Adding more drama to an already colorful election, Lawton Bud Chiles III, son of a Florida political legend who served three terms in the U.S. Senate and two terms as governor, announced Thursday he was leaving the Democratic Party and launching a gubernatorial campaign with no party affiliation.
Chiles joins U.S. Senate candidate Gov. Charlie Crist as an independent candidate who can have a major impact on a Florida election in November.
Invoking his fathers campaigning by walking across the state, Chiles said, For several months, I walked alone. Now Im asking Floridians to walk with me.
A graduate of Stanford University, Chiles has never held political office but he has been active in politics, helping his fathers campaigns as well as Sen. Edmund Muskies unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Chiles worked for at Chiles Communications, a public affairs firm based in Tallahassee for 16 years before moving to the HOPE Worldwide organization, working on childrens issues and programs in Africa and the Caribbean. Since then, he founded a real estate development firm in Tallahassee and served as the president of the Lawton Chiles Foundation, working on education issues across the state.
At his announcement, Chiles denounced political corruption and pledged to restore the states education system and protect the environment. The new candidate ripped into Floridas political leadership and pledged he would be different. Chiles said he would not accept any PAC money and will not accept any contributions larger than $250.
The political parties are not the solution, he said. When Im governor, I can do things that my opponents donations will not allow them to do.
Chiles took shots at state CFO Alex Sink, the frontrunner to be Democratic gubernatorial nominee, and Republican candidates Attorney General Bill McCollum and businessman Rick Scott for adding to this political atmosphere by raising large campaign war chests.
One of my opponents told me she will spend $30 million, said Chiles, referring to conversations he had with Sink. It inspired me that I was doing the right thing in getting into the race.
Chiles said it did not matter to him if his independent campaign hurt the Democrats and he rejected being called a spoiler.
My father didnt raise me to have values with the Democratic Party, he said. He raised me to have values with people.
Looking out at the landscape of what he sees as discontented voters, Chiles said, They desperately need inspiration. They desperately need hope coming from Tallahassee.
The reference to hope, conjuring up images of Barack Obamas successful presidential campaign in 2008, may not be wholly accidental. The logo for the Chiles campaign is a sun looking like an "O," rising over curvy blue lines -- very close to the Obama 2008 logo as reporters pointed out to the new candidate.
Chiles called for greater environmental protection and blasted the handling of the oil spill.
This disaster did not start in the Gulf of Mexico, said Chiles. It started right here in the halls of government.
With his background in education, Chiles also said he would work to improve Floridas schools and help out the states teachers.
We will stand up in Florida and we will build a world-class education system, he said.
Chiles recognized the challenges he would have as an independent. While his campaign has launched a website, Chiles is currently relying on his daughter to serve as interim campaign manager. Well be bringing staff on in the days to come.
Im going to be walking, Im going to be working, said Chiles, invoking his father's image one last time. Its going to be a bottom-up campaign.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.