Jeb Bush says Gov. Lawton Chiles is slinging mud. The Democratic governor, trailing in the polls with less than three weeks to go, is not hitting much.
On Wednesday, Chiles charged that his Republican opponent failed to vote in November 1992 when his father was running for re-election as president. Wrong. He did vote.
An initial records search showed that Bush had not voted, but by midafternoon Wednesday, the Bush campaign received a letter from the Dade County elections supervisor correcting the "clerical error." Bush said he cast an absentee ballot before flying to Texas to be with the family on election day.
"In his continuing attempt to sling mud at Jeb Bush, Chiles has once again failed to do his homework," said Sally Harrell, Bush's campaign manager.
Trailing in the polls by up to 9 points, Chiles sought to plaster Bush this week with charges of not paying business taxes and benefiting from a taxpayer bailout of an S & L loan. Bush managed to knock down all the charges but some corporate filing fees. Then on Wednesday, Chiles blundered again with the voting record charge.
Chiles' campaign spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the campaign would not apologize for making a false charge.
"Absolutely not. We thought we had our facts straight," said Jo Miglino.
Bush, meanwhile, called on Chiles to pull an ad that attacks the Republican's business ethics. The 41-year-old Miami businessman said the charges that he failed to get occupational licenses or pay tangible property taxes on six businesses are false and show increasing desperation by the governor to salvage his re-election.
"If Lawton Chiles has any sense of shame left in him, I call on him to withdraw his advertisement entitled "S
L' as being a disservice to the people of Florida, a detriment to the political process and a blight on his own reputation," Bush said.
Chiles made the charges during a radio debate Tuesday and in a new television ad. The material came from an exhaustive background search of Bush's business dealings done by an opposition researcher hired by the state Democratic Party.
Bush said the companies Chiles referred to were "paying agents" that had no property or assets and no tax liability. He acknowledged that a company in which he had a 6 percent interest was inadvertently dissolved for failing to pay a $61.25 corporate filing fee in 1991. He said he would pay the $845 necessary to reinstate it.
Bush has no ruling from the Dade County tax office that he owed no tangible taxes on the other businesses and said he didn't need one "because the code is quite clear on that."
He said it appeared U.S. Asia Realty did owe occupational license fees for three years totaling $135.
"It shows that no one's perfect," he said in a conference call with reporters. "If this is the extent of what the Democrats can come up with, my goodness _ $135. Is this what democracy is getting to?"
Miglino said Bush's business record is fair game.
"This is the only record we have for this man," she said. "He has never held elective office. His business dealings are his record."