TAMPA — Both candidates vying to be the first representative of the newly drawn Florida Senate District 26 say improving the state's economy would be the top priority if elected.
But true to political form, their ideas on how to achieve that differ greatly.
Republican Bill Galvano, 46, a lawyer and partner in a Bradenton firm, served four terms as Florida House District 68's representative before reaching his term limit two years ago. He said he's ready to go back to Tallahassee to reinvigorate the Bay Area Legislative Delegation, which represents seven counties.
"Growing up in the district and my experiences ... learning a lot about the history of the bay area and what the state as a whole faced is what I rely on," Galvano said. "This area is in my heart and it's made me more vested."
Democrat Paula House, 62, a lawyer and mediator in Lake Placid, is running in her first election to represent an estimated 470,000 citizens from southern Hillsborough, Hardee, Manatee, DeSoto, Glades, northeastern Charlotte and southern Highlands counties.
Three generations of her family have lived and worked in Florida. She says her experience as a public schoolteacher, public prosecutor and leader of Highlands County Democrats has prepared her.
"We need a well-run government and a Legislature that takes the role of government seriously," she said.
House and Galvano agreed the economy, water distribution, transportation infrastructure and education were big issues.
Galvano said he hopes to make the state more attractive to businesses to bring back jobs and strengthen Florida's economy over the long term. A part of the plan would be lowering the corporate tax rate and looking at phasing it out over time.
"That's ridiculous," House countered. "We need fair taxation. If a business isn't strong enough, if we have to hand them incentives to get them to come here, why would we want that business? Businesses need infrastructure to survive. Why should we the people support the infrastructure for businesses that don't pay taxes?"
On education, House believes charter schools are weakening the public school system by putting tax dollars into the hands of untested programs and private organizations.
Galvano supports the charter school system as it is now, and said it has benefitted the public school system.
"I support the concept," Galvano said. "I don't think there needs to be a change. On average, charter schools actually cost less tax dollars per student."
Both candidates think rail is a part of the improvement of state infrastructure, but discussed different scopes. Galvano is in favor light rail connecting coastal counties to help ease congestion. House was a supporter of the high-speed rail project that would have connected Tampa to Orlando and eventually Miami, but was rejected by Gov. Rick Scott.
If elected, Galvano promised to take a measured approach to governing — not doing things for the sake of creating a record.
"There shouldn't be this idea that success as a legislator is measured by the amount of bills you get passed," Galvano said. "There are bills sometimes that are just unnecessary. When I was rules chair (in the House) a lot of bills never made it out my committee."
House promised a challenge to the Republican majority in the Legislature and governorship that has set state policy for years.
"Mr. Galvano will perpetuate a Legislature that clearly doesn't care about the people of Florida. Special interests draft laws that don't benefit the people and keep the state near the bottom in economic recovery indicators. ... Taxpayer dollars should be for taxpayer interests," she said.