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Spokesmen for parties go head to head

Pinellas Democratic chairman Stephen Knowles said he's amazed at the "disinformation" about politics circulating this year.

So in a debate with a representative from the Republican Party on Sunday, he gave 100 people at Temple Beth-El some information they might not have heard before:

Jeb Bush could cost the state an extra $2.2-billion, bybuilding 50,000 prison beds without raising taxes, by supporting school vouchers and by not accepting money for welfare from the federal government.

Through counseling and other programs designed to prevent families from falling apart and kids from turning to crime, the government can save $7 to $12 for every dollar spent.

Knowles said Gov. Lawton Chiles has backed a welfare reform plan that is under way in two counties. The pilot programs are designed to get people off welfare within two years.

Then it was the GOP's turn. Paul Bedinghaus, filling in for Pinellas Republican chairman Louis Kwall, who had an illness in the family, told the audience:

Democrats have controlled both houses of the Legislature and the governor's mansion for most of this century. So if you want change, vote for Republicans.

Although Chiles has worked to build more prisons this year, he campaigned against Gov. Bob Martinez in 1990 by saying Martinez was trying to build his way out of the crime problem.

"Gov. Chiles has said time and time again that we need a state income tax for individuals," Bedinghaus said.

Chiles spokeswoman Jo Miglino, contacted after the debate, denied that claim. "The governor has said there will not be a state income tax in his lifetime," she said.

The debate gave the two main political parties in Pinellas County a chance to stump for their candidates.

Knowles spoke for Chiles, Education Commissioner Doug Jamerson, who is from St. Petersburg, and others. Bedinghaus spoke up for Bush and other Republicans such as Sandra Mortham of Largo, a candidate for secretary of state, and former St. Petersburg police Chief Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger.

"Who better than Curt Curtsinger knows about the issue of criminal justice?" Bedinghaus said. Curtsinger is trying to unseat Rep. Lars Hafner, D-St. Petersburg, who has served in the House since 1988.

Knowles criticized Republicans for spreading a message of "gloom and doom," but acknowledged that it's a fact of life in politics.

"Today, we're forced into negative campaigns," Knowles said. "We're forced into it, because polls show negative campaigning works."

Both Knowles and Bedinghaus urged the people to learn more about the candidates on their own, so they can make the right choices on Election Day, Nov. 8.