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It's no contest: Castor

Florida's commissioner of education holds one of the most complicated portfolios in electoral politics. Through her own relatively small state agency, she oversees how the 67 locally elected school boards carry out the state's requirements and spend its money. She recommends policies to the State Board of Education _ the governor and Cabinet _ where she casts one of the seven votes on whether to put them into effect. She serves on the Board of Regents, which runs the universities, and on the State Board of Community Colleges. She is education's advocate when the governor and Legislature are making up the state budget. She is in charge of state services for the blind. She is also involved in everything else for which the Cabinet is responsible, including law enforcement, natural resources, revenue collection and appeals under the Growth Management Act. It follows that the commissioner must be skilled in administration, politics and diplomacy. Betty Castor is all that, and more.

In four years at this most demanding job, she has been uncommonly caring, courageous and creative on behalf of Florida's most precious resource, its children. She has fought the governor and the Legislature for a more decent share of the budget and to have lottery proceeds spent as promised, for enhancement of the schools rather than replacement of existing revenue. She is in the forefront of the campaign, along with Lawton Chiles, to restore flexibility _ and accountability _ to the county school boards. She opposes the overuse of standardized tests. Her concept of "full service schools" envisions the school as a center for health care, counseling and even food stamp distribution in communities where such needs cannot be satisfied more conventionally. In a bipartisan partnership, she and Treasurer Tom Gallagher are aggressively publicizing the Child Health Assurance Act, which guarantees checkups to children who are already insured, and are working to make insurance available to more children. She thinks children spend too much time at work, to the detriment of their studies, and wants to reinstitute a work-permit system. She wants Florida to get more for its school dollars and she means for teachers, parents and students to have more to say about how those dollars are spent. Because Castor also cares for the quality of life our children will inherit, she has been a rock of support for the Growth Management Act.

Given her splendid record, and the identity of her opponent, it ought to be obvious that Castor deserves everyone's vote on Nov. 6. But the 3-million voters who are new to Florida since Claude R. Kirk was voted out of the governor's office in 1970 may not know that he was one of the worst governors in a state that has had more than its fair share of bad ones.

This man who now wants to be education commissioner was vacationing at Disneyland when Florida's teachers went on strike in 1968 and he refused to hurry back. That the strike eventually ended was due not to him but to others, whose efforts he belittled. One of his first acts in office was to hire a public relations firm, ostensibly to promote the state, but with the secret mission of advancing him for the vice presidency. He was caught charging his European honeymoon to the accounts of the Florida Development Commission. He had a secret "Governor's Club" to solicit slush funds from road contractors and others seeking state business. He installed himself as Manatee County school superintendent in an attempt to defy a desegregation order, until a federal judge's threat to fine him $10,000 a day made him think better of it. His boastful behavior and many grandiose schemes not only earned his defeat for re-election but nearly destroyed his own Republican Party, which he deserted in his next two campaigns, fortunately unsuccessful, for statewide office. He was running again for governor this year and switched to the education commissioner's race at the last moment. His campaign is a farce, depending on such blowhard proposals as the sale of the Education Department's Tallahassee headquarters (who would buy it?) and its relocation to central Florida. No one supports him but the Florida Association of Homebuilders; one can guess what he promised them about growth management. If Castor had to have an opponent, she surely deserved a better one than that.

It is with both enthusiasm and urgency that we recommend Castor for re-election.