Job well done

Published: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 6:08 p.m.

Florida Comptroller Bob Milligan was given Governing magazine's Public Official of the Year award last month for reorganizing the financial regulatory system in his office along "professional, nonpartisan lines."

Too many times, either the "professional" or "nonpartisan" gets left out of the mix when governmental agencies are reorganized. But Milligan kept a campaign promise made eight years ago to take the politics out of the regulation of the state banking and securities systems.

Now he is leaving public office, with the state much better off for his service.

Milligan shouldn't go into a second retirement without some recognition, because he was a rare breed - a public servant who took the responsibility seriously.

Milligan, now 70, was a lieutenant general in the Marine Corps who retired as commanding general of Fleet Marine Services, Pacific, and Marine Corps Bases, Pacific, based in Hawaii. He was responsible for 92,000 Marines and sailors in the Pacific and Indian oceans. When he retired in 1991, he and his wife moved to Panama City.

Milligan was sought out by the state Republican Party in 1994 to make a long-shot race against five-term incumbent Comptroller Gerald Lewis, a onetime reformer who had become the darling of the industries he was responsible for regulating.

Milligan made wise use of limited public campaign funding and surprised everyone by winning a narrow victory.

He won because of his promise to take banking and securities regulation out of politics. He followed through - and, in his own words, "got slam-dunked" in the Legislature.

The financial industries were quite comfortable with the kind of regulation they had been receiving and lobbied the Legislature to maintain the status quo.

Milligan bided his time until a new opportunity arose. When the Constitution Revision Commission met in 1998 to propose changes to the state constitution, he proposed combining the offices of comptroller and treasurer under a single elected official.

When the amendment was approved, Milligan went back to the Legislature and lobbied for professional - and nonpolitical - management under the single elected official, to be named the "chief financial officer."

But Treasurer Tom Gallagher, who intended to run for the combined office, balked at giving away so much power. When Gallagher appeared to be having his way with the Legislature, Milligan announced he intended to run against Gallagher in the Republican primary unless his reforms were adopted.

Since the Republicans wanted to avoid a potentially divisive primary between two of its senior elected officials, the Legislature gave Milligan pretty much what he wanted - professional management insulated from partisan influences.

Milligan is leaving office for a second retirement. Floridians owe him a round of applause for a job well done.

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