tampabay.com

Gallagher goes on attack

He says Crist offers only "bumper sticker answers" on insurance.

By JONI JAMES
Published July 21, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - Republican Tom Gallagher, stepping up his campaign to be Florida's next governor, went on the attack Thursday, deriding primary opponent and front-runner Charlie Crist for providing "bumper sticker answers" to Florida's insurance crisis.

Gallagher's comments signaled a renewed effort by his campaign to paint the state's chief financial officer as the more qualified candidate for governor while calling into question Crist's gravitas. Gallagher was speaking to the Capital Tiger Bay, a Tallahassee political club.

Gallagher is attempting to turn a liability - his long ties to Florida's insurance industry as a former insurance commissioner - into a positive. He seeks to portray himself as the candidate with the experience to fix the problem.

"There aren't bumper sticker answers, like we'll make auto insurers sell homeowners (insurance)," Gallagher said, referring to Crist's insurance reform proposal.

"It sounds so good, but if it was that easy we would have done it already. These are tough issues and they require thoughtful and complicated answers."

Gallagher also criticized Crist, Florida's attorney general, for proposing to "blow up" Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-backed insurer of last resort, which Gallagher helped create. Citizens, facing deficits from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, is now charging back-to-back assessments on all Florida property insurance policyholders. And its rates, like those of private insurers, have skyrocketed.

"I have an opponent that says blow it up and get rid of it. That's a popular thing to say," Gallagher said "But there (are) 1.2-million residences - people living in their homes - because they can get (Citizens) insurance. Without it, their mortgages would be called. They would not be able to sell their home or buy a home."

Crist shrugged off the criticism.

"We hear about companies that have chosen to write property insurance in 49 other states but they've drawn a red line around Florida yet they sell auto in our state," Crist said. "That's not right."

In another sign that Gallagher was stepping up his efforts Thursday, his campaign unveiled a third statewide television ad promoting his education proposals.

Gallagher, a foe of school vouchers when he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994, boasts in the ad that he helped distribute the first school vouchers in 1999 as Florida's elected education commissioner. He has said that experience, seeing the impact it had on parents and children, changed his mind and he now supports providing public financing for private school vouchers.