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Smith deserves to stay

In his more than three years as Florida's secretary of state, Jim Smith has not been the most aggressive enforcer of the election laws or the most active defender of the cultural community. But he has been an effective member of the Cabinet with a broad range of government experience and a good record on environmental issues. That is why we recommend him for a full term. This race between Republican Smith and Democrat Jim Minter is one between an experienced Tallahassee insider and a former journalist with good ideas and an excellent platform. If Minter could put into place the progressive election reforms he proposes, he would be an easy choice. But we have considerable reservations that the former editorial writer could turn his platform into political practice.

Smith is the George Bush of Florida politics. He was one of several talented young men brought to Tallahassee by Tom Adams, who served as secretary of state from 1961 to 1971. Smith has been deputy secretary of state, executive assistant to the lieutenant governor, deputy secretary of commerce, senior staff assistant to Gov. Reubin Askew, campaign manager for Askew's re-election, member of the Board of Regents and attorney general.

It is time for voters to forgive Smith for his self-indulgent actions in 1986. After being elected twice to the Cabinet as a Democrat, and serving two terms under that party, Smith ran for governor. When he failed to win the Democratic nomination, he turned his coat, became a Republican and supported Bob Martinez in a crass political deal. Martinez rewarded him with the appointment as secretary of state.

The impulsive behavior aside, Smith has a public record that includes some commendable work: defending Florida's coasts and pushing for safe-boating rules, supporting environmental land purchase and Everglades clean-up, proposing competition in the scandalous business of state bond sales, calling for limited public campaign financing to try to restore confidence in the elections process, advocating criminal sentencing guidelines to bring fairness to the justice system, asking the Legislature to consider phasing out exemptions to the state's government-in-the-sunshine laws.

We recommend Smith, and encourage him to take a more active role in election reform.

Races at a glance

Offices: Three state Cabinet positions

secretary of state, comptroller and treasurer.

Term: Four years.

Salary in 1991: $94,040.

Candidates: For secretary of state: Republican Jim Smith, the incumbent, and Democrat Jim Minter. For comptroller: Republican Chris Comstock and Democrat Gerald Lewis, the incumbent. For treasurer: Republican Tom Gallagher and Democrat George Stuart.

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