The Winsome Ways of Daryl Jones

It has nothing to do with being 6’2” without power pumps, but former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno still towers over the Democratic gubernatorial field in name recognition, celebrity status and poll numbers. It’s still a given that the nomination is hers to lose.

But should that actually happen, conventional wisdom says it’s Bill McBride’s to win.

The Tampa attorney leads in fundraising and union endorsements. The high-level Democratic Party activist is more than liberal enough to appeal to the party’s traditional constituencies, while maintaining crossover and independent potential. McBride’s a decorated Vietnam veteran and a successful businessman and civic leader.

Then there’s Daryl Jones, a state senator from Miami who can’t approach McBride’s incrementally increasing poll numbers, let alone Reno’s. Nor has he raised much money or garnered any notable endorsements. He’s also African American, and no black person has even seriously aspired to the office of governor of Florida.

What Jones is — is impressive. He is by far the best public speaker in the race; a trait complemented by chiseled good looks. He’s cocky but not off-putting.

He is an honors graduate of the Air Force Academy and a former F-4 Phantom pilot. He’s a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve as well as a practicing attorney and an investment-banking consultant in Miami.

A 12-year legislator, state senator since 1992 and current Democratic Leader Pro Tempore, Jones goes right after economic development, education and public safety as top priorities.

“International trade is where it’s at,” he told a gathering of political junkies at a recent Tiger Bay Club of Tampa luncheon. He wants to broaden the state’s tax base by making Florida the hemispheric distribution center for international trade. That means, stressed Jones, making major improvements in transportation links — both railroad and highway — from Florida’s airports and seaports.

Not unlike his rivals, Jones took shots at anything having to do with education and Gov. Bush, most notably vouchers and FCAT implementation. “I’m not sure public education can survive this,” he warned.

He also shot one across the bow of higher education.

“We consistently field three football teams ranked in the top 10,” he pointed out. “We need three universities that rank (academically) in the top 50. The best and brightest leave; most never to return. Except to retire.”

On security matters, Jones wants the National Guard and reserve units to train local authorities in combating bio-terrorism.

“We are trained to not only survive, but thrive in an NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) environment,” explained Jones. “We have the equipment that will enable us to function at full capacity if we are attacked.

“I queried law enforcement about their capability of doing the same,” Jones said. “Would there be an uncontrolled panic? Are you able to maintain the peace in such an environment? The answer was not encouraging.

“I believe that we need additional training among our civilian forces,” emphasized Jones, “so that they may function at required levels in the event of a nuclear, biological or chemical attack so that we can increase our chances for survival and react appropriately.”

As for the taxing soap opera still unfolding in Tallahassee, Jones characterized it this way: “(Senate President John) McKay really wants tax reform. (House Speaker Tom) Feeney really wants a congressional district. And who knows what the governor wants?”

Jones finds merit in McKay “taking on the (tax-reform) mantle of five former governors,” but wonders about his strategy. He said the better approach is to first max out on governmental efficiency and “economic policies that grow the economy” before looking at taxes. “We have an obligation to exhaust the first two before raising taxes.”

As to how he would reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable if he were governor, Jones noted: “You can get just about anything done in Tallahassee, if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

“I understand the process,” he underscored and took a jab at Tampa’s hometown candidate. “Bill McBride is bright and sharp, but knows almost nothing about state government.”

Jones also handled the predictable question on whether he would except a lieutenant governor’s spot on the ticket in predictable fashion. Of course, he’s “not running” for the number two spot, he replied.

But mark it down.

Daryl Jones may or may not accept — or even be offered — the second spot on a Reno or McBride ticket. But he’ll be a major player in maintaining the get-out-the-vote momentum from the presidential election. He’ll help his Party.

And he’ll help his own cause — in 2006. When the lieutenant governor question may not get asked at all.

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