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Florida's loss, the country's gain

In his seven years in the state Legislature, Daryl Jones earned a reputation as an exceptional negotiator who built bipartisan bridges in both the House and Senate. The Miami Democrat has been described by colleagues as a lawmaker who is confident, independent and honest. He flexed his political muscle in 1994 to save Homestead Air Force Base from the federal budget ax and was frequently mentioned as a possible running mate for Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay in the next governor's race.

Now, it looks like Florida will be losing him _ at least for a few years. Jones has been nominated by President Clinton to be the next secretary of the Air Force, a post that will soon be vacated by Sheila Widnall, who has resigned to take a teaching job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The U.S. Senate should confirm Jones for the job. Jones has the political and military experience to serve his country well in the post.

Jones, 42, is an Air Force Academy graduate who was recently promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. The former fighter pilot has also served as commander of a fighter support squadron at Homestead.

While questions have been raised about Jones' flying record, nothing that has emerged so far should disqualify him. Jones was grounded in 1991 after flying erratically. He initially resisted the idea that he quit flying, but later acknowledged that his political career and law practice were leaving him little time to maintain his flying skills.

The secretary's job is a civilian post that requires neither combat skills nor prowess with a plane. Jones would be responsible for budgets, training and coordinating policy between top officials in the Air Force and Pentagon. He would have to deal with a wide variety of administrative issues, including, no doubt, fallout from the adultery case involving former B-52 bomber pilot Lt. Kelly Flinn. His record suggests he is up to the challenge.

If confirmed, Jones would be the first African-American to lead the Air Force and the first Air Force Academy graduate to hold the secretary's post. Those are two more reasons for Florida to be proud that one of its most capable lawmakers may soon be leaving for Washington.