1. Archive

Chiles, too, gets a nod from the law

So who exactly is the candidate of law enforcement in the governor's race?

Last month, Republican Jeb Bush announced endorsements from 31 sheriffs _ nearly half the sheriffs in Florida _ who were angry with Gov. Lawton Chiles' record on public safety.

But Tuesday, Chiles announced a bigger batch of endorsements _ support from 25 sheriffs, 21 police chiefs and seven state attorneys.

More than two dozen of them stood on the steps of the Old Capitol to praise Chiles' efforts to keep inmates in prison longer, crack down on juvenile offenders and establish prevention programs to keep kids from becoming criminals.

"Gov. Chiles has been for law enforcement, has been for the Tarpon Springs Police Department. He is a friend to the children of this state," said Tarpon Springs police Chief Mark LeCouris, a Republican who came to Tallahassee to stand behind Chiles, a Democrat.

Tampa police Chief Bennie Holder and Belleair Beach police Chief Midge Heathcote also endorsed Chiles, as did Pasco County Sheriff Lee Cannon, Citrus Sheriff Charlie Dean, Hillsborough Sheriff Cal Henderson and Hillsborough State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III.

Chiles' supporters criticized Bush as a tough talker but shallow thinker on the crime problems of Florida.

"What I've been hearing is simple sound-bite solutions," said Broward Sheriff Ron Cochran. Bush has a prison-building plan but no proposals on how to pay for it.

"I just don't understand where this guy is coming from," Sumter Sheriff Jamie Adams said of Bush.

Bush campaign manager Sally Harrell said it was Bush who came out first with an unprecedented number of endorsements from Florida sheriffs and that Chiles has been scrambling ever since to save face.

She also said Bush has support from seven or eight of Florida's 20 state attorneys and several police chiefs but that the campaign has not made any formal announcement of that support.

"I think it's pretty clear in the minds of voters that Jeb Bush is the candidate of law enforcement. Chiles is just scrambling to make up for three years of total inaction," Harrell said.

Chiles said Tuesday that he and Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay have been working hard to fight crime.

"Buddy and I have made crime our No. 1 priority," Chiles said. "We're proud of our record. . . . It's solid, and it's working."

Among his accomplishments, Chiles cited these: thousands more prison beds, major increases in time served by violent criminals, deportation of illegal immigrants taking up space in Florida's prison system, a new department for juvenile justice headed by a former Miami police chief, and new boot camps for juvenile offenders.

He spoke of his longtime view that prevention programs keep kids from a life of crime.

"We want children to go to school rather than go to prison, and we're going to work to see they do that," Chiles said, as the crowd clapped and cheered.

However, Chiles' critics in the law enforcement community have said Chiles did little or nothing until the murders of tourists put Florida in an international spotlight and the election year loomed.

Pinellas Sheriff Everett Rice, who has endorsed Bush, said Tuesday: "He (Chiles) didn't want to do anything to help us. I think we need a change. I think people are sick and tired of the early release of prisoners and sick and tired of living in fear."