Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher broadcast campaign TV ads Tuesday questioning Democratic opponent George Stuart's ability to handle money because he has bounced two dozen personal checks. Stuart conceded his personal financial difficulties are an issue in the campaign for insurance commissioner, who is also the state's treasurer. Nevertheless, he accused the Republican incumbent of dodging substance in favor of a big-money TV campaign of personal attacks.
"Tom Gallagher tries to talk about everything but insurance," Stuart said. "I think personally that personal attacks .
. are things Mr. Gallagher ought to be ashamed of."
The ads highlight newspaper stories about the 20 to 25 checks Stuart bounced in the past year; Stuart eventually made good on all of them. Other stories have focused on delinquent bills and numerous mortgages held by the Orlando state senator.
"He doesn't always pay his bills _ and he bounces an awful lot of checks," an unseen announcer says in the first ad."And now, this guy wants to be treasurer of Florida?"
The second features man-on-the-street interviews with people in Orlando who say it's irresponsible to have that many check overdrafts in a single year.
Florida's treasurer invests billions of dollars in state money and keeps track of where it's spent. The officeholder also has custody of collateral for state bank deposits and securities posted by insurance companies to protect their policyholders.
Stuart said his financial troubles are "fair game" but insisted Gallagher is trying to turn attention away from high insurance rates and Stuart's claims that the incumbent is a puppet of the industry he regulates.
"The mud merchant in this race is the insurance industry," Stuart said. "I believe they are willing to do anything to get rid of a candidate who's independent of their industry."
Stuart, who previously has explained his financial problems by saying it happens to everyone, said he didn't think Gallagher's new offensive was a fatal blow.
"The people are going to have to judge for themselves," he said. "I never felt the reason I campaigned all these years was to enhance my personal fortune."
Stuart aired a new TV ad Monday saying that Gallagher, who sold mortgage insurance to banks for 10 years before 1985, earned more than $1-million from that insurance business and has taken more than $440,000 in contributions from industry interests. Stuart has accepted about $22,000 from the same sources.
"It makes you wonder: What do they expect in return?" Stuart said. "The industry has been good to him. And he's been good to the industry."
Gallagher called Stuart's ad "as phony as his checks" and said his status as a millionaire owed as more to some "lucky real estate investments" than his one-time insurance business.
"How can George Stuart be so desperate for a job that he will do anything or say anything to get it?" Gallagher said.