Capitol Not Quite Millionaires' Club; Financial Disclosure by Legislators Comes with Few Surprises

Article excerpt

Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist, who campaigned for the state's highest office by stressing his ties to everyday Floridians, has a bank account to match his words.

Recently filed financial disclosure forms show Crist has a net worth of $438,938 - with holdings such as a $123,000 IRA, a $100,000 Fidelity Investments account, a $129,000 state salary and a $23,000 bank account.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, by comparison, consistently reported net worths between $1 million and $2 million on the annually required forms.

Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller said Crist's financial portfolio shows he is not a man driven by wealth, noting that Crist was a lawyer for 20 years before moving into the state's executive branch in 2000.

"It's very clear that Charlie has not been motivated to take positions that would produce the greatest income for him, because most lawyers who have been practicing as long as him have a much more substantial salary," Geller said. "But when he's looking to deal on issues like insurance and taxes, it does enable him to deal more with common citizens. He's very much a man of the people."

Among the 15 Northeast Florida senators and representatives, Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, is once again among the wealthiest, with a net worth of $6.25 million. King, 67, sold a successful personnel recruiting firm in 1997 and now owns homes in Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Welaka - plus another 17 residential rental properties in Welaka and Jacksonville.

Does such wealth make it difficult to relate to the needs of everyday Floridians? King said no, noting that he has passed several pieces of legislation benefiting the less-affluent. That includes a bill that lowered state registration fees for small businesses, as well as funding support for local groups and charities such as Operation New Hope, Fresh Ministries and the Stewart-Marchman rehabilitation center.

King also said his hardscrabble roots and the fact that so much of his wealth is in real estate makes it difficult to think of himself as affluent.

"I was poor a whole lot longer than I've been wealthy," he said. "Until I sold my companies, I lived a very hand-to-mouth existence. I grew up in a lower-middle income family, and I know what it's like to have three jobs to make ends meet."

The second-most affluent Northeast Florida legislator, Rep. Bill Proctor of St. Augustine, reported a net worth of $2.7 million. Proctor said the majority of his money is tied up in trusts for his wife and grandchildren, and that he inherited much of it himself from a great-uncle.

Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, who was recently elected to fill the seat vacated by Nancy Argenziano, reported a net worth of about $1.9 million.

MOST ALREADY WEALTHY

The least-affluent area lawmaker, Sen. Tony Hill, reported a net worth of $275,000 but agreed with King that affluence doesn't necessarily make a legislator tone-deaf to lower-income Floridians. Hill said that's because term limits, the part-time nature of the Legislature and the cost of running for political office have created a situation where most legislative candidates have already accumulated considerable wealth. …