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SPOT CHECK

Editor's note: As the race for governor builds to a climax, Florida voters will be bombarded with advertisements from the candidates. As the ads appear, they will be described and analyzed by the St. Petersburg Times.Candidate: Lawton Chiles, Democrat

Opponent: Gov. Bob Martinez, Republican incumbent

Producer of ad: Greer Margolis Mitchell & Associates of Washington, D.C.

The ad: Jamie Adams, the Sumter County sheriff, appears in full uniform and says to the camera: "We're on the front line in the war against crime and drugs. We're doing a good job. Unfortunately, we've got a governor who actually cut the state budget share for law enforcement. Our prisoners are serving one-third less time. Something's bad wrong with the system. We need a change."

Then Chiles is shown in an office. He says: "It's time for real leadership in the war on crime. That's why we've offered a sensible, comprehensive approach _ tough sentences and support for law enforcement. As your governor, I'm going to make the safety and security of Florida's families a top priority."

Analysis: Crime is always a hot issue in Florida, and Martinez has spent a lot of time and money on it during the past four years. Despite that, the Chiles camp thinks the governor is vulnerable. But in attacking Martinez's record, Chiles mixes some strong points with some seriously misleading ones.

First, the distortions.

Sheriff Adams is technically correct when he says that Martinez has cut the state budget share for law enforcement. It has dropped from 15.52 percent to about 12.74 percent, according to the Chiles camp's definition. But under Martinez, the overall criminal justice budget has increased substantially, especially in prisons, so other portions of the crime budget have shrunk by comparison. In other words, the law enforcement slice of the pie has gotten thinner, but the pie itself has gotten a lot bigger. The budgets the ad talks about _ for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state Highway Patrol _ actually have increased more than 50 percent in the past four years.

In addition, the ad might make some people think that Sheriff Adams and other local law enforcement officers depend on the governor and Legislature for most of their funds. They don't. Local agencies depend on local elected officials for that.

However, Adams is right when he says that prisoners are serving less time than they did before Martinez took office. It's probably Martinez's most vulnerable point on crime.

Chiles' "comprehensive" solution aims at longer terms for violent offenders, work camps for less serious offenders and treatment to keep drug offenders out of prison.

The Chiles campaign plans to spend at least $280,000 on TV during the next week. But there's no guarantee that this ad will stay on that long.

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