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Martinez tries to change his record through TV ads

What a matchup: "Walkin' " Lawton Chiles versus "Blinkin' " Bob Martinez. This one has it all: A respected former U.S. senator comes out of retirement to challenge a timid governor who is afraid to lead. The governor hires an expensive ad agency to resurrect his weak image.

The governor's campaign manager orders his media consultants to start "working in close with a dull knife" (his words) on the governor's popular opponent. The mission? Buy the election at any cost. The tactics? "three-D" TV _ cunning television ads that (1) distract, (2) distort and (3) deceive _ the three D's.

Will TV Martinez really work? Let's hope not. If these cynical tactics succeed, Florida loses. Here's why:

No vision: Martinez has been in office four years. But what can you say about the man? Aside from (1) politicizing the abortion issue and (2) caving in under pressure on the services tax, what does this governor stand for? Nothing, except four years of drift, neglect and indecision.

Martinez can't articulate his vision for a better Florida because he has none. When confronted with real-life problems, the governor sticks a wet finger in the air and runs a poll.

Sold out: Many politicians like Martinez now spend most of their time raising money instead of listening to ordinary residents or debating the issues. Martinez, for example, recently charged, and got, $1,500 a plate for the privilege of dining with him at the Marriott.

Martinez is not a free man. The champagne-for-lunch bunch are bankrolling the governor's extravagant re-election campaign. (More than $10-million to date) The stretch limo boys have their tentacles all over this governor.

The governor's mansion is now mortgaged to the hilt. When it comes to independence, there's not much left of our governor.

Chiles believes big money is corrupting American politics. Through lavish campaign gifts, the wealthy special interests are buying candidates and elections. Democracy is breaking down. The little guy no longer counts.

Chiles thinks reform has to begin somewhere. So he has done something courageous: He has limited campaign contributions to $100 a person. Chiles wants to show that people still count more than money.

If Chiles wins, he won't be indebted to the wealthy special interests. He'll be free to address Florida's needs such as:

Roads: If you've been struck in traffic in the last four years, thank the governor. Our roads and bridges are breaking down all over Florida, but Martinez continues to ignore the warnings of his own road department. In the meantime, our families are asked to drive on unsafe highways.

The Martinez solution? More borrowing and spending just like he did in Tampa. Instead of honest pay-as-you-go, this governor wants to float a bunch of bonds so he can hire an army of toll takers, erect barriers and force Floridians to toss quarters in toll baskets every couple of miles.

Under the governor's scheme, little money would go for new roads. Most funds would go to pay bond holders and toll collectors.

Environment: This one's almost funny. Every couple of years, Martinez puts on a snorkel and bathing suit and pretends to go swimming with a bunch of photographers. The guv thinks if he is photographed near a beach, he somehow can fool the people with gimmicks.

Informed voters know better. They remember Martinez appointed the polluters' pal, Dale Twachtmann, as head of the Department of Environmental Regulation. That's why respected environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club have endorsed Chiles.

Children: The Martinez ad agency had been running slick TV ads showing the governor perched on a school desk tossing an apple, as if he were the teacher's pet. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Under the Martinez administration, test scores are down and dropout rates up. Summer school sessions are canceled. Teachers are told their salaries won't even keep pace with inflation. Yet the governor sits there juggling an apple!

Chiles has consistently supported infant health care. He believes it's better and cheaper to invest in quality education. He wants to give young people the tools to lead wholesome and productive lives.

Ask your child's teacher if Martinez has been a friend of Florida's children. Teachers know the truth: That's why our teachers have endorsed Chiles.

Chiles has served Florida with honor and distinction for many years. The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club, Pinellas County's largest bipartisan political club, honored Chiles two years ago with its prestigious Ben Franklin Award for distinguished public service. No amount of cynical distortions by "three-D" TV and hired hachet people changes that truth.

Chiles believes Florida belongs to everyone; Martinez believes it belongs to his rich friends. Chiles represents people power; Martinez represents powerful people.

This election comes down to one issue: Can Martinez and the special interests buy this election through tricks, lies and video tapes? I think people are smarter than that.

- Thomas Churchill Dunn is a St. Petersburg lawyer. My View columnists, invited to contribute on a regular basis, write their own views on subjects they choose.

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