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May the messiest mudslinger finish last

Published September 3, 2006

I talked to a guy in Tampa the other day who, by his count, has gotten 35 telephone calls from candidates or third-party groups trying to influence his vote in Tuesday's election, often by slamming the other candidate.

They've influenced him, all right. He can't wait to vote against the candidate who called him the most. I'm not going to say which, just so more than one of them might worry.

The campaign that ends with Tuesday's 2006 primary election has been particularly active, and too often nasty.

Basically, they think we're stupid.

They think that all they have to do is say, "Candidate Jones hates puppies and babies," or make up a fake name like "Floridians for Apple Pie," and we will swallow it.

For instance, not in my 25 years in Florida have I seen U.S. Sugar take such an overt role in a governor's race. Apparently the sugar industry believes it can buy itself a governor, spending heavily to attack one of the Democratic candidates, Jim Davis of Tampa, to the benefit of Rod Smith of Gainesville.

It's especially despicable that U.S. Sugar hides behind the names of "Coalition for Justice and Equality" and "Florida's Working Families" and clumsily tries to manipulate African-American and Jewish voters. One mailer implied Davis was soft on Hezbollah. Hezbollah! Good grief.

Meanwhile, Smith plays innocent, says U.S. Sugar's attacks are mostly justified, and says not to worry about how he'll treat the company as governor. Gosh, makes me feel better.

On the Republican side, some outfit called the "Conservative Values Coalition" accuses Tom Gallagher of wanting to take away gun rights. This "conservative" group turns out to be backed, as described in this newspaper's political blog, by "an array of gaming, development and business interests."

Then there's "Floridians for Truth and Integrity in Government," a group that is advertising Gallagher's ethics charge over trading in insurance stocks as insurance commissioner. That's a fair issue - but why is the source the same Virginia outfit that launched the Swift Boat attack ads against John Kerry?

As for Crist, he's the target of the "Coalition to Protect the American Dream." Apparently it thinks Crist is opposed to the American dream. I suspect he would deny it.

This isn't limited to the governor's race. In the Tampa Bay area we have one of the most vigorous races for the state Senate, between Kim Berfield and Frank Farkas in District 16. But even some of the candidates for judgeships can't resist slamming their opponents.

So, one last appeal before Tuesday:

Let's don't swallow it automatically.

Let's treat any group with a name like "Floridians for So-and-So" as a likely fake. Let's consider whether Candidate Jones really hates puppies or little kids.

Maybe the criticism is true and fair - but maybe it isn't. Find out facts for yourself. Look up in past articles on our Web site; it's free. Heck, call the other side (their campaign phone numbers usually are on their mail).

Let's ask ourselves, in the end: Is the best candidate for this office really the one who does the best trashing of the other side?

* * *

Quite a few readers have asked me, once more before Tuesday, to print the roll call of how area legislators voted on the 2003 law to raise local telephone rates in Florida.

Here's who voted yes in the House:

Kevin Ambler, R-Lutz; Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City; Faye Culp, R-Tampa; Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg; Bob Henriquez, D-Tampa; Ed Homan, R-Tampa; Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa; Ken Littlefield, R-Wesley Chapel; Sandy Murman, R-Tampa; Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg.

Here's who voted no in the House:

Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin; Kim Berfield, R-Clearwater; Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; John Carassas, R-Belleair; Charlie Dean, R-Inverness; Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey; Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg; David Russell, R-Brooksville; Leslie Waters, R-Seminole.

Here are the senators who voted yes:

Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island; Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg; Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland.

Here are the senators who voted no:

Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon; Victor Crist, R-Tampa; Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; Tom Lee, R-Brandon; Les Miller, D-Tampa.

[Last modified September 3, 2006, 00:46:11]

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