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Agriculture chief wants wager control

Call it a horse and dog trade _ at the highest level.

Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford wants to trade his Division of Consumer Services and its 30,000 monthly complaints for the State Division of Pari-mutuels and the dog, horse and jai alai businesses it regulates.

Crawford is preparing language for a bill and hopes it will pass before the Legislature adjourns. He has talked to Gov. Lawton Chiles, and the governor won't oppose it. Pari-mutuels are now a part of the Department of Business Regulation (DBR), an agency Chiles supervises.

Chiles already has a full plate of governmental reorganization proposals, so Chief of Staff Jim Krog says the governor doesn't want to get involved in any additional moves.

"We don't support or oppose it," Krog said. "But anything that would expand gambling is unacceptable."

It's not empire building, Crawford insists. It's merely a logical move for an agency that already oversees the state's animal industry, and has the state veterinarian on its payroll.

Crawford denied reports that it is part of any plot on his part to run for governor.

"I may be the only member of the Cabinet who isn't anxiously watching the governor every day," said Crawford, joking about most of the other Cabinet members who are rumored to be running in 1994.

"I plan to remain agriculture commissioner and run for re-election. I have no plan to do anything else in government."

Crawford said he already has discussed the move with some legislators who are supportive. When he gets a proposed bill drafted, some of them will be asked to sponsor it.

"I think a lot of people see the potential for savings," Crawford said. "I don't think we have anybody in a turf guarding mode."

DBR Secretary Janet Ferris said the issue is likely to get tangled with other pari-mutuellegislation to make the law easier to enforce. Ferris said she has heard Crawford's amendments will be offered next week, along with attempts to legalize off- track betting and other gambling.

Agriculture already has five diagnostic laboratories around the state for use with other animals and could provide the services whenever the horse and dog tracks have to conduct an autopsy of an animal.

What would happen to the jai alai players now regulated by the Division of Pari-mutuels? Are they animals too?

"Jai alai is an important part of it," Crawford joked. "I have to be careful what I say here."

Sylvan "Sonny" Holtzman, chairman of the Pari-mutuel Commission, said jai alai players are not amused.

"Jai alai players don't like to be treated like domestic animals," Holtzman said.

Crawford said he doesn't want to get rid of Consumer Services because of the number of complaints he gets, because 75 percent of them are satisfied by the work his department does.

"If I was going to run for governor, I wouldn't give that up," Crawford said.

A Broward County political newsletter, Inside Florida Politics, suggested this week that Crawford has "raw political" motives that include increasing the availability of contributions for future political office, and helping get new clients for his old friends at Katz Kutter Haigler Alderman Davis Marks & Rutledge, prominent Tallahassee lobbyists.

"We hope eventually everybody has jobs," Crawford said Wednesday. "But I think they are doing all right on their own."

Allan Katz, senior partner at the firm, termed the suggestion "absurd."

Katz and Bill Rubin, one of his lobbying partners, are close friends of Crawford's, but the friendship dates back 15 years or so, to a time when Rubin and Crawford worked for then-Attorney General Bob Shevin.

"It's amusing people would think we have the ability to do this kind of thing," Katz said. "I guess we should be flattered, and if it were true, we probably would be."