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    Group: McCollum anti-environment

    An environmental group says he has a poor record. A McCollum aide says that's not true.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 29, 2000

    TALLAHASSEE -- A second special-interest group has lined up against GOP Senate candidate Bill McCollum, this time to attack his record on environmental issues.

    The non-profit League of Conservation Voters named McCollum to its "Dirty Dozen," a list of congressional candidates the group has targeted for defeat this year. Eight of the nine candidates named so far by the generally liberal advocacy group are Republicans.

    McCollum and Democrat Bill Nelson are battling to replace retiring Sen. Connie Mack, a Republican targeted by the league in 1988.

    McCollum, an Orlando-area Congressman, is among "the most anti-environmental candidates in the country" with an "alarming" record of voting against measures to protect Florida's air and water, said the group's political director, Betsy Loyless, at a news conference Thursday.

    Loyless declined to say whether the group would spend any of its $3-million campaign budget to air TV ads against McCollum, as it has done in other federal and state races. Another interest group, Handgun Control Inc., already has spent $250,000 on a TV ad campaign attacking McCollum's congressional votes against various gun control measures.

    "Bill McCollum is proud of his environmental record," said Shannon Gravitte, a McCollum campaign spokeswoman. "I think the real pollution in this race is Bill Nelson and his liberal interest-group friends."

    In a related development Thursday, the Republican Party of Florida took a hit from the AARP for a TV ad the party aired against Nelson. The AARP, which does not endorse political candidates, issued a news release demanding the party take down the ad, which "attempts to link AARP to an attack on Bill Nelson," the release said.

    The ad refers to Nelson's 1985 vote in Congress against a cost-of-living increase for Social Security recipients, which he defends as a one-time event crucial to balancing the federal budget. The measure was "denounced by the AARP," the ad says.

    After the AARP complained to party officials this week, Republican Party executive director Jamie Wilson told the group the ad already was scheduled to end Wednesday and would be taken down then. An AARP official saw the ad Thursday in Orlando, however, and issued a statement demanding its removal.

    Wilson said Thursday that he had been misinformed about the ad schedule and had relayed the incorrect information to AARP. The ad, in fact, was slated to end Thursday night, not Wednesday, Wilson said.

    At a news conference, the League of Conservation Voters highlighted five McCollum votes that it says pitted the congressman against environmental interests.

    Between 1985 and 1998, McCollum voted against a "right-to-know" law that created a national inventory of chemical releases into the environment, and supported measures that would have weakened the Clean Water Act and halted further cleanup of toxins in lakes and harbors, Loyless said.

    In 1997, McCollum voted for a bill backed by homebuilders that would have stymied local planning and growth-management efforts, she said.

    The League of Conservation Voters gave McCollum a 27 percent approval rating, out of a possible 100 percent, for the votes he has cast during 20 years in Congress. Nelson, who served in Congress from 1978 to 1990, received a 54 percent rating for those years, excluding 1990, when he ran for governor of Florida.

    "There's a real difference between Bill Nelson and Bill McCollum," Loyless said, though she stopped short of endorsing Nelson.

    Gravitte, McCollum's spokeswoman, defended McCollum's votes generally as measures aimed at reducing governmental "over-regulation." His vote against the "right-to-know" law was made in defense of farmers, who Gravitte said would have been hurt by the measure.

    The league's scorecard also left out several of McCollum's pro-environment votes and initiatives, Gravitte said, including his support for restoring the Everglades and for increasing the amount of money set aside for conservation and land purchases.

    In 1997, McCollum and U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, secured $26-million to help clean up Lake Apopka, a contaminated lake near Winter Park, said John Wehle, assistant executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, which is involved in the project.

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