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06-20-06, 08:36 PM #1
Both of Florida's Republican Governor Candidate's admit to smoking pot
TALLAHASSEE -- Republican Tom Gallagher admitted Monday that he smoked marijuana more than 25 years ago and had an extramarital affair, two startling revelations stemming from court documents from his 1979 divorce.
Gallagher's acknowledgment of smoking pot prompted his GOP opponent, state Attorney General Charlie Crist, to remind voters that he, too, had once used the drug -- as Florida's race for governor suddenly turned confessional.
Gallagher, the state's chief financial officer, has built his campaign for governor around his devotion to family and faith. During a conference call with reporters, he spoke publicly at length for the first time about the breakup of his earlier marriage.
"I take full responsibility for my actions being the reason for the divorce, and they speak for themselves," said Gallagher, 62. "I made some mistakes in that marriage, and I regret those."
Joined on the call by his current wife, Laura, a somber Gallagher said he decided to come forward after The Tampa Tribune showed his campaign about 25 pages of documents accumulated in his divorce from Ann Louise Gallagher.
The documents included a transcript of a combative exchange between lawyers over what appears to be his estranged wife's request for a restraining order, as well as a former legislative aide's account of an affair she had at the time with Gallagher, then a Miami-Dade County state representative.
"I've done some things earlier in my life that were not right," Gallagher said Monday. "And I'll never defend them or make excuses. But I've learned from those mistakes, and I believe I've become a better person for them."
Laura Gallagher said her husband told her about the circumstances of his first marriage's break-up before they wed in 1998. The couple has a son, Charlie, 7, who, like Laura, frequently attends Gallagher campaign events.
"Tom and I have discussed all of these issues before we were married, including his divorce and even that he tried marijuana," Laura Gallagher said. "It's difficult to acknowledge past mistakes like this, but it's something we all have to do and I'm proud of Tom for doing that. I love my husband."
Gallagher said he smoked marijuana more than 25 years ago but couldn't remember the exact date. He said he has not used any other illegal drugs.
Conservative supporters of Gallagher were quick to praise him for confronting the missteps of his past during an era when he was known as one of the Capitol's most freewheeling partyers.
"The electorate is very forgiving as long as a person is honest and straightforward," said John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer and president of the Florida Family Policy Council. "Everybody knows about Tom's past, it's no surprise. But I'm very impressed by the way he's responded."
The revelations, though, clash with the political turf Gallagher has tried to claim as his own in his Republican primary fight with Crist, who continues to lead in most polls.
Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, said marijuana use isn't the same political stigma it once was for voters, nor are they shocked by most details that emerge in divorce cases.
"I don't think this is going to be very damaging," Coker said. "But I think the campaign was already facing bigger hurdles before this came along."
On Monday, Crist's campaign said the candidate had smoked marijuana during his college days but came to consider it a mistake he now regrets. Crist acknowledged the drug use during his 2000 campaign for education commissioner, the campaign said.
Gallagher, the state's chief financial officer, said little about allegations contained in the June 13, 1979, transcript of a court hearing in which he was accused of being drunk, breaking a door lock to enter his wife's home and threatening her mother in an effort to retrieve his sheepdog named Samantha.
But he insisted he wasn't intoxicated or acting in a belligerent manner.
"I went to get my dog, it was the wrong thing to do and I shouldn't have done it, and I regret that I did it," Gallagher said. "It's 27 years ago, and lawyers on both sides get all worked up in these things." Gallagher refused to speculate on how the Tribune got the documents about the break-up of his 10-year marriage.
Vivian Myrtetus, a Crist spokeswoman, replied "absolutely not," when asked if that campaign had provided them to the newspaper. Myrtetus also said she was not aware of any Crist supporters that might have obtained the documents and passed them on.
Janet Weaver, executive editor of the Tribune, said she had a "general idea" of how the paper got the court material but declined to disclose it.
She said, however, the story the paper had been working on centered on Gallagher's treatment by the court system at the time of the divorce.
In the transcript released Monday, the unidentified judge presiding over the Gallagher hearing at one point tells him, "I do not want to embarrass you by entering an order that would be a matter of public record."
The judge also earlier told Gallagher that he didn't want to have anything in the record that could be used "against you in the future in one of your future campaigns."
After several more pages of fierce exchanges between the lawyers, the judge said, "It's a lucky thing that these two litigants have got me as a judge to protect them against you two lawyers."
Gallagher at the time responded, "Amen."
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