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    Democrats to change radio ad about Bush


    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000

    TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Democratic Party has agreed to correct a statewide radio ad that blames Gov. Jeb Bush for the criminals and drunken drivers on Florida highways.

    Bush complained Wednesday after seeing the text of an ad campaign the Democrats plan to start today.

    The original text of the 60-second ad begins: "If you are a criminal or a drunk driver you're going to like this news: Gov. Jeb Bush has told the Highway Patrol that because of the state's budget crisis, they are to cease patrolling our highways and reserve their gas only for emergencies."

    The ad goes on to suggest that state troopers are sitting in their cars "with the motors off, waiting for something bad to happen." It also accuses Republicans of misspending a $1.2-billion surplus by giving tax breaks to the rich.

    "Gas for limousines, but no gas for highway patrol cars?" the ad asks. "On Election Day we need to elect Democrats to get priorities straight in Tallahassee."

    After hearing from the governor, Democratic Party spokesman Tony Welch said the party agreed that the governor could not actually be blamed for the budget cuts at the FHP.

    "So we're tweaking the ad," Welch said.

    But the original ad will run as written for at least half of today while the changes are made, Welch said.

    Bush said he was outraged by the ad and asked the Democrats to apologize to the FHP. He said Fred Dickinson, executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, asked for voluntary conservation in an attempt to control costs.

    "I did not request this voluntary reduction," Bush said. "But I applaud Dickinson's efforts to control energy costs at a time when fuel prices are skyrocketing."

    Bush said no one's safety is being compromised by the reductions.

    Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas said the ad represents a "new low in Florida politics" and accused the Democrats of trying to scare Floridians by making it appear that criminals and drunken drivers will be roaming the streets as a result of budget cuts.

    "This is completely false and misleading," said Cardenas. "Democrat leaders obviously care more about winning votes at any cost than about the safety of the millions of drivers on Florida roadways."

    FHP Col. Charles C. Hall has asked troop commanders to identify areas where spending can be reduced in the face of a $500,000 gasoline expense overrun.

    The FHP is among state agencies that have been asked to identify areas where spending can be reduced despite higher gas prices at the pump.

    The patrol has budgeted $2.4-million for fuel for the year ending June 30, 2001, and has already spent more than $850,000, according to Hall.

    On Oct. 2, Hall asked troop commanders around the state to voluntarily reduce gas consumption by 20 percent but did not impose mandatory mileage restrictions.

    "Each troop commander should develop and institute mileage reduction plans without disrupting service to the public," Hall said.

    In addition, the FHP postponed a recruit class that was supposed to begin this month until February of next year to reduce a projected deficit in salaries. In addition, the patrol will closely monitor purchases of furniture, office supplies and other items.

    Welch said the party will run the ad on the radio statewide. He said the original ad was not broadcast but was apparently leaked to the GOP by someone.

    "We think the whole issue is about Republican priorities," Welch said. "We're trying to support the FHP and the Democratic Party."

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