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    Running mates debate likely a clash of wit

    Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan and state Sen. Tom Rossin's debate tonight may prove livelier than Bush/McBride.

    By WES ALLISON and STEVE BOUSQUET
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 10, 2002


    Frank Brogan has spent the past four years pushing Republican Gov. Jeb Bush's agenda through the state Legislature. Democratic state Sen. Tom Rossin has spent the past four years trying to block it.

    Tonight the two candidates for lieutenant governor face off in the only televised debate between them. Both have been deeply involved in the major issues of the campaign, including education, the state budget and the troubled child welfare system.

    Both are practiced partisans accustomed to spirited debate. And both are armed with barb-sharp wits.

    "I feel very angry about what Bush has done," said Rossin. "I've been saying it on the Senate floor, and I'm going to be saying it now."

    Said Brogan: "I've been working on this debate for four years."

    Unlike the recent encounter between Bush and Bill McBride, the candidates can rebut each other's answers, which should make for a livelier show.

    The moderator is Beth Switzer, host of the PBS show, Florida Face to Face. A panel of public TV and radio reporters will ask questions. WEDU-TV Ch. 3 will broadcast the debate at 8 p.m.

    Brogan was elected lieutenant governor with Bush in 1998, while Rossin is retiring after eight years in the Senate.

    Rossin, the Senate's minority leader, has criticized Bush's policies on child welfare and the state budget. A former banker, Rossin says Bush has irresponsibly cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy, and warns of an impending budget disaster.

    Viewers can expect Brogan, meanwhile, to defend Bush's platform while attacking McBride for offering few specifics on anything but education.

    "It's 55 minutes, once," Brogan said. "It's a discussion of the issues of the day. You sure don't want to do anything that's going to do any harm to the last four years."

    Rossin, 69, moved to Florida from New York City in 1958 to run dairy cows, then attended law school at the University of Miami. He later founded Flagler National Bank.

    Many Democrats were disappointed McBride chose a little-known, fellow white male as his running mate, but McBride cited Rossin's legislative experience, as well as their personal and political compatibility.

    Rossin's role in the campaign has been two-fold: Like Brogan, he often serves as a campaign surrogate, and in recent days attended a Puerto Rican parade in Orlando and campaigned in the rural towns around Lake Okeechobee.

    But his other key role, more so than Brogan, is fundraiser.

    Tuesday, a cocktail party at the 18,000-square-foot, oceanfront home of trial lawyer Robert Montgomery netted nearly $250,000 for the campaign and was largely organized by Rossin. Over the next two weeks, he will be the main draw at smaller fundraisers around the state.

    Brogan, 49, is a career educator who is most confident discussing education. The Cincinnati, Ohio, native worked as a teacher, principal and superintendent in Martin County before he was elected education commissioner in 1994.

    During the campaign, Brogan has dutifully performed his second-banana role, which often requires going to out-of-the-way events such as a barbecue in Bonifay last Saturday, or a quiet dinner with student government leaders at Florida State University.

    Brogan also serves as Bush's legislative lobbyist. He has been holding news conferences in recent weeks to point out issues on which he says McBride has had little to say.

    In public, the easy-going Brogan happily plays the foil to Bush, and is known for his quick wit. At a recent luncheon for police, he watched a line of Florida Highway Patrol troopers move toward a buffet table piled high with fish, hush puppies and grits.

    Said Brogan: "The FHP just gave new meaning to the term 'first responders."'

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