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    McBride for Democrats

    In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Tampa attorney Bill McBride is the best choice to lead the debate over Florida's future against Gov. Jeb Bush.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 25, 2002

    Bill McBride is a born leader and self-made man whose success at every stage of life has been built on the old-fashioned virtues of hard work, fairness and social responsibility. As governor, he would bring those same qualities to Tallahassee, a community in which they lately have been in short supply. The Times recommends McBride to Democratic voters in the Sept. 10 primary.

    A commitment to fairness and social responsibility is evident throughout McBride's gubernatorial agenda. For example, McBride agrees with Gov. Jeb Bush's stated goal of bringing greater accountability to our public schools, but he proposes a fairer and more comprehensive set of measures for testing students and schools; $1-billion in new funding to reduce class sizes and make teachers' salaries more competitive; and a supportive political atmosphere that ends the demonizing of teachers and the stigmatizing of students in so-called "failing schools."

    On social policy, McBride has a thoughtful eight-point plan to protect the young people who have been left vulnerable by Florida's dysfunctional Department of Children and Families, and he promises to redirect funds to medically indigent Floridians who have been cut from Medicaid coverage. For Florida's fragile environment, he pledges to restore the state's leadership role in protecting our water, beaches, wetlands and undeveloped areas.

    More than any particular policy shift, McBride would bring a different set of priorities and a different style of leadership to Tallahassee. He questions the priorities Bush has shown since his first year in office, when he pushed for a corporate tax cut of more than $262-million while supporting cuts in social services for thousands of Floridians. He also questions Republicans' hasty privatization overhauls that have led to scandals in school voucher programs, prison contracts and child-protection services.

    McBride makes a strong case that he is the Democratic candidate best prepared to build working coalitions across partisan lines. His generally moderate views and low-key style would serve that effort. He blames Bush for having turned out to be an "ideologically based leader" who has "made a conscious decision to push people away." McBride says his emphasis will be on solving problems by making results more important than partisanship or ideology.

    When McBride says he'll bring a different style of leadership to Tallahassee, he speaks from an experience few people can match. He obviously is not a traditional politician. He has never sought elective office before. Yet he already is a known quantity, thanks to his enlightened leadership as managing partner of Holland & Knight, which he built into the nation's fifth largest law firm, and thanks to his active involvement in virtually every important civic initiative in the Tampa Bay community and statewide.

    McBride's natural leadership abilities were evident at an early age. An academic and athletic star at Leesburg High School, McBride was awarded a football scholarship to the University of Florida. After a knee injury ended his athletic career, he gave up his scholarship and worked his way through school, earning academic honors along the way. After his first year of law school, he volunteered for the Marines and became a decorated infantry leader in Vietnam -- after graduating first in his class from the U.S. Army Ranger School.

    McBride quickly became a leader in civilian life. He didn't just make Holland & Knight bigger and more profitable; he greatly expanded the firm's commitment to pro bono work and other charitable activity, and he made a priority of improving the quality of life of the firm's lowest-paid employees. McBride and his wife, Alex Sink, former president of Bank of America of Florida, haven't just lent their names to good causes; they have become models of active civic involvement. As past chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and in other positions of leadership, McBride already has demonstrated his ability to bring people of differing political philosophies together for constructive causes.

    Two other Floridians with compelling personal histories and positive visions for our state's future also are competing for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

    Janet Reno, a tough prosecutor from a colorful Florida family, was a legend in South Florida even before she went off to Washington to serve as attorney general in the Clinton administration. She has brought a lifetime of public service and an aura of celebrity to the campaign. Daryl Jones, a lawyer, investment banker, former fighter pilot and veteran legislator, has been a rising star in the Democratic Party for years.

    Reno and Jones would be capable standard-bearers for the Democrats. Like McBride, they offer thoughtful and humane alternatives to the agenda Bush and the Republican-controlled Legislature have pushed in Tallahassee. However, McBride so far has presented a more comprehensive and reasonable vision for the next four years. Aside from offering a detailed plan for reforming the troubled Department of Children and Families, Reno has not yet been as specific as she should be in laying out her views on the major issues facing the state. Jones has been quite specific, but some of his plans, such as his projections for raising an additional $2-billion a year in revenues without expanding the state's tax base, seem unrealistic.

    Bush apparently agrees that McBride would be his most formidable opponent this fall. The Republicans already have unleashed statewide attack ads that distort McBride's record as managing partner of Holland & Knight. In truth, McBride's record of professional and civic accomplishment in the private sector dwarfs that of Bush or anyone else on this year's ballot. However, this year's gubernatorial campaign should be about public issues, not personal resumes.

    To his credit, Bush has agreed to participate in three debates with his Democratic challenger this fall. (Unfortunately, Reno is willing to participate in only one debate prior to the Sept. 10 primary. It will be held on Aug. 27 and will give Florida voters an important opportunity to compare the Democratic gubernatorial candidates.)

    Floridians deserve a thorough public debate this fall on Jeb Bush's record and his Democratic challenger's competing vision for the state. Have the funding decisions, grading schemes and voucher programs adopted under Bush made Florida's public schools better than they were four years ago? Are the problems at the Department of Children and Families being solved or exacerbated? Is Florida's environment better protected or more vulnerable? Are Floridians' health care needs being met more effectively? Is the state's budget in better shape, or worse?

    Bill McBride is the Democratic candidate best prepared to engage Bush on these and other questions that are important to all Floridians. His life has been one of dependable leadership and consistent success, and he has built a thoughtful platform for serving our state as governor. In a contest against two worthy Democratic opponents, Bill McBride is the best choice to engage Jeb Bush this fall in a serious debate over Florida's future.

    Opportunity to reply

    The Times offers candidates not recommended by its Editorial Board an opportunity to reply. Candidates should send in their replies no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday to: Philip Gailey, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. By e-mail: (no attachments, please). By fax: (727) 893-8675; Replies are limited to 250 words.

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