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Some Democrats accuse Mortham of power play

Will she run for governor or not? Secretary of State Sandra Mortham will not answer that question.

But she scoffs at the claims of some Democrats that she wants to take over Florida's motor vehicles offices as a way to gain power and publicity.

"This has nothing to do with politics," she said Friday.

Mortham's comments came after the House debated a proposed law that would put all the state's driver's license offices under her control. A final vote is expected next week.

On the surface, it would be merely a bureaucratic change.

But Mortham thinks she could save the state $100-million over 10 years while improving efficiency if the Department of State takes over the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The Florida Highway Patrol would not be transferred to her control.

Citing a study commissioned by the Legislature, Mortham has criticized how long people must wait to get their driver's licenses.

Agency executive director Fred Dickinson has said he is improving the situation. His staff recently released a new study showing that the wait times have been dramatically reduced.

Gov. Lawton Chiles does not support the idea. "It will not increase efficiency, it will not save state taxpayer dollars and it seems totally unnecessary," said April Herrle, Chiles' spokeswoman.

In Friday's debate, some Democrats defended Dickinson's reform efforts and suggested Mortham's motives are political. A series of amendments, all of which failed, would have consolidated other powers under some of the Cabinet's Democratic members.

House Minority Leader Buzz Ritchie said he doubts Mortham can live up to her promises. "My instincts are that her motives are good," he said. "I just don't buy into her numbers."

Majority Leader Jim King said he will vote against the bill, but House Speaker Daniel Webster would not say how he will vote. Mortham predicted the measure will pass the House next week.

"It's going to be a close vote," she said.