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College student in Senate District 11 race wasn't in Democrats' plans

Something happened on the way to the Florida Democratic Party's handpicked candidate skating into the general election for state Senate: A skinny 21-year-old college student from Palm Harbor, Richard Skandera, entered the race.

His footprints are almost hidden in the primary contest vs. Fred Taylor. State Democrats have spent at least $37,500 to help Taylor, a decorated veteran and businessman, to try to unseat state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, in District 11, which runs along the coast from north Pinellas into Citrus County. They courted Taylor.

Skandera? He hasn't received a penny from anyone, spending $2,000 of his own money on the campaign. His public appearances have been limited. His campaign Web site is actually a private MySpace page, viewable only to his online friends. He says he will walk few neighborhoods.

Skandera, a part-time researcher at Walt Disney in Orlando, said he is making a point, even if it breaks with lots of political practice. He wants to show an idealistic unknown can put youthful experience in Florida's education system to good use with only his own dimes.

"The party didn't offer to give me any money, and I wouldn't take it if they did," Skandera said. "That's the problem in Tallahassee, because the people are being sacrificed at the feet of special interests."

Taylor, 60, questioned the motive of a college student running a campaign, but Skandera actually filed to run in July 2006, just as he abandoned a bid for Pinellas County Commission — and 17 months before Taylor filed to run in December 2007.

The two will meet in the Aug. 26 Democratic primary. The winner faces Fasano, who has no primary opponent.

County and state Democratic Party leaders are ballyhooing Taylor, but carefully avoiding saying the party has endorsed anyone in the primary.

Taylor is scratching his head over his opponent.

"I wouldn't underestimate him," Taylor said.

After all, Skandera said, he waded into the University of Central Florida's student government as a minority party's candidate with slim odds. Why not try it at the state government level?

"It looks like we need new leadership in Tallahassee, especially someone with a young point of view. Because it's my future that's at stake," said Skandera, who is studying anthropology with an eye on law school.

He said he witnessed unequal teaching standards between courses for advanced students and students deemed average. That's not fair, he said. He wants standards raised so teaching isn't based on perceptions.

"The one thing that really got me was the educational system. I've been a student for 16 years now, and there's a lot of really horrible things happening," Skandera said.

It's one of his "100 Ways" campaign to make Florida better, sort of a more progressive kin to the "100 Ideas" plan by Republican stalwart Marco Rubio, the departing House speaker.

Skandera's plan starts with passing the Equal Rights Amendment in the Senate at No. 1. It ends with repealing "outdated" telephone and cable regulation laws. In between are repealing laws allowing for curfews and passing tougher building standards.

Skandera got his start in government affairs by volunteering at Brooker Creek Preserve, then fighting a plan to pump water from the preserve's aquifer to water golf courses.

So while Skandera doesn't pay a mortgage, and he hit the legal drinking age just last Oct. 29, he has a wealth of one thing: ideas.

"It's true I don't have all the life experiences," he said, "but there's a lot I bring to the table also."

A hundred ways, in fact.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.

College student in Senate District 11 race wasn't in Democrats' plans 08/10/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 1:34pm]

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