This year's secretary of state race seems the classic David-and-Goliath matchup. Incumbent Jim Smith, a wealthy lawyer who has won three statewide elections, is being challenged by Jim Minter, a former journalist who has not sought public office before. A month before the election, Minter had raised less than $15,000, while his Republican opponent had raised about $750,000 and said he could raise a lot more if he really tried.
For all their differences, Minter and Smith sound remarkably similar when they talk about the top issue of the race: election reform.
"This is the most important issue of the whole election year, and that issue is taking the big money out of our politics," said Minter, who wrote editorials about campaign reform for the Tallahassee Democrat.
"I believe there's too much money in the process, and it needs to be restricted," Smith said.
Both want to limit contributions sharply. Currently, a candidate may collect up to $3,000 from a single source during a campaign.
Both candidates want to ban contributions from corporations, and Minter wants to do away with donations from political action committees (PACs). Smith, remembering that many PACs were formed to give working people the kind of clout that only the very wealthy could wield, says he has not decided whether PAC money should be banned.
But the two differ sharply on several important issues.
Smith is a firm believer in limiting politicians to two terms in any one office and says that if he wins this election, it will be his last term as secretary of state.
"One reason governments have turned rotten is that (politicians) have stayed in the same job far too long," Smith said.
"I think if you take the big money out of politics, then you don't need to tell the voters who they can or cannot elect," he said.
Minter is a staunch defender of the second primary, the runoffs after primary races in which no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote. Second primaries attract a dismally low number of voters but have been responsible for the election of popular governors such as Bob Graham.
Smith, citing the high cost and low voter turnout associated with second primaries, says he would prefer a blanket primary such as that in Louisiana, where candidates of all parties appear on the same ballot.
Minter says Smith, the state's top elections official for three years, should have done more to advance election reform. He says that if he is elected and the Legislature fails to enact his reform proposals, he will go straight to the voters with a referendum on campaign financing.
Smith defends his record, citing that his support for campaign finance reform goes back to his days as attorney general, when he backed the public financing law for campaigns. Now he is pushing a return to the spring primary to improve voter turnout.
_ CHARLOTTE SUTTON
Besides serving on the Cabinet, the secretary of state is the state's chief elections official, keeps official documents of the Legislature and governor and oversees the state library, certain licensing functions, archives, historic preservation boards and the Division of Cultural Affairs. The job will pay $94,040 a year as of January.
JIM MINTER, 53, resigned from his job as an editorial writer for the Tallahassee Democrat to run for secretary of state. Minter was born in Washington, D.C., and moved to Florida as a fourth-grader. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Florida. After a stint with the Coast Guard, he became a newspaper reporter in North Carolina, then was a political reporter and columnist for the Miami Herald until 1970, when he started as assistant to the secretary of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. Minter also has worked for state House Speaker Dick Pettigrew, as Cabinet aide for Comptroller Gerald Lewis, as speech writer to Gov. Reubin Askew and as assistant to Secretary of State George Firestone. Minter is divorced, has two grown children and lives in Tallahassee. ASSETS: Savings, half-ownership of houses in Columbus, Ga., and Atlantic Beach. LIABILITIES: None. INCOME: Salary from Tallahassee Democrat.
JIM SMITH, 50, has been secretary of state since 1987, when he was appointed by Gov. Bob Martinez to fill the unexpired term of George Firestone, who had resigned. Smith was born in Jacksonville and received a bachelor's degree in government and public administration from Florida State University in 1962. After serving in the Army Reserve, Smith received a law degree in 1967 from Stetson University College of Law. He practiced law in Fort Lauderdale, then went to work for Secretary of State Tom Adams, becoming deputy secretary of state in 1969. After several years of practicing law in Tallahassee, he was elected to the first of two terms as attorney general in 1978. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1986, became Martinez's chief of staff and switched from the Democratic to the Republican party. In a 1988 special election, he was elected secretary of state, becoming the first Republican elected to Florida's Cabinet. ASSETS: Money market investment, stock, real estate. LIABILITIES: Loans. INCOME: State salary, investment income.