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Senate-race foes differ in views, styles

State Sen. Anna Cowin says she has worked to improve schools and help families. But Leslie Scales says Cowin is "way far out on the right wing.''


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000

INVERNESS -- State Sen. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg, wants to continue representing this region in the Senate. To do so, she first must get past Leslie Scales, a Marion County School Board member and Democrat.

District 11 includes Citrus County east of County Road 491, as well as all of Lake County and parts of Sumter, Marion and Seminole counties. After voters in the district elected her to office in 1996, Cowin became involved in several high-profile issues.

For example, Cowin was a strong proponent of Gov. Jeb Bush's education plan, which includes vouchers for students in failing schools and a controversial student testing program. Cowin also led an overhaul of the state Department of Children and Families and has fought for a ban on partial-birth abortions, a measure that continues to win approval in Tallahassee but lose constitutional challenges in court.

Cowin won 57 percent of the vote in 1996, soundly defeating former Citrus Sheriff Charles Dean, her Democratic opponent. Cowin's policy positions were well-publicized during the campaign, and she said constituents can expect more of the same if they elect her to a second term.

Scales said the incumbent has taken her mandate too far.

"She's way far out on the right wing," Scales said. "I think she poses a danger. I don't think she's representative of the people."

For example, Scales said that she and most other people support accountability in schools. However, Scales said, Cowin and the Republican majority in Tallahassee are pursuing the matter improperly, with the FCAT program and the voucher plan, which she says has "caused real harm."

The Department of Children and Families is another example, Scales said. Cowin led a move to beef up accountability and change some department policies after Kayla McKean, a 6-year-old girl who lived in her district, was killed. A jury found the girl's father guilty of fatally abusing her.

"It was a personal thing," Cowin said of that work. "It was almost like a mission."

Scales said the words don't mean much without money behind them.

"They say (to Children and Families workers) do it, but do it without the needed resources," Scales said.

Without a doubt, the women hold different views on many issues. They are just as different when it comes to style.

Cowin has earned a reputation as a tough lawmaker in Tallahassee.

"She aims to fix, not to please," is how the Orlando Sentinel editorial board, which endorsed Cowin over Scales, described the incumbent.

Other newspapers and people have not been so charitable. The Wall Street Journal tabbed Cowin as one of the Legislature's "falling stars" this spring, and state Sen. Jack Latvala, the majority leader, was quoted as saying that Cowin had "irritated about every member of the Senate, Democrat or Republican."

Even state Rep. Nancy Argenziano and state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite broke Republican ranks in September and supported Cowin's opponent, Everett Kelly, in the GOP primary. They cited Kelly's ability to work with other lawmakers as one of his chief assets.

But Cowin took 65 percent of the vote in that primary, even though an outside group backed by Florida's trial lawyers issued some mailings attacking her. Cowin and her supporters insist that Cowin is neither as heavy-handed nor as disliked in Tallahassee as her opponents believe.

Cowin "is a conservative voice we need to keep in Tallahassee. We can't afford to not send her up there," said Dick Langley, who previously represented this district in the Senate, when Cowin kicked off her campaign earlier this year.

Bush himself has chimed in with words of praise. "I am truly blessed to have a lot of wonderful partners in Tallahassee, and one of the best is Anna Cowin," the governor said in prepared remarks that the Cowin campaign has circulated.

Scales is a self-described moderate and "people-oriented person." If elected, she promises to open a Citrus office and be more accessible to Citrus residents than she said Cowin has been.

John Smith, the Marion County school superintendent, has worked closely with Scales. Both were elected in 1992 and re-elected four years later. Both have helped guide the Marion school system, which educates 38,000 students in 48 schools and has a $323-million operating budget.

"She is a person of integrity," Smith said. "She really did her homework as a board member."

To date, Cowin has not attacked Scales' record on the School Board. But if she does, she likely will note that, in 1997, Scales supported a half-cent increase in the Marion County sales tax. The revenue would have gone toward school construction.

"It was needed," Scales said. But Marion County voters rejected the measure in September 1997.

Scales claims vindication by noting that, a few months later, the Legislature convened in special session and approved measures to provide school districts with more construction money.

Superintendent Smith, a Democrat, said voters should know about Scales' successes. She helped start an International Baccalaureate program, advocated expansion of magnet programs, pushed for drug-free schools and led a charge to step up the number of school resource officers in Marion.

Those are hardly controversial issues. But Smith said Scales deserves credit for making sure the work got done.

"She was always advocating that these are things we need to do," he said.

Steve Hering, who opposed Scales in the 1996 School Board race, said Scales was more of a "rubber stamp" than a leader.

So far, the campaign has stayed on the high ground: Both candidates have issued mailings touting their good qualities. The only blemish has concerned Scales' practice of issuing a daily news release that describes a Cowin vote.

In one such release, Scales chided Cowin for sponsoring a bill that would remove the requirement that at least one member of each judicial nominating commission be a woman or a member of a racial or ethnic minority group. Cowin said a federal court had declared that requirement unconstitutional, and she was actually trying to add language to the statute that would encourage diversity.

"I cannot stand idly by and watch you make untruthful statements about my record," Cowin wrote in a letter to her opponent earlier this month. Scales said she stands by her news releases.

In the money race, Cowin is the clear winner: Through mid October she had collected almost $400,000 in campaign contributions, about three times as much as Scales had garnered.

Candidates at a glance


AGE: 54

GENERAL BACKGROUND: She lives in Leesburg and was elected to represent Senate District 11 in 1996.

EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND: She earned her bachelor's degree from the College of New Rochelle in New York and her master's degree from Fordham University.

LEGISLATIVE EXPERIENCE: She serves as chairwoman of the Senate's Education Committee, among other leadership roles. She also served on the Lake County School Board from 1982 until 1990 and directed the Florida School Boards Association.

PERSONAL: She is married and has three children.


AGE: 54

GENERAL BACKGROUND: She lives in Weirsdale and is completing her second term on the Marion County School Board.

EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND: She earned her bachelor's degree in education from the University of Florida in 1968.

PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: School teacher, Key Scales Ford in Leesburg and G and S Packing Co., Weirsdale.

PERSONAL: She is married and has two children.

On the issues

Where Senate candidates Anna Cowin and Leslie Scales stand on the issues:

The issue: Tax base

COWIN: "With priorities and accountability, the state's tax base is adequate to maintain and improve Florida's quality of life."

SCALES: "Sales tax exemptions need an objective, unbiased examination. Sales tax spreads the load and allows the tourist to share it. Other states do a better job of utilizing tourist taxes."

The issue: School vouchers and education

COWIN: Sponsored and supported Gov. Jeb Bush's A+ plan and supports measure that provides vouchers to students in chronically failing schools.

SCALES: Would work to ensure complete funding for technology and transportation and find a way to include parents in accountability process. Opposes vouchers and says school accountability process that Cowin champions is flawed, promoting a "culture of testing rather than a culture of learning."

The issue: 'One Florida' plan, college admissions and contracting

COWIN: "More opportunities appear to be available for minority college admission and state contracting" under plan. "I support it. Results should be evaluated over the next three years to confirm its effectiveness."

SCALES: "All groups of people deserve to be fairly considered for college admissions and contracting. What we call it is unimportant, as long as a system is in place to assure such fairness for everyone."

The issue: Abortion

COWIN: Does not support abortion except in cases of rape, incest or life of the mother. Has sponsored legislation calling for ban on so-called partial-birth abortions.

SCALES: Would not attempt to change status quo. Supports consent laws for minors.

The issue: Gambling

COWIN: Oppose casino gambling.

SCALES: Opposes casino gambling. Support parimutuel gambling.

The issue: Growth Management Act

COWIN: Supports changes, but would weigh each provision individually.

SCALES: Would support decision making authority shifting to regional level but not local level. "The lack of enforcement of existing laws is the problem."

The issue: Death penalty

COWIN: Supports death penalty as currently implemented. DNA testing verification should be done where appropriate and possible.

SCALES: Supports.

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