Nominate Bill McBride

Published: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 30, 2002 at 6:12 p.m.

There's no question that last Tuesday night's Democratic gubernatorial debate was less a spirited exchange of contrasting ideas between primary contenders than a Jeb Bush-bashing fest. To hear Janet Reno, Bill McBride and Daryl Jones talk, one might get the impression that each one had already secured their party's nomination to face the incumbent governor in November.

At one point in the debate, McBride a Tampa Bay area lawyer, made a cogent observation _ and one not often spoken out loud on the campaign trail _ about Florida's distressing tradition of trying to operate on the cheap.

"This state has $1 million and $6 million and $7 million homes and marinas filled with $100,000 boats, "he said. "Surely, we can find enough money to take care and improve our public schools and protect our children."

We have always known that Florida can afford to do better by its children, it's poor, needy and elderly, its environment and so on. What's been lacking is the political will to tell Floridians that they really can afford to do better in all of those areas.

The Democrat who goes up against a Republican governor who has specialized in cutting taxes for the well-off _ the very people who own those expensive houses and boats _ is going to have to be able to articulate that message with clarity and forcefulness.

Who should the Democrats choose to spread that message when they go to the polls on Sept. 10?

In Janet Reno they have a native Floridian whose tenure as Attorney General in the Clinton Administration has given her a dose of the celebrity. Reno has an almost spiritual connection to Florida's natural wonders; its wetlands, forests, rivers and beaches. She can speak with conviction about Florida as a "paradise lost" as the state continues its headlong rush toward over-development and exploitation of the land.

But her celebrity comes with a large dose of notoriety. Reno's perceived "negatives" _ her Clinton connections, Waco, Elian, questions about her frail health _ threaten to overwhelm her positives. It's obvious that the Republicans would much rather Bush face Reno than McBride. And that is precisely why she is a poor choice for the Democratic nomination.

Jones is a 12-year veteran legislator and an original thinker who has some innovative ideas about improving Florida's public services. But he would finance many of those improvements by expanding casino gambling _ an addictive form of "entertainment" that victimizes the poor. And in any case, his name recognition is so low around the state that he simply cannot hope to catch up to either Reno or McBride, let alone Bush, in the short time remaining in this election season.

That leaves McBride. Not exactly Mr. Personality, McBride is less a celebrity than a workhorse. His role models are past Democratic luminaries like Leroy Collins, Lawton Chiles and Reubin Askew. He is, in other words, a moderate Democrat whose ideas and approach to government should play well to the broader constituency that will turn out in the November general election.

It says something about McBride's potential to at least threaten Bush's considerable lead in the polls that the Republicans have already begun to mount a negative ad campaign designed to help defeat McBride in the primary.

Message from the GOP to Democrats: Elect Janet Reno. Please.

Democrats shouldn't bite. McBride's plan to invest more state resources and put more emphasis on education should make for a credible counter to Bush's philosophy of tax cuts, his punitive approach to school grading and his desire to divert money from public education and put it into private school vouchers.

"Floridians should accept no excuses for our state's rank near the bottom of states in overall measures of education quality," McBride argues. "A state as rich in human and capital resources should aspire to be a leader among the states, instead of a laggard."

That's the bottom line: Florida can afford to do better. Janet Reno may be willing to make that argument come November, but her notoriety will surely cloud voters' perception of her message. Daryl Jones wants Florida to do better by further exploiting a human vice, gambling, that destroys individuals and families. Bill McBride; combat veteran, long time civic leader and fund-raiser for numerous good causes, Central Florida businessman and political moderate is better positioned to carry his party's message: That Florida's future cannot be squandered away by tax cuts and government on the cheap.

Democrats should vote for Bill McBride on Sept. 10.

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