McCollum's goals if elected Fla. gov look familiar

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2009 1:18 PM

Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum has a to-do list if elected governor that looks a lot like the one Gov. Charlie Crist had in 2006: education, lawsuit limits, property insurance and property taxes.

Does that mean Crist didn't follow through on his goals? McCollum wouldn't go there.

"I'm not going to comment on Governor Crist and his performance in office," McCollum said. "I'm looking at being the next governor of Florida and I'm more than happy to talk about where I think the state should be going."

McCollum told about 30 supporters at a $50 a plate fundraising breakfast that Florida needs to build an economy that doesn't rely so heavily on tourism and agriculture. To do so, those issues, as well as keeping taxes low and regulation fair, need to be addressed.

In 2006, Crist, also a Republican, had a similar message. While he's taken steps to reduce property taxes, he hasn't made major changes to the school system and never followed through with new ideas on a promise to further protect businesses and doctors from lawsuits. Also, state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. remains Florida's largest property insurer with more than 1 million policies, though it has about 200,000 fewer policies than when Crist took office.

Crist, who was traveling the state to promote a commuter and transit rail bill he signed Wednesday, wasn't immediately available for comment. Phone and e-mail messages were left with his press secretary.

McCollum told supporters that businesses "need to see that Florida has its act together and that we know where we're going." He later added, "That's the kind of thing the people of Florida want, they want the leadership to get there."

Afterward, McCollum said even Crist would likely acknowledge that Florida has a long way to go in improving schools. McCollum said he wants to build on Gov. Jeb Bush's overhaul of the school system. Bush preceded Crist.

"We've got a lot more work to do," McCollum said. "We need to have a dramatic improvement to our public education system."

McCollum said the state also needs to do more to attract major insurers so it can shed Citizens policies.

"The state's far too into the insurance business, and it needs to be receding from that. Citizens will probably have a role for a long time to come, but it's certainly way to big," McCollum said.

Changes in the litigation system are also a top priority, McCollum said.

"This doesn't mean putting lawyers out of business _ I'm a lawyer, I want to see them prosper _ but they ought to prosper the right way and we need to have reforms," he said.

McCollum is being challenged by state Sen. Paula Dockery in the Republican primary. Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is the only major Democrat seeking the seat Crist is leaving after one term to run for Senate.

Crist was considered the heavy favorite to win the Senate seat when he got in the race in May, but is now facing a surprisingly strong primary challenge from former House Speaker Marco Rubio. Rubio has gained in the polls by challenging Crist's Republican principles, most notably Crist's support of the $787 billion federal stimulus package.