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Agriculture candidates debate

Sugar growers have been blamed for the slow poisoning of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. But how much of that blame is justified depends on which candidate for agriculture commissioner you believe. Democrat Bob Crawford said Wednesday that there is no doubt sugar interests are to blame for destruction of the lake and Everglades. But Republican Charles Bronson said pollution from cities, not agriculture, is doing the most damage.

That difference of opinion was the most lively part of a debate between thetwo men before the Manatee Bay Club, a political-social organization. It was the first and perhaps only debate of the race.

Bronson, an Osceola County rancher who lost the 1986 general election for commissioner, said agriculture largely is blamed for the destruction, even though chemical runoff from cities does more damage.

"I can't believe what I'm hearing," Crawford told the audience of about 100 people.

"He said the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee are being polluted by you.

"The sugar companies are polluting the Everglades."

Bronson countered that it is interesting that Crawford is blaming sugar interests for the damage, when Crawford's campaign is supported by those interests. Bronson conceded that he, too, has people in the sugar industry who support his campaign.

Much of the rest of hourlong debate was a replay of what the two men have said already in their campaigns to replace 30-year incumbent Doyle Conner as agriculture commissioner.

Bronson paints Crawford as a career politician lacking in the hands-on experience needed to run the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

He said Crawford is merely a trustee of a 3,200-acre ranch in Polk County, not a real rancher.

Crawford said that's not so, that he makes all the decisions for the operation of the ranch.

Crawford, a legislator since 1976 and Senate president for the last two years, said he knows how government works, how to make a budget.

"We have a foreman on our ranch who knows more about ranching than me and Mr. Bronson combined, but he is not qualified to be commissioner," Crawford said.

Bronson pointed to Crawford's recent hunting trip to Mexico with lobbyists as an example of how his opponent operates in state government.