Nelson for U.S. Senate

A Times Editorial
Published October 15, 2006

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Katherine Harris labels Democrat Bill Nelson, the incumbent, a "liberal." Some real liberals refer to Nelson's politics as "Republican lite." That would put him somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum, which is where most Floridians are as well.

That's not the only reason to favor Nelson over Harris, or even the main reason to elect him to a second six-year term. When it comes to experience, stability, work ethic and knowledge of the issues, Nelson is far superior to Harris. As Florida's senior senator, he projects the image voters should want in a time of turmoil: quiet competence.

If there is any complaint to be made about Nelson, 64, it is that he is too reticent at times to take a strong stand on the issues. Yet his best moment in office came when he stood alone on the Senate floor threatening a filibuster unless Senate leaders slowed their rush to open Florida's coast to offshore drilling. Nelson also was willing to share the spotlight on that issue with the state's junior senator, Republican Mel Martinez. It was a welcomed show of bipartisanship in a divided Congress.

Voters can expect no such altruism from Harris, 49, who rode her notoriety as Florida's defiant secretary of state during the 2000 election fiasco to the U.S. House. As a representative, she has been an embarrassment, embroiling herself in a scandal involving a defense contractor convicted of bribing a California representative. Although not charged with a crime, Harris had trouble keeping her stories straight about expensive meals she shared with the defense contractor, who has been convicted of bribing another member of Congress, and campaign contributions she accepted from his employees.

On the issues, Floridians should find themselves generally comfortable with Nelson's positions. For example, he favors more financial accountability in Congress by requiring that a funding source be identified for any new spending. Of course, that stand should also apply to Social Security and Medicare, which Nelson would protect from cutbacks.

To understand the stark difference between the two candidates, listen to what they say about illegal immigration. Nelson wants to strengthen the borders but recognizes, along with President Bush, that foreign workers are a vital part of our economy. Harris' simplistic answer is to build a fence along the border with Mexico. She accuses Nelson (and presumably Bush) of proposing amnesty for some of the 12-million workers and their families already here, yet she ignores the reality that Florida's strawberry and citrus crops could rot in the fields because agricultural workers have been scared off by such rhetoric.

"Amnesty is what we have now," Nelson says, "because nobody is paying attention to the law."

Like the Harris agenda, her campaign is a mess. She ran off campaign aides with her volatile personality and failed to settle on a theme other than name-calling. She is so desperate for good news at the expense of truth she recently sent out a news release titled "Harris beats Nelson - leads 55 percent to 45 percent." Every major poll has for months shown Nelson with a double-digit lead.

It turns out Harris was referring to a straw poll held during something called Politics in the Park, a Lakeland Chamber of Commerce charity event. Those who paid $25 to attend were allowed to cast a ballot, and a photo in the Lakeland Ledger showed Harris helping a 6-year-old make his choice.

Solving the problems the country faces today will be no picnic in the park. It will take serious deliberation by responsible adults. Only one candidate in this race has those qualifications. The Times strongly recommends Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate.