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Frankel plans to seek governorship as 'the anti-Bush'

By PHILIP GAILEY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


Lois Frankel, who plans to announce her candidacy for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination soon, stopped by for a visit the other day to make sure I am not one of those Floridians who has a problem with seeing a woman in the governor's office. As is her style, she was to the point: "You don't have to be a guy to be governor." I assured her I had no trouble seeing a woman in the state's highest office -- or in any other office for that matter. I still have trouble, however, seeing Jesse Ventura as the governor of Minnesota.

Frankel then proceeded to tell me how she intends to nail Gov. Jeb Bush's political hide to the wall if she gets her party's nod. She finds what Bush has done to the state in his first term "disgusting," and if she is lucky enough to be his Democratic challenger, she says she will confront him on his record head-on. She is probably correct in saying none of the other Democrats considering the race knows as much about Bush's record as she does. Frankel led the opposition to Bush in this year's legislative session, the first woman to serve a full term as the Democratic minority leader in the Florida House of Representatives.

She plans to run as "the anti-Bush." She explained, "I'm against nearly everything he is for." And she has a record to prove it. On nearly every major issue in the past session of the Legislature, Frankel fought Bush hard. To her dismay, the governor won most of those battles, including another cut in the state's intangible tax, the restructuring of governance of the university system, funding for public schools, the Republican assault on the independence of the judiciary, an expansion of school vouchers and budget cuts in social services.

Frankel, of course, has a record, too. Republicans will tag her as a tax-and-spend liberal, but she is confident that old Republican trick won't work this time. She believes Floridians are beginning to see how Bush's agenda threatens the state's future. The West Palm Beach Democrat says she is proud of her record of opposition and will not try to blur or soften it if she wins her party's nomination. A clearer choice there could not be than a Bush-Frankel contest.

Whatever one thinks of Frankel, and even Democrats are of a mixed mind, you have to give her this -- she has grit and conviction. In her campaign biography, she quotes Florida Trend magazine's description of her as "big, bad, brave and bold." Big, she's not. But Tallahassee has rarely seen a tougher woman, except for the local grandmother who recently bit a pit bull on the neck to save her small dog.

During this year's legislative session, Frankel sent weekly "Behind the Scenes" e-mails to editors and reporters around the state. A few samples:

After praising Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton, for resisting some of the governor's proposed tax cuts, Frankel wrote: "I can't help thinking though, when Democrats oppose unwise tax cuts they are called tax-and-spend, big-government liberals. When a Republican does the same, he or she is called courageous and wise."

"(Speaker Tom) Feeney called a legislative committee meeting which a circuit judge believed to be illegal. Turns out Feeney was within his rights and guess who backed him up? None other than the Florida Supreme Court he likes to bash all the time. So Speaker Feeney and his toothbrush get to stay out of jail."

"The 2001 legislative session is over. You are temporarily safe."

Before Frankel can tear Jeb Bush apart she has to win the Democratic nomination. And that could be tricky in a field of as many as half a dozen candidates and no run-off election. Frankel's base is South Florida, and she could wind up competing with two other South Florida Democrats -- Daryl Jones, an African-American state senator, and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno -- for votes in the state's most liberal corridor, which includes Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties. That is Frankel's base, which is a problem for her in a three-way split of South Florida votes. Reno's name recognition could give her the advantage, despite her heavy political baggage.

Frankel will have to convince Democratic voters, including women and blacks, that she is the candidate best-equipped to challenge Bush on his record. In her view, Reno is a good Democrat with a nostalgic vision of Florida's future. However, in a debate with the governor, she believes Reno, who spent the last eight years in Washington, would be ill-prepared to make Bush's record the dominant issue of the campaign.

Frankel says she is under no illusions. Even if Democrats reclaim the governor's office, Republicans are likely to hold on to their comfortable majorities in the House and the Senate. But she sees the governor's office as a bully pulpit a Democrat could use, along with her veto pen, to check some of the worst excesses of Republican rule.

As a state representative and most recently as the House Democratic leader, Lois Frankel has shown she knows how to make her voice heard. It makes you wonder what she would do with the megaphone in the governor's office.

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