A Gallagher goes back to work

Published: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
A Gallagher has a job lined up after a bruising loss in this month's gubernatorial primary. But it's not Republican Tom Gallagher, it's his wife, Laura, who has become the spokesperson for Florida4Marriage.org, a group aiming to put a constitutional amendment vote on the ballot in 2008 that "protects marriage as the legal union of only one man and one woman."
Laura Gallagher was credited for being a force in her husband's campaign strategy of social conservatism. Tom Gallagher pressed the issues of stiffer bans on abortion and gay marriage, but he lost to the more moderate Charlie Crist by almost 30 percentage points.
She said Thursday that her husband's failure to turn social conservative issues into an election win should not be perceived as a lack of support for a constitutional ban on gay marriages.
"An overwhelming majority of Floridians do support this effort," she said. "I don't think you should look at what happened in an election and draw a conclusion from that."
Brian Winfield, a spokesman for Equality Florida, sees the contrary in Gallagher's big primary defeat. "Floridians across the state are sick and tired of this divisive kind of rhetoric and are ready to elect fair minded lawmakers," he said.
Laura Gallagher predicted a "Massachusetts-like crisis in the state of Florida" if the amendment is not passed, referring to a judge in Massachusetts allowing gay marriages.
Asked what the crisis would be, Nathan Dunn, a member of the group, said "this is not a question of how this would affect (an) individual marriage The question is how does it affect the institution of marriage in allowing an unelected judge and a few activists to push an agenda of a wholesale redefinition of an institution that has existed since early civilization."
Gallagher said the constitutional ban would also firm up the existing legal ban on gay adoptions in the state.
Florida law already says marriage can only exist between one man and one woman. Some say the proposed amendment, which failed to secure enough signatures to appear on this year's ballot, would instead end promises of benefits such as insurance to same-sex couples in many Florida companies and counties. Winfield said polls show Floridians don't support gay marriage, but do support the offering of benefits to same-sex couples.
Around the country, Republicans have used similar issues to motivate Christian conservative voters to show up on election days. Winfield said that's the case in Florida, noting the Republican Party of Florida's donations of $300,000 to the group.
Florida4Marriage.org needs 611,000 signatures to put the measure on the 2008 ballot, a number they're close to getting. But Winfield noted that the conservative Florida Legislature could have easily bypassed the need to secure the signatures to put the measure on the ballot. He said Republicans are using the measure to build up a database of voters with their phone numbers and addresses for future political use.
"This is a way for the Republican Party to get their voters to the polls," he said.
Debate on debates As of late last week, the two candidates for attorney general were still squabbling over how many debates they would hold before the general election.
A campaign aide for Democrat Walter "Skip" Campbell had accused Republican Bill McCollum of ducking the debates, pointing to McCollum's initial reluctance to answer questions before a Miami-Dade lawyers' group last week and at his rejection of a debate at the UF Law School.
McCollum did eventually appear before the Miami-Dade lawyers and answer questions.
But Jeff Garcia, Campbell's campaign manager, complained that his candidate has agreed to at least five possible debates or forums before the November vote, while McCollum has yet to agree to one.
Phil Vangelakos, McCollum's campaign manager, downplayed the disagreement, saying his candidate was committed to holding a series of debates before the election. He cited the possibility of a debate hosted by an Orlando-area television station this upcoming week and a debate hosted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce later in the month. While conceding the two campaigns have yet to formally agree on those forums, Vangelakos made it clear that McCollum was more than willing to debate Campbell.
Compiled from reports by Joe Follick and Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Tallahassee Bureau.

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