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2 U.S. Senate candidates state their case

Gallagher makes his candidacy official, and Logan explains why he'll run as an independent.

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 1999


TALLAHASSEE -- The small conference room at the Florida Press Center was big enough for two U.S. Senate candidates -- Tom Gallagher and Willie Logan -- just not both of them at the same time.

Gallagher, who became the state education commissioner little more than nine months ago, filled the room first Tuesday morning, when he formally announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla.

"What has driven me to this point is a longstanding desire to fight for society's most vulnerable citizens -- the very old and the very young," the Republican read from a written speech.

A few minutes later, Logan held his own news conference, before a smaller crowd of reporters. In response to a question, he conceded that he had experimented with marijuana. He also said he was undecided about whether he believes marijuana should be legalized.

"I've got to decide where I come down on that," said Logan, who said he favored intervention, not prison, for drug addicts. "I'm very concerned about taking a position that would suggest it's okay to use drugs."

Logan, a Democrat from Opa-locka who was first elected to the House in 1982, is running as an independent. He has been feuding with members of his party since Democrats in the state House ousted him from the party leadership last year.

"A major reason I'm running as an independent is that neither of the two major parties are addressing how we can use the federal surplus to meet the needs of the middle class and the working poor," said Logan, also reading from a written speech.

Logan said he would focus his efforts in Washington on three main issues: preparing very young children for school through "school readiness" programs run by public-private partnerships; offering low interest rate loans to boost home ownership; and outlawing assault weapons and requiring that gun owners to be at least 21 and take a gun safety course.

Recent polls indicated Gallagher, 45, is leading his competitor for the Republican nomination for the Senate, U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum of Altamonte Springs.

But the polls also indicate that Gallagher is trailing state Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson, a Democrat, in a potential general election matchup.

It is unclear what impact Logan would have on the race.

At his news conference, Gallagher said he would have voted against the nuclear test ban treaty the Senate rejected last week. He said he would support taxpayer-backed private school vouchers as a nationwide option.

Sharing at least one goal with Logan, Gallagher said he would make school readiness a priority, particularly for poor children.

Gallagher pointed to social programs he has helped launch while education commissioner and while he served as state insurance commissioner from 1988 to 1995. One program was Healthy Kids, which offers subsidized health insurance through public schools.

"Those are the kinds of things that I think we as Republicans should be concerned about," he said.

Leaving the news conference, Gallagher said he was not sure how Logan would affect the race.

"I feel anybody who wants to get in should," Gallagher said as he unlocked the driver side door of a Ford Expedition with his 10-month-old son Charlie in his arms.

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