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Voters see in Bush a reason to hope, fear

I talked to some fed-up people last week.

People fed up with taxes.

"We are approaching Massachusetts in being taxed to death and I think people are sick and tired of it," said John D. Carr, a 62-year-old man who grew up in St. Petersburg.

People fed up with crime.

"It's the criminals that they let out on the streets," said Joanie Hurt, 53, of Indian Rocks Beach. "The rapists. They just don't give them enough time. I don't go out at night."

People fed up with Gov. Lawton Chiles.

"He's mudslinging," said John White, 53, a federal employee who lives in St. Petersburg. "He's not dealing with issues. He's really being defensive and it just turns me off."

All of these people plan to vote for Jeb Bush.

I wanted to talk firsthand with a lot of Bush supporters, because I was intrigued by his big margin of victory in the Republican gubernatorial primary in September. And like the rest of us, I wonder if he'll be Florida's next governor.

What surprised me two months ago was that voters would so unceremoniously dump Tom Gallagher and Jim Smith, two people with decades of respectable, scandal-free service to the state, for someone whose government experience is light at best.

So I stood on the street in Clearwater and St. Petersburg and asked people for whom they were going to vote. When folks said Bush, I mentioned his lack of government experience. They generally laughed.

"That's why a lot of people are going to vote for him," said Don Edwards, an insurance agent from Seminole. "He's a young guy. He's a bright guy. He doesn't have, maybe, the same experience. But you know, the guy that runs General Motors never worked on the assembly line, I don't think, either."

"I have no problem with that," White said. "With any leadership, it's who you have advising you."

"He can always ask his father for his ideas," Hurt added.

A lot of people said it was simply time for a change _ ironically, the sort of thing people said in 1992, when the country voted out Bush's father, George.

Leo Valois, a 77-year-old retiree from St. Petersburg, said he'd probably vote for Bush, which meant he was "probably voting for a change more than anything else. If we don't like the change, we can always change back in four years."

Carr said Bush may want radical change, but we need it.

"I think that if people weren't timid about radical change, he would win 10-to-1."

If you don't think the current legislative process is falling apart, just look at the number of people trying to circumvent it by passing constitutional amendments. "It shows prima facie that the whole system of legislation is breaking down," Carr said.

Given his success so far, I wasn't surprised to find the people who enthusiastically support Bush.

What did surprise me was how intensely some people dislike him.

"He scares me so much that I came down here and registered to vote a couple of weeks ago," said Dave Hawksby, 51, of Clearwater. He's turned off by Bush's political machine, and his parents' fund-raising power.

I ran into a woman named Florence Secor of St. Petersburg who doesn't have much use for Bush, either. She said Bush may say he wants to lock criminals up, but she believes a lot of crime starts at home. "If these kids came from a better home life, they wouldn't be on the street in the first place," she said.

You might think those words came from someone whose life has never been touched by crime. Not so. A few years ago while sailing in Tampa Bay, Secor saw something out of place bobbing in the water. It turned out to be a body. She informed the authorities. It became a murder case. And when Oba Chandler went to trial last month, she was the second witness to testify.