Lee for Republicans

In the Legislature, Tom Lee has a record as a principled reformer.

Published August 16, 2006

Even as he rose through the ranks to become president of the Florida Senate, Tom Lee remained an independent reformer willing to stand on principle, tackle tough issues and challenge the status quo in Tallahassee. That track record makes the Brandon developer easily the strongest Republican candidate for chief financial officer.

The state's chief financial officer keeps track of how the state receives, spends and invests our tax dollars. The regulation of insurance and banks also are housed in these offices, although their commissioners are appointed by the governor and Cabinet. Beyond the direct responsibilities, the chief financial officer is one of three Cabinet members who, along with the governor, deal with issues ranging from managing the state pension fund to buying environmentally sensitive land to granting clemency. Lee's leadership in the Senate has prepared him well to handle the broad range of subjects.

In any number of areas, the state senator has demonstrated he is willing to stand up to powerful forces and take the long view over political expedience. He helped revise growth management laws to better ensure schools are available for families moving into new neighborhoods - and insisted that the state spend more money to address its transportation needs. He forced the Legislature to look beyond the current year when analyzing the impact of spending and policy decisions. And his advocacy led to the strongest ethics reforms in years.

While Lee has been endorsed by Gov. Jeb Bush, there is a reason he isn't the most popular lawmaker among lobbyists. Without him, the 2005 Legislature never would have forced lobbyists to disclose their fees or banned lawmakers from accepting free food and other gifts paid for by those hired guns. He failed this year to convince lawmakers to end their relationships with so-called 527 groups that are little more than slush funds fueled by special interests, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Lee, 44, defends this year's legislation to address the insurance crisis, which offers some smart incentives to help lure insurers back into the market and for homeowners to fortify their houses. But he recognizes that it does not go far enough, and he has proposed some reasonable solutions while resisting headline-grabbing proposals that sound good but won't work.

His chief opponent in the primary, Rep. Randy Johnson of Celebration, is on leave from running the Central Florida Sports Commission and deserves some credit for sounding the alarm months ago about the insurance crisis. But Johnson, 46, has built his entire campaign to exploit homeowners' fears, and he has not been a particularly effective leader in the Legislature. A third candidate, Milton Bauguess, 63, a Tallahassee investment counselor and insurance agent, is not a credible candidate.

The Times strongly recommends Tom Lee in the Republican primary for chief financial officer.