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Saunders for secretary of state

The race for the Cabinet post of secretary of state is between Republican Sandra Mortham of Largo, a four-term member of the Florida House and a former member of the Largo City Commission, and Democrat Ron Saunders of Key West, also a four-term member of the state House. Both rose to influential positions _ Mortham to House minority leader, Saunders to the chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Saunders is the better choice.

He has been a steady, progressive legislator who has faced up to tough tax-and-spending votes while Mortham took refuge in boilerplate rhetoric, knowing Democrats would have to do the responsible thing while Republicans postured. Now she is attacking Saunders as a tax-and-spend liberal. The shoe doesn't exactly fit. Saunders counters that he stopped a number of new-tax measures before they ever cleared his committee and emphasizes his opposition to a state income tax. He also supports the revenue-cap amendment that also will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. Saunders is rated by many conservation groups as having a solid voting record on environmental issues and growth management.

Mortham, on the other hand, never saw a tax measure she could support, even those necessary to operate state government and meet its needs. As minority leader, she was rigidly doctrinaire, a history she now says should be ignored as a necessary evil in leading the Republican Party in the House. If so, that's another reason to vote for her opponent. Leadership requires commitment and the courage to stand on principle, not reflexive partisan reactions.

For example, she proposed a prison-building program last year that drew heavily on a plan already set forth by the Chiles administration, but she refused to consider new revenue sources to fund it. She said it could be financed largely from the state's rainy day fund, a use never envisioned for those resources. Mortham also has a weak record on the environment and growth management.

The secretary of state is also a voting member of the state Cabinet, and that vote should be in the hands of someone with a record of achievement and the courage to make tough choices. It should be in the hands of Ron Saunders.

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