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Smith's actions provoke bill filings

Published Oct. 8, 2005

Republican Jim Smith shouldn't have been able to run for agriculture commissioner after he lost a bid for governor, say several lawmakers who want to change state elections law.

"Jim Smith is a person I've always admired. But I believe what he has done is dishonorable," said state Sen. Rick Dantzler, D-Winter Haven.

Dantzler is among the sponsors of legislation filed Tuesday for the 1995 session that would prevent a repeat of the agriculture race controversy.

"The Legislature never intended for candidates to change races in the middle of an election cycle," Dantzler said. "When such things happen, it hurts the credibility of all institutions of government and fuels voter cynicism."

Smith, the outgoing secretary of state, jumped into the agriculture race in September, two weeks after he withdrew from a gubernatorial runoff with Jeb Bush.

The Florida Republican Party nominated Smith for the Cabinet race after GOP lobbyist Frank Darden withdrew. Smith said he considered the move "an opportunity for me to continue in public service, and that is what I like to do."

His last-minute switch drew howls of protest from Democrats and a legal challenge from Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, who believed it was illegal for Smith to switch races.

A circuit judge ruled state law didn't prohibit Smith from entering the agriculture race. Crawford is appealing another court ruling that Smith could collect public campaign financing even though he already spent nearly $900,000 in tax money in his failed gubernatorial campaign.

Dantzler said the legislation he's sponsoring would prohibit a political party from designating as a substitute candidate "any person who qualified as a candidate for any office to be filled at the ensuing general election."

Other lawmakers who said they also are sponsoring the legislation include Sen. Malcolm Beard, R-Seffner; Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Monticello; and Rep. Anne Mackenzie, D-Fort Lauderdale.