committee. He didn't shrink from his duty, or from the implications of his votes.

As re-election campaigner, Martinez has dedicated his effort to the celebration of political wealth. He wanted to raise $15-million, and has taken money from every lobbyist, corporation, political action committee or contractor that would give. In 1987, he was forced to testify in a federal court that he did not take $4,000 in cash campaign contributions as Tampa mayor in return for favorable treatment on cable TV contracts. This year, one of his chief fund-raisers, B.J. West of Orlando, was indicted for grand theft, and a grand jury questioned whether road-builders were being asked for campaign contributions in return for state contracts.

Chiles, by contrast, has run a campaign that directly challenges modern-day, big-money politics. He has limited his contributions to $100, and is necessarily limiting his access to paid media and 30-second TV spots. He knows the risks: "We were leading. We could have had all of the big bucks. But can you kill the system by joining it? Can you conquer darkness with darkness, or do you try to conquer it with light?"

In April, when Chiles and MacKay announced they were entering the race, many political observers called them the "dream ticket." There is a reason for that. Chiles and MacKay are two of Florida's most distinguished political leaders; either one could be one of Florida's most accomplished governors. Together, on one ticket, they are trying to make a powerful point about politics and government. Chiles spoke of it when he joined the race: "As a young man, I revered political office holders. I wanted to go to the United States Senate since I was 10 years old because I had seen Spessard Holland and the esteem he was held in by people. . . . What have our young people got a chance to see today?"

The Chiles-MacKay theme, that people _ and not money _ count, is an exhilarating one. They are giving the people of Florida the chance to take back control of their state government from the big money givers. We recommend them to our readers with respect for them and for their noble cause.

Opportunity to reply

The St. Petersburg Times offers candidates not recommended by its editorial board an opportunity to reply in print. If he wishes to take advantage of this offer, Gov. Martinez should send his reply of no more than 700 words to Robert Pittman to arrive prior to 9 a.m. Oct. 24.


Office: Governor of the state of Florida

Candidates: Bob Martinez, incumbent, and Allison DeFoor, Republicans; Lawton Chiles and Buddy MacKay, Democrats.

Term: Four years.

Salaries in 1991: $103,909 for governor; $94,040 for lieutenant governor