Gallagher admits long-ago affair and marijuana use
By JONI JAMES
Published June 19, 2006
TALLAHASSEE — Florida gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher acknowledged Monday that an extramarital affair played a role in his divorce 27 years ago and that he had used marijuana “a long, long time ago.”
The disclosure by Gallagher, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, came just days after a Florida newspaper showed his campaign staff 24 pages of court documents from his 1979 divorce from his first wife, Ann Louise Gallagher.
The documents include a partial transcript from a court hearing in which his estranged wife’s lawyer alleges Gallagher broke into the marital home by force, stealing the dog and nearly hitting his mother-in-law.
The revelation, forced to light by questions from The Tampa Tribune, could be particularly significant to Gallagher, who has sought to align his campaign with the Republican party’s most ardent, socially conservative voters.
Gallagher called an unusual telephone conference with reporters and distributed the documents himself Monday.
Shortly after the phone call, prominent social conservative and Gallagher supporter John Stemberger issued a statement praising the candidate for coming forward.
“We are not electing a priest or a pastor. We are electing a governor. We all have sins in our life that we are not proud. I expect a governor to be highly qualified-- not perfect,” Stemberger wrote. “There was only one perfect man and they crucified him 2000 years ago. Lets hope that Floridians remember at least one thing about Christians—our ability to forgive.”
No testimony was taken on the allegations and the hearing appeared to have ended with the judge admonishing Gallagher, a Coconut Grove state house representative at the time, to stay away from the marital home, “You are a public figure. You don’t need any adverse publicity.”
There is also a partial deposition of a woman, Stephanie McBee, who acknowledges having an affair with Gallagher starting in 1978 that took place whenever Gallagher was in Tallahassee.
Gallagher largely declined to discuss specific details of his divorce but said he takes full responsibility for his first marriage’s failure and said he made several mistakes in handling it. “Divorces are messy. It was totally my fault,’’ he said.
But he said a rededication to Christ in 1998 has made him a changed man.
“Christ does change lives and I’m a different person because of my relationship with him,” said Gallagher, who married Laura, his second wife, in January 1998.
The court records, some of them illegible, are exactly what the campaign received, Gallagher said. He doesn’t have a copy of all the divorce documents, nor does his lawyer, who has disposed of them per Florida Bar guidelines, he said.
Gallagher, who is vying with Attorney General Charlie Crist for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, was unclear about when he used marijuana, first telling a reporter it was more than 25 years ago. Later he expanded on the topic saying he wasn’t using the drug around the time of the divorce and affair, which is when he also was a state House member. He also told reporters he never used any other illegal drug.
Gallagher’s current wife, Laura Gallagher, appeared on the telephone conference and told reporters she was fully aware of the circumstances surrounding her husband’s earlier marriage as well as his use of marijuana before she married him.
“He told me about all of it and he made it very clear about the man he intended to be,’’ Laura Gallagher said,
“He’s done that and more.”