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Bush's bottom line: less government

Tampa Bay real estate developer Al Hoffman sums up the race for Florida governor as a contest of the young and energetic against the old and entrenched.

"Jeb Bush has built a successful business and had to discipline himself in an economic-driven business world," Hoffman, a Bush compadre, said of the Miami real estate developer.

"Lawton Chiles started his government service when Eisenhower was president," Hoffman said. "Talk about being ingrained in the bureaucracy.

"Lawton Chiles," he scoffed, "is a policy wonk."

In the anti-incumbent mood that pervades the 1994 elections nationwide, Hoffman has found a lot of support among bottom-line-oriented business folks while stumping for Bush in Florida.

But in a race that the latest polls suggest is too close to call, there are business men and women who seem to find Bush the man, a millionaire, more appealing than Bush the reformer.

Bush's personal energy and ideas to make government more accountable have universal appeal. But his plans for education (vouchers to spend on public or private schools) or welfare reform (two years and out) smack of elitism to some and are unnerving to many.

"I'd like to see welfare phased out, but Bush's ideas seem somewhat radical to me," said David Christian, head of the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corp.

"What frightens me is what will happen to folks at the bottom strata of this state, who are mostly African-American and Hispanic," he said.

And there are some Republican stalwarts who embrace Bush but are uneasy that the 41-year-old candidate and son of an ex-president hasn't quite paid his dues to be so well-funded and running for governor.

Some fear he may lack the experience of running a large enterprise of any kind, much less a state government.

"I think Jeb will win and be more pro-business than any governor, including (Bob) Martinez, we've had for a long time," said New Port Richey banker David Dunbar.

"But it troubles me a bit that Florida is really a $35-billion business with 14-million customers. That seems like a big management challenge for Bush."

"In the end," said SunBank of Tampa Bay executive Shirley Ryals, "if Jeb Bush is not elected, it will be because people at the last minute say, 'I don't know if he's had enough experience.'

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Still, at a time when government has lost so much public respect, there is a strong business allure to Bush's promise of less.

Less government. Less regulatory intrusion. Less likelihood of tax increases. These are the policies that warm the hearts of business.

Bush has acknowledged he has spent most of his time honing his positions on broader issues of crime, education, welfare and the overhaul of state government than on specific business issues. But in speeches and debates, the candidate has recommended:

Doing away with the Department of Commerce, which Bush headed under the Martinez administration. He would divide the department's work between a tourism commission made up of tourist-related industries and Enterprise Florida, a public-private venture Chiles formed to help attract jobs and industry.

Restricting state spending to make government more efficient and allowing voters to approve all tax increases.

Streamlining the regulatory system and delegating authority to local communities.

Advocating private property rights. Bush wants to compensate property owners whose land is damaged by government actions and wants to reduce land-use regulations. The Republican nominee says he wants to balance environmental regulation with economic growth.

Many hope Bush, more than 20 years younger than Chiles, can invigorate a state that some business executives feel is falling behind in the high-stakes game of economic development.

"Gov. Chiles has not considered economic development a high priority, and because of that, we have lost our edge," Bush said in a recent debate with Chiles.

"We are following the path of California, rather than the path that will lead to greater income growth, greater prosperity and greater job creation," Bush warned.

Hoffman, chief executive of Florida Design Communities, likes to tick off his list of screw-ups by the governor that the developer said has hurt tourism and the Florida economy.

Hoffman points to the time Chiles showed up wearing a flak jacket at the site of the murder of a German tourist near Miami's airport. That was a major public relations blunder, he said.

"And in economic development," Hoffman added, "we could have had that Mercedes plant in Jacksonville _ if Chiles had made a trip to Germany and made the pitch for the state."

Alabama ultimately landed Mercedes, but at such an astonishing price tag that the state still is defending its generosity.

The 1993 deal took one of the bigger incentive packages for a corporation ever assembled by a state. Encouraged by Alabama's $253-million of capital commitments and tax breaks, Mercedes chose to build its manufacturing facility near Birmingham.

Gung-ho as Hoffman is about Bush, he also acknowledges that Bush's ideas to dismantle the state bureaucracy and revamp the state's education system may prove difficult for some people to swallow.

But that doesn't mean Bush has any plans to step back from his beliefs for change, Hoffman said.

"Jeb won't modify his views just to become more popular," Hoffman said. "Jeb Bush's strongest points are also his weakest points."

John Ellis "Jeb" Bush

Net worth: $2.25-million.

Bush became a millionaire by participating in real estate deals in South Florida. In 1993, his income was $1.65-million. Here's a look at what Bush owns, what he owes, and some of the sources of his income. Figures are based on 1993 federal tax records and reports from Bush's accountants.

What Bush owns (major assets):

Cash and securities: $1.2-million

Miami home: $540,000

Stake in NFL expansion team Jacksonville Jaguars and real estate partnerships: $503,000

Stake in Bush-El Trading Corp., sales commissions for selling water pumps: $452,000

Stake in Codina Bush Group, Miami real estate development firm: $329,000

Major sources of income in 1993:

IntrAmerica Investments Inc., Armando Codina-run real estate firm: $796,000 in salary

Sale of stakes in closely-held companies (including Oriental Trading Corp. (shoe imports): $214,000

Real estate sales commissions from U.S. Asia Realty: $213,000

Major debts:

Loan from First Union National Bank of Florida at prime plus 1/2 percent: $454,000

Mortgage on home, adjustable rate: $395,000

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