The Race to be Florida's Next Governor
The Fight Over
by Chris Lupton
The Race for Governor|
Jeb Bush vs.
As the November elections rapidly approach, the Florida gubernatorial race has all the drama and excitement of the average Super Bowl blow-out.
Republican candidate Jeb Bush, the popular son of former President George Bush, has enjoyed a solid lead in the polls throughout most of the summer, as well as a sizable war chest to finance his campaign. Bush appears poised to become the latest member of his prominent family to hold public office.
For current lieutenant governor and Democratic candidate Buddy MacKay, the campaign to this point has been an uphill struggle. MacKay is trying to overcome dissension within the state Democratic party and a lack of funds. Yet, as bleak as things have looked for MacKay and his running mate Rick Dantzler, a state senator from Winter Haven, the Democratic ticket remains optimistic about its chances against Bush.
Bush's current bid for the governor's mansion began almost immediately after his narrow loss to Lawton Chiles in 1994 in what was the closest gubernatorial race in state history. Shortly after his defeat, Bush founded the Foundation for Florida's Future, an organization which many critics believe to be nothing more than a fund-raising vehicle for Bush's political aspirations and a way to circumvent campaign contribution laws. Bush refuses to reveal the names of major contributors, and the issue has become a subject of frequent MacKay attacks.
There is little doubt that a portion of the money is coming in from national Republican organizations. Jeb's brother, George W. Bush, current Governor of Texas, may run for president in 2000. With brother Jeb in the governor's mansion, George would have key support in one of the nation's most important states. Florida, with its 25 electoral votes, would be key for George's presidential bid.
Learning from his past campaign, Jeb Bush has taken a cue from his father and remade himself as a "kindler and gentler" Republican. In 1994, Chiles was able to paint Bush as an ultraconservative extremist. Bush did little to help himself when he was asked by reporters what a Bush administration would do for the black community. "Probably nothing," replied Bush, a comment which did nothing to dispel Chiles' claims of extremism.
Bush's initial television ads this year attempted to distance himself from the negative image that had clouded his previous gubernatorial bid. Commercials showed Bush with his family and emphasized his business experience and his commitment to education. Retooling Jeb's image was an important first step for his campaign.
Bush now seems to understand the importance of the minority vote, and has spent much of his time reaching out to groups that were widely ignored by his 1994 campaign. One of his proudest accomplishments is the establishment of a charter school in Liberty City, one of Miami's poorest neighborhoods. Additionally, Bush said he intends to spend $5 million on scholarships for inner city and minority students who finish in the top 10 percent of their high school class.
Bush and MacKay each intend to make education a top priority if elected. Both men favor an end to the practice of social promotion, which allows students to advance even if they have not acquired the necessary skills to succeed in the next grade. Additionally, the candidates favor removing disruptive and violent students, and placing them in alternative schools. The establishment of "second-chance" schools for these children would offer them needed assistance and supervision, while providing for a more stable and productive environment in regular classrooms. Aside from these basic similarities, there is a great difference in each one's vision for making Florida's schools a model for the rest of the nation.
Bush's education platform is based upon vouchers and school testing. Vouchers for parents to send their children to private schools have long been a controversial issue nationwide. Chiles and MacKay have steadfastedly opposed the use of public tax dollars to send kids to private schools throughout their eight years in Tallahassee.
Bush's school testing program has come under fire from critics as well. Under his proposal, schools would be tested yearly to measure their learning and improvement. Schools would be graded on the standard A-F scale, with the results being sent to parents and posted on the Internet as well. Those schools which score higher and show greater improvement will receive additional funding, while those schools which continually fall below state standards will not. Schools which do not meet state educational guidelines may not have the resources available to make needed improvements, leading to a cycle of mediocrity and chronic underachievement. Taking additional state money to allow students to attend private schools would further undermine any chance for these schools to improve their performance.
MacKay firmly opposes the use of vouchers that would take money away from public schools. MacKay's family has been involved in public education for more than a half century, and education policy and reform is central to his campaign.
MacKay intends to improve the system by using lottery proceeds to raise education's share of the state budget to 40 percent, from the current level of approximately 35 percent . When the lottery was initially introduced over a decade ago, proponents stated that lottery revenue would be utilized to help improve the state's schools. While some of the lottery money was used for education, the state's contribution dropped below pre-lottery levels. With the restoration of the education budget to pre-lottery levels, MacKay would limit classroom sizes to 20 students in kindergarten through the third grade and 30 students in grades four through twelve.
There has been concern that MacKay would be unable to reach his goal of 40 percent without a tax increase or budget cuts to other state programs. Nevertheless, MacKay's proposals have won the endorsement of the state's largest teachers' union.
"No one has been a stronger and more diligent workhorse for public schools and children than Buddy MacKay," said FTP-NEA President Aaron Wallace in announcing the organization's support for the MacKay-Dantzler ticket.
The endorsement is a major boost for a campaign that has suffered from key Democrats abandoning MacKay and endorsing Bush. Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford has announced his support for the Bush campaign, as have several Democratic state legislators.
In his announcement, Crawford said Bush is the candidate who can "recapture the people's faith in government, bring about lower taxes, and better schools and safer streets."
"Safer streets" may be debatable when one examines Bush's position on a controversial loophole in state gun laws that allows individuals to purchase weapons at gun shows without any background check. The Constitution Revision Commission has proposed an amendment which would allow counties to require background checks and impose a mandatory waiting period on gun show patrons.
Hank Earl Carr, a Tampa man with a history of run-ins with the law, frequently purchased weapons at gun shows. In May, Carr fatally wounded two police detectives and a state trooper. If Carr had attempted to purchase a weapon at a gun shop, a simple background check would have revealed his criminal past.
Despite his commitment to fighting crime, Bush opposes closing this loophole that allows dangerous individuals like Carr to purchase weapons. Ironically enough, the Florida Association of State Troopers has endorsed Bush though his failure to act on this issue would endanger more of its own members.
Bush has also received endorsements from many business groups, including the Florida Association of Realtors and the Florida Retail Association. Bush himself touts his past business experience and states he would use those same business skills in the governor's office if elected.
Many state Democrats fear MacKay simply does not have what it takes to defeat the popular and charismatic Bush. There were even rumors that state Democrats would enter another candidate into the race as an independent, but at this late date in the campaign it appears to be a highly unlikely scenario. MacKay's best hope at this point may be a series of four debates tentatively scheduled between October 8 and October 20. MacKay believes if the people focus on the issues there is a very real chance he could be Florida's next governor.
Despite the commanding Bush lead, this election is far from over. Opinion polls are merely speculation. They have no bearing on the actual outcome of the election. Voters should not be discouraged from participating in the electoral process simply because of pre-election polls.
This election will decide who leads the state of Florida into the 21st century. Educate yourself about the candidates and their platforms. Don't allow others to decide your future for you. Make an informed decision and vote.
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