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Education, health care top candidates' agendas for House District 46

State Rep. John Legg wants to return to the House of Representatives next year. The Republican, who has become an influential legislator on education issues, says he's got unfinished work to do.

On the top of his list: education reform. Insurance rate and property tax relief. Consumer protection laws.

But unlike his 2006 bid for re-election, Legg faces two challengers in this year's District 46 race.

One is Democrat Ron Rice, a Hillandale Estates resident and first-time political candidate who works in Clearwater's land survey department.

Rice, 40, who has volunteered for other Democratic campaigns, said he was moved to run partly because of the economy.

"I look around my neighborhood," he said, "and I see people struggling."

The father of two girls, ages 8 and 6, Rice has seen his own share of struggles, particularly when it comes to health care. His younger daughter, Madalynn, was diagnosed with kidney cancer when she was a baby. She has been cancer-free for five years, but Rice remembers well the twice-a-week drives to All Children's Hospital for chemotherapy, the $200 a week in co-pays, the other families caring for sick children and dealing with lots of bills.

"It cannot be anything other than a life-changing experience," he said.

Health care, job creation and education are on his list of important issues. To help deal with revenue shortfalls, Rice said he would also call for a review of the state's sales tax exemptions. He said the state is losing a lot of money by having one of the nation's lowest tax rates on cigarettes.

The third person in the race is non-party candidate John Ubele of Bayonet Point, a leader in a white separatist group who lost a 2006 bid for the Pasco County Mosquito Control Board.

Ubele, 30, is a high-ranking member of the St. Petersburg-based Nationalist Coalition, a group that says whites should have their own "living space." A posting on the Web site of ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke praises Ubele as "unmistakably a pro-white candidate."

A blogger for the online Jewish Journal, which has taken note of Ubele's candidacy, called him a "scary political candidate."

Ubele has not made a white separatist agenda an overt part of his political campaign. He says his priorities include cutting state legislators' salaries, helping people learn to grow their own produce, expanding auxiliary programs for law enforcement agencies and supporting parents who homeschool their children.

Neither Rice nor Ubele has managed to match Legg in fundraising. As of last week, Legg had picked up $159,221 in contributions, compared to $11,391 for Rice and $3,645 for Ubele.

Legg, 33, founder of Dayspring Academy charter school, says he wants to use his position on a House education committee, the Schools and Learning Council, to help "transform education."

That includes expanding career academies, focusing on end-of-course exams, reforming the state's gifted programs and working on legislation that he hopes will lower drop-out rates and improve technical programs for students who are not bound for higher education.

Legg, who is married and has four children, said he has changed in one major way since he was first elected in 2004: Though he considers himself a classic conservative, he said he has a new appreciation for the role government can play in such realms as protecting consumers from unfair business practices.

"I thought of things in red and blue," he said. "But there is a lot more spectrum … I'm not as Republican on all issues as I thought I was."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Education, health care top candidates' agendas for House District 46 10/21/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 24, 2008 6:09pm]
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