ATLANTA - Florida Treasurer Tom Gallagher said this week that he is entering the race for governor, ending months of speculation about whether he would run.
The two-term treasurer joins a field of four other Republican candidates vying to take on Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, in November. They are: Jeb Bush, the former president's son; Florida Secretary of State Jim Smith; state Sen. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville; and Ken Connor, an anti-abortion activist and Tallahassee lawyer. The Republican primary is set for Sept. 8.
"The Republican Party needs a get-it-done winner, Tallahassee needs a get-it-done leader, Florida needs a get-it-done governor," Gallagher said Monday in Tallahassee. "I'm applying for the job."
In his speech, Gallagher stressed crime prevention and reform of the state's education and welfare system. He characterized both Chiles and Bush, his chief Republican opponent, as ineffectual.
"Lawton Chiles is a nice man, a well intentioned man; so is Jeb Bush," Gallagher said. "But Florida needs a problem solver as governor; [it] doesn't need another typical politician practicing politics as usual."
Gallagher, who is making his third run for governor, was a legislator before becoming treasurer and insurance commissioner in 1989. He has gained prominence since Hurricance Andrew struck Southern Florida in August 1992. His supporters say his activist stance on behalf of consumers has proven his effectiveness as a statewide leader.
Supporters also say that a controversial proposal that Gallagher made in December to solve the state's prison overcrowding crisis through a voter-approved 1 cent sales tax increase shows that Gallagher is an innovator. Political opponents have attacked the initiative, which would bring in an estimated $1.7 billion in new revenues, as an unnecessary tax hike.
"In the real world, what counts is finding a viable solution to problems," Pete Dunbar, Gallagher's campaign chairman, said in an interview yesterday. "When it comes to dealing with the prison issue, everybody else is taking a sleight-of-hand approach."
Dunbar, former state legislature and general counsel under former Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, also said that Gallagher's late entrance does not pose problems for the candidate.
"We think we are entering the race at just the right time. People don't pay attention to a long campaign," Dunbar said. "The important thing is that Tom is willing to take the issues head on and not talk platitudes."
With Gallagher officially in the race for governor, Bill Nelson, a former U.S. Democratic congressman who conducted a unsuccessful 1990 campaign for governor, said Monday that he would run for treasurer. Another Democrat, Miami lawyer Karen Gievers, previously announced she will seek the post.
According to a survey of state voters released Tuesday but conducted a few days before Gallagher's announcement, the treasurer ranked second in popularity among Republicans, behind Bush.
The poll found 33% support for Bush, 21% for Gallagher, 14% for Smith, 12% for Crenshaw, and 2% for Connor.
In a head-to-head race between Chiles and Gallagher, the survey found 49% favored the incumbent, 36% backed the treasurer, and 15% were undecided. In a Chiles-Bush matchup, 45% said they would vote for Chiles, 38% for Bush, and 16% were undecided.
The poll, conducted between May 17 and May 19 by Mason Dixon Political/Media Research, has 3.5% margin of error.
Gallagher ran for the governorship in 1982 and 1986. In 1982, Gallagher announced that he would take on then-Gov. Bob Graham, but dropped out of the race when we was unable to raise enough money. Four years later, he came in third in a Republican primary featuring five candidates led by Bob Martinez.