It takes awhile to learn the ropes in Tallahassee, and incumbent state Rep. Ron Schultz says he's just getting started.
Among the former Citrus County property appraiser's long-term goals are property tax reform and creation of the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve along the Gulf Coast.
But to see his plans to fruition, Schultz will need to ward off conservative newcomer Jimmie T. Smith in the Aug. 24 Republican primary election in House District 43, which includes Citrus County and parts of Hernando and Levy counties.
Smith, a retired Army sergeant, decided last spring to run for office.
"I believe in real representation," Smith said. "We don't have a good connection between the people and the people who are in elected office."
Smith says he fully supports the tea party movement in its efforts to throw out moderate incumbents and pull the Republican Party back to what he sees as its conservative roots.
For Schultz, the election is about experience, not politics.
"I have spent my career learning how one makes government operational in a democracy," Schultz said. And he said he has learned a lot during his three years representing District 43. Newcomers to the Legislature make the transition from freshman to gofer and then to decisionmaker, he said.
His 27 years as property appraiser, first in Pinellas County and then in Citrus, give him a unique knowledge base to help effect change in Tallahassee, he said.
"I've been able to make a difference in how we pass and implement taxation," he said. "I've got the background and experience to understand not just how it reads, but how it's going to be applied in the field."
To finance his campaign, Schultz has collected $24,250, including numerous donations from political action committees, professional associations and corporations, such as Tampa Electric Co. The majority of his contributions are for the maximum amount of $500.
Smith has raised $8,268, mostly in donations from individuals for $100 or less.
Both Schultz and Smith were born up North and came to Florida during their elementary school years. Both are Republicans and believe in local control. And they'd like to see greater representation from the public within government.
But that's where the similarities end in a campaign where, with no Democrats running and all registered voters eligible to cast ballots, the primary victor will win the race.
Smith, 41, spent eight years attending Citrus County schools and joined the Army at 17. He earned his diploma by passing the General Educational Development test while living in Asia. He traveled and worked overseas extensively, spending a significant amount of time in Korea and Panama, where he met his first wife.
Smith's years overseas taught him a lot about the world, including the importance of keeping power local, he said. In countries where power was held among a small group at the top, he said, it was easier for corruption to occur.
"This is one of the reasons I'm a strong proponent of less government," he said. "If you need a more active government, it should be at the local level."
Smith's first marriage didn't work out, and when he retired from the Army in 2003 he soon found his way back home near family in Citrus County.
He worked for Harvey Lumber and then Stype Pest Control. In 2008, he was hired by Securitas Security as a guard at Progress Energy's nuclear power plant in Crystal River, where his military background has come in handy and he says he enjoys what he does.
He has volunteered with the Inverness Kiwanis Club, the Citrus County Young Republicans, the Nature Coast Young Marines and the Citrus County Veterans Coalition, and is married to Lisa Calabrese-Smith, with whom he has a 3-year-old daughter. Smith is also stepfather to three other children and a grandchild.
He has strong traditional values and says his father taught him the value of hard work.
"I'm not antigovernment, but I think there is a mentality out there in which people are too dependent on government," Smith said. "When I grew up, we learned that you tightened your belt and you don't depend on the government for things."
When Schultz, 71, graduated from Clearwater High School, he dabbled in several higher education programs before settling down and completing his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of South Florida. He then spent several years teaching at the college level before being elected as Pinellas County property appraiser in 1976.
He has been married for 44 years and has two daughters and five grandchildren.
Schultz moved to Citrus County in 1988 and served as property appraiser there from 1990 until 2005. He has also worked as a consultant.
Schultz is a naturalist at heart and says he has spent many vacations traveling to see wildlife. He believes the vast beds of sea grass must be protected along the Pasco, Hernando and Citrus shorelines, and that the Three Sisters Springs could be the keystone to an untapped economic reserve as part of the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve.
"We are a day trip from Tampa and Orlando," Schultz said. "How do we put (natural resources) together so people say, 'Oh, that's a four-day trip'?
"If you are going to go from Japan to the (Disney World) mouse, what else are you going to do?"
The Republican candidates disagree on paths for future development. Where Smith believes current laws are punitive to growth, Schultz sees a need for some control when it comes to significant changes in land use.
They also differ in their beliefs about drilling for oil off the coast of Florida. Where Schultz is opposed, Smith supports proposals allowing drilling in state-owned waters.
"If the wells are closer, we would not be in the situation we are now in," Smith said, referring to the BP oil spill. "A well some 12 miles off the coast with a similar leak would have already been fixed, and the environmental impact would have been less."
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at [email protected]