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Davis and Crist fight an income tax duel

Published Oct. 12, 2005

After a series of spicy exchanges at a forum Thursday, state Sen. Helen Gordon Davis of Tampa turned to challenger Charlie Crist to give him a warning.

"I just told him I have never been involved in a negative campaign in the 18 years I have run," Davis said after a lunchtime candidate debate at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club. "But I can give as good as I get. We're going to be ready."

Davis and Crist clashed more strongly than any other legislative candidates on the dais Thursday. The main issue was personal income taxes.

As Crist said more than once: "My opponent supports them, and I do not."

And Crist had a warning of his own after the meeting.

"I'm running a campaign on issues," Crist said. "If personal income tax is negative, that's not my fault. People don't want it."

Crist said Davis, a Democrat from Davis Islands, has voiced her support for some form of personal income tax on four occasions in the past two years. Davis acknowledged one of those cases, saying she supported a personal income tax with a $100,000 per person deductible that would have tapped only higher-income residents.

Davis then blasted Crist for his no-taxes stance.

"It's so simplistic to talk about all the great things we're going to do in the state . . . and not talk about tax reform," Davis said. "Who do we think we're fooling?"

Earlier, Davis told the Tiger Bay Club to beware of political challengers "like snake-oil salesmen" who profess to know how to solve the state's problems immediately.

"Charlie Crist is a very nice young man," Davis told club members. "But I believe that these times deserve a senator with experience."

The exchange shows Crist plans to continue his hard-hitting campaign style that toppled state Rep. Jeff Huenink of Clearwater in the Republican primary.

Crist is a St. Petersburg lawyer and former aide to U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla. He and Davis are running for the Senate's District 20 seat, which spans the bay, from Davis Islands and the South Tampa peninsula through parts of Pinellas Park and almost all of St. Petersburg. It is Davis' old district, whichwas dramatically altered through reapportionment.

Crist stressed the inclusion of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in the district, saying whoever wins could be an important link between the normally disparate counties. He then criticized Davis' vote four years ago against providing loans for the Florida Suncoast Dome and other state sports facilities from sales taxes. Crist said the Dome is important to the entire Tampa Bay area.

Also on the program Thursday were state House of Representatives candidates: state Rep. Sandra Mortham and Brian King, District 49; John Morroni and Dana Lynn Maley, District 50; state Rep. Mary Brennan and Richard Butler, District 51; state Rep. Peter Rudy Wallace and R.

J. "Bob" Lonergan, District 52; and state Rep. Lars Hafner and Louie Bode, District 53.

Negative campaigning, personal income taxes, uncollected taxes, education and health care were the big issues of the day.

Mortham, a Republican from Largo, promised Tiger Bay members to make no attacks on her opponent.

"In this campaign, I'm going to take the high road," Mortham said.

"I'm not going to lower myself to the level of my opponent."

King, a Democrat from Crystal Beach, criticized Mortham's incumbency and said he supports term limits.

"I'm not concerned with my stand in the party in 15 years," said King, an assistant state attorney in Hillsborough County.

Morroni, the vice chairman of the Pinellas Republican Party, criticized Maley for only recently moving into an apartment in the reapportioned district. "I have a little problem with that as far as her sincere intentions," Morroni said.

Maley, a Democrat, acknowledged her move but said there are more pressing issues than her residency.

She then blasted Morroni's experience in the party and as an aide to former state Rep. Tom Woodruff. "We don't need any more insiders or career politicians."

Brennan, a first-term Democrat, and Butler, a Republican real-estate broker, also took turns criticizing the other's qualifications.

Brennan pointed out that she has learned a lot in Tallahassee and passed eight bills in her two years, most of them dealing with consumer affairs.

"Yes, Mary, you have done a good job as a freshman legislator," Butler said. "You've fallen right in line with the tax-and-spend liberals in Tallahassee."

That line drew a chorus of boos from the Tiger Bay audience of about 200.