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Fundraising creates big gap in House District 35 race

Let's start with the cash.

If money says anything about a candidate, then the campaign contributions to Republican House District 35 incumbent Robert Schenck and his Democratic challenger, Rose Rocco, tell dramatically different stories about their reach, focus and donors.

Schenck, vying for his fourth and last term, holds a commanding lead in the fundraising department.

Since January 2011, he has pulled in more than $250,000 in donations and in-kind contributions. Rocco, meanwhile, has taken in a little more than $7,800 in donations, loans and in-kind contributions.

Advantage: Schenck. By about 32 times.

But that large discrepancy might not be the most stark fundraising contrast. Note the following differences, as of their most recent filings:

• Of Schenck's 473 contributions, 11 came from within Hernando County. He had 81 donations from 23 states.

• All but nine of Rocco's 112 contributions came from within the county. The rest come from within the state.

• The Republican Party of Florida has been much more generous to Schenck than the Democrats have been to Rocco. Schenck has received more than $30,800 in in-kind contributions, including money for campaign staff, consulting and polling. Rocco hasn't gotten a cent.

• Schenck boasts donations from a wide range of political organizations, health care groups, pharmaceuticals and other major corporations. Rocco's largest group of donors? Hernando retirees — by a wide margin.

• And just for fun: Rocco has the advantage when it comes to small donations. She has 86 of $50 or less; Schenck has five.

• • •

Schenck and Rocco, both of whom served previously on the Hernando County Commission, are just as different when it comes to policy and approach.

Rocco emphasizes communication, her participation in local organizations and an agenda that puts local issues on the front burner. Schenck is running on a record of slicing state spending, reforming the state pension system, tackling pill mills and reducing the cost of Medicaid.

Rocco says she will be a stronger voice in Tallahassee for Hernando voters.

She wants to stabilize Citizens Property Insurance rates, protect Hernando's environmental resources and improve the county's infrastructure to attract more businesses to the county.

"To get good businesses to come down here, they're not really looking at tax breaks anymore," she said. "They're looking at quality of life, infrastructure, what's here that they can really work with.

"I would work on really building a good environmental situation here. I'm talking total environment, where you've got a good educational situation."

Recently, Rocco sounded the alarm when Citizens threatened large increases in premiums for sinkhole insurance, and she has been critical of rules that allow people to collect insurance settlements without using the money for repairs.

Rocco, a permanent Hernando resident since 1993, touts her work and accomplishments in the community.

Among her proudest accomplishments: her efforts to address the needs of the predominantly African-American south Brooksville community through the Community Initiatives Team when she was on the County Commission.

She has served on a host of other committees and initiatives, including a countywide recycling and cleanup effort, her community civic association and crime watch, and an organization supporting the blind.

Rocco says she's running to give people a choice.

"I've had it with what's going on. I really have had it," she said. "I know if I go up there, I'll be able to accomplish a lot. I'm a fighter when it comes to those things. I see the issues that we have to deal with in the county and the state, and I don't feel Rob has been as aggressive as he could be.

"He talks the talk, but he doesn't walk the walk."

• • •

Schenck says he wants to finish what he set out to do in the Legislature: make Florida more business friendly, diversify its economic base and continue to cut government waste.

"I think we've done a good job in the last three years," he said.

He said one of his top priorities is to shorten the amount of time it takes for businesses to get started. He said business owners need to know how long it takes to get up and going before they relocate or expand.

"That's where we're trying to give Florida an edge," he said.

Schenck said that involves cutting red tape, making the permitting process faster by reducing the number of agencies involved and eliminating unaccountable bureaucrats.

The goal: to bring more diversity to the Hernando County economy. He sees creating more diverse jobs as the biggest challenge facing the county.

"I think we're just now starting to get some momentum with that," he said.

Among his victories in Tallahassee, Schenck cites efforts to reform Medicaid in 2011, cutting costs and improving the quality of health care.

"That was the biggest piece of change to Medicaid since the mid '60s," he said.

He also emphasizes his work to shut down so-called pill mills that dispense pain medications in Florida. He routinely says that the state has gone from the easiest place to get oxycodone to the toughest.

Schenck had to compromise on the bill he introduced.

As initially written, it called for the repeal of a prescription drug monitoring database. That, among other measures, had to be added to garner support.

Schenck said that's what had to be done to get the bill passed.

"It's still my position that the database has done absolutely nothing. It has not helped," he said. "You can either call that the art of compromise or the art of making of sausage, one of the two, but, for the greater good, it was included in the bill."

Danny Valentine can be reached at or (352) 848-1432.

>>fast facts

The candidates

ROBERT SCHENCK, 37, of Spring Hill came to Spring Hill from New Jersey in 1980 and is seeking his fourth and final term in the state House before reaching term limits. He was elected to the Hernando County Commission in 2002 and quit the job in 2006 to run for the House seat.

Platform: Schenck pledges to promote a more business-friendly climate in Florida, emphasizing job development and job creation. He says he will continue to work to shrink the state budget and get rid of useless regulations.

ROSE ROCCO, 71, hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., and has been a permanent Hernando resident since 1993. She's vying for state office for the first time. Rocco served one term on the Hernando County Commission before losing in 2010.

Platform: Rocco says she would work in a bipartisan way to bring more economic development to the state and Hernando County. She wants to protect Florida's water and strengthen local control of the natural resource. She also wants to work to improve communication between state, local and federal agencies, and to get more affordable rates from insurance companies.

Fundraising creates big gap in House District 35 race 10/17/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 8:12pm]
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