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    Democrats won't pull disputed ad

    The ad claims Republicans cut spending for the Highway Patrol. But the agency says no services have been cut.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Democratic Party chairman on Thursday said that Democrats will keep running an ad that blames Republicans for spending cuts at the Florida Highway Patrol.

    Gov. Jeb Bush urged the party to pull the ad after questioning its accuracy. Although the Democrats agreed to a correction, party chairman Bob Poe said the ad will be pulled only when Republicans can "ensure that the FHP can maintain its current level of patrolling."

    "Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republicans can't hide from the fact that the Florida Highway Patrol is forced to cut back on its patrolling," Poe said.

    "And they can't hide from the fact that their No. 1 priority in Florida has been a huge tax cut, mostly benefiting the wealthy," Poe said. "This is a safety emergency. It's time for Gov. Bush to show some leadership."

    Bush and Fred Dickinson, director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said no FHP service has been cut.

    A spokeswoman for Bush accused the Democrats of "playing fast and loose with the truth" and called Poe's comment "ridiculous."

    Dickinson and Katie Baur, communications director for Bush, said patrols have not been affected by attempts to save money by reducing unnecessary fuel consumption.

    "This ad is a big lie," said Republican Party director Jamie Wilson. "Some political ads stretch the truth; this one has no truth in it."

    The ad says criminals and drunken drivers will like the news that the FHP has stopped patrolling the highways and is reserving gas only for emergencies.

    Actually, an internal FHP memo directs the Highway Patrol to reduce gas mileage without disrupting service to the public.

    Dickinson said the request to troop commanders was issued because the FHP had budgeted $1 per gallon for fuel, but is now having to pay between $1.20 and $1.30 per gallon, a price that does not include the taxes the public pays at the pump.

    "The governor doesn't have the authority to direct us," Dickinson added. "We report to the governor and Cabinet."

    The ad is "so far over the top" that even the Democrats are having to back off, Bush said.

    Democrats said they are merely "tweaking" the ad to eliminate a clause that directly accused Bush of issuing an order for the patrol to cease patrolling the highways and reserve gas for emergencies.

    Bush said his administration increased the state resources being provided for the FHP and gave state troopers an 8 percent pay increase. The increased cost of gas caused the patrol to issue a directive asking for conservation, he said.

    Overall, the FHP budget has increased about 8.6 percent since Bush took office in 1999.

    "If the Democratic Party wants to focus on a failed energy policy, they ought to focus on Washington, where the Clinton-Gore administration has done nothing," Bush said.

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    From the Times state desk