Answers from candidate raise questions

Liz McCallum's replies on an Associated Industries of Florida questionnaire stun some Democratic supporters.

Published August 19, 2006

It's not every day that the state's big business interests are on the same side as the state's largest union group.

But that's what happened with Democratic state House candidate Liz McCallum of St. Petersburg, who has won endorsements from both the Florida AFL-CIO and Associated Industries of Florida. Now some Democratic supporters of McCallum's are questioning whether she's been talking out of both sides of her mouth.

"I'm very upset. What she told AIF is exactly the opposite of what she told me," Tampa lawyer Tom Scarritt said after hearing that McCallum said on her AIF questionnaire that in civil lawsuits she supports capping damages for lost wages or income. "At best, she's not very careful, and that's not good for a legislator."

McCallum, who is running against Bill Heller for the Democratic nomination to succeed Frank Farkas in state House District 52, said her response on capping some damages in civil suits must have been a mistake.

"I don't know why it says that, to be honest with you. I don't support tort reform. I said that in the last election (in 2004), and I've said that in this election," said McCallum, who also told AIF that she thinks Florida lawyers should be regulated by the state instead of the Florida Bar.

"I'm not trying to play both sides of the fence," said McCallum, a 36-year-old part-time media consultant.

Floyd Suggs, president of the West Central Florida Labor Council that helped give the state's AFL-CIO endorsement to McCallum, was taken aback by some of the other positions McCallum took on the internal Associated Industries questionnaire obtained by the St. Petersburg Times.

Unlike Heller, she told AIF that she opposes requiring large employers such as Wal-Mart to provide health benefits and thinks an employer that wins a labor lawsuit should be entitled to reimbursement for legal expenses. Like Heller, she said she supports Florida's at-will employment system and opposes unemployment compensation for workers out of work because of pregnancy.

"I would be surprised at some of those answers," said Suggs, the Tampa Bay labor leader.

McCallum said she was as surprised as anyone else to get the AIF endorsement. She also said that, with more time to research some of the group's questions, she might have answered them differently.

House District 52 covers portions of Largo, Clearwater, unincorporated Pinellas County and north St. Petersburg. By many estimates, it is the most competitive swing district in the state.

AIF endorsed Angelo Cappelli in the Republican primary. Heller also filled out an AIF questionnaire and attended a candidate screening meeting.

"The endorsement may have gone differently if I had answered some of the (AIF) questions differently," said, Heller, 70, the former CEO of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

The biggest differences between Heller and McCallum came on AIF's environmental questions. McCallum's answers tended to favor businesses that wanted opportunities to ease certain environmental regulations, fines and disclosure of violations. Heller disagreed with those positions.

Asked about offshore drilling, McCallum said she supported drilling beyond 100 miles from shore, while Heller checked "nowhere." McCallum said she opposes offshore drilling, but thought "nowhere" could infringe on other states that support offshore drilling.

When asked about assorted answers on the AIF form, McCallum said many of her answers "don't sound like my traditional philosophy" but that some questions seemed nebulous.

In the swing district she's trying to represent, "if you're too far in one direction, you're out of step." McCallum said.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at (727)893-8241 or asmith@sptimes.com.