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    Updating the accounting for consumer protection

    Spin patrol: notes from campaign 2002

    By ADAM SMITH and STEVE BOSQUET
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 2, 2002


    Just what is consumer protection? That's shaping up to be a big question in Florida's race for commissioner of agriculture and consumer services as Democrat Mary Barley bashes incumbent Republican Charles Bronson for ignoring the issue.

    Barley points to the lack of strong consumer protection funding in the department. Initially, she cited a department budget summary showing about $7.5-million going toward consumer protection out of $306-million.

    Asked about that several weeks ago, the department estimated its consumer protection spending at roughly $30-million, with about half of that going to regulating pest control firms. But Bronson now estimates the department spends $149-million protecting consumers. The number rose dramatically after he threw services such as fighting infectious animal diseases, pesticide monitoring and food safety into the category of consumer programs, instead of agricultural programs.

    * * *

    Three years ago, Vince Naimoli wrote a $25,000 check to the state GOP. The Devil Rays' managing general partner has given to Democrats over the years, but mostly his checks have gone to Republican candidates.

    Not in this governor's race.

    On Tuesday, Naimoli and his wife, Lenda, host a fundraiser for Bill McBride at their Avila home in New Tampa. Ticket prices range from $200 to $500.

    * * *

    Given the lack of fireworks at last week's Democratic gubernatorial debate, a lot of Floridians might be thanking Janet Reno for agreeing to just one debate. But those who missed it and still want to see the three Democrats cheering each other and bashing Jeb Bush have some rerun opportunities.

    The Sunshine Network will air the hourlong debate at the following times: 10:30 a.m., Tuesday; 4:30 p.m. Wednesday; 3 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday; 3:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Friday; and 7 a.m. Sunday.

    Meanwhile, PBS station WEDU will air half-hour interviews with the three Democrats and Gov. Jeb Bush at 8 p.m. Thursday. The station will repeat the unedited interviews by Rob Lorei at 2 p.m. Sunday.

    * * *

    In many cities, ministers of African-American churches are well-known for their skill at tacitly endorsing a candidate without explicitly endorsing anyone -- politics and religion, you see, are an unholy mix. Usually they do this simply by inviting a candidate to drop by.

    Wednesday night at Temple Beth Torah in vote-rich Broward County, Rabbi Michael Gold introduced Janet Reno with the same sort of sly nod. He referred to a line from the Torah and reminded the 400-odd congregants there: "We need to make choices. We need to choose one."

    "I can't tell you which way to choose. The only thing I can do is open this synagogue up and invite someone very distinguished to come and share her views, to help you choose," Gold said.

    * * *

    Turnout. It's the critical factor for Democrats Bill McBride and Janet Reno in the Sept. 10 primary, and nowhere is turnout more important for Reno than in Miami-Dade and Broward where polls show she's much more popular than McBride.

    Two factors point to a possible surge of Reno voters. Miami-Dade has a countywide referendum on a proposal to repeal a county law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and Broward voters are said to be fascinated by the new touch-screen machines.

    Broward Supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant, brimming with optimism, is predicting a turnout of 25 percent, nearly twice as big a turnout as in 1998. "Everybody's kind of curious now," Oliphant said of the new screens. "I think it's going to be about 25 percent."

    Oliphant might be on to something. The Broward elections office says it is receiving many more requests for absentee ballots than usual, as voters take advantage of a new law that encourages "convenience voting." As of late last week, more than 6,700 Democrats asked for absentee ballots, compared to about 4,900 for the 1998 primary.

    Broward Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar doesn't anticipate a high turnout. With the primary falling between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and with work and school preoccupying many voters, Ceasar says turnout won't exceed the 15 percent of four years ago, the last year Floridians elected a governor.

    -- Adam Smith and Steve Bosquet were on Spin Patrol. Send tips to spinpatrol@sptimes.com

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