NEW PORT RICHEY — Democrats looking for the man to unseat state Sen. Mike Fasano will choose between two candidates with starkly different backgrounds.
Vietnam veteran Fred Taylor of New Port Richey is running against college senior Richard Skandera of Palm Harbor in the Aug. 26 primary. The winner will face Fasano, R-New Port Richey, in the November election. Fasano is unopposed in the primary.
While Skandera, 21, and Taylor, 60, share some fundamentally similar policies, such as including more factors to measure schools' performance, they disagree over which arm of government should help people without health insurance.
But the starkest contrast starts with their biographies, which are the foundations of their campaigns.
Taylor received three Purple Hearts for wounds during his Army service in Vietnam. Taylor, who has bachelor's and master's degrees in education from Indiana University, went on to work for veterans groups, including leading a national group for Purple Heart recipients.
He moved to Pasco in 2002 to help care for his widowed mother, running a business brokerage and a commercial real estate business. He ran and quit a 2006 campaign for Congress after switching from the Republican Party in 2005.
He said those experiences give him a rich experience to bring to the Legislature, providing values in common with voters in the coastal district running from north Pinellas through Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.
"I think I bring a great depth and breadth of empathy to the candidacy," said Taylor, saying his military record and service to veterans show he is "results oriented."
Skandera is finishing anthropology studies at the University of Central Florida. He has served in student government there, and also abandoned a 2006 bid for office, in his case the Pinellas County Commission. He's a part-time researcher for Walt Disney.
Being a student, he said he understands from personal experience how the educational system needs improvement. He wants to spearhead legislation that would raise standards for teaching to make sure all students, no matter their talents, receive the same quality of instruction. It's one of his "100 Ways" plan to make Florida better.
"It's true that I don't know about everything," Skandera said of his youth. "But I've also suffered a lot paying my rent with the crumbling economy. ... I've had to pay for my education."
Both candidates blame failed Republican leadership — pointing to Fasano — for Florida's poor economy, and they want to broaden the measure of school performance beyond standardized tests. Both blame part of the state's budget shortfalls on unnecessary spending.
While Skandera said he would trim about $750-million in transportation spending, Taylor was unable in an interview to identify what he deemed nonessential.
On health insurance, Skandera places responsibility for universal coverage of the state's 3.6-million uninsured residents on the federal government. However, Taylor supports fully covering the costs to insure all Florida children, and he says the Legislature should order a study on how private companies might cover uninsured adults.
While Fasano has raised more than $450,000, neither Democrat has raised anywhere near as much campaign coin.
The Florida Democratic Party has put its money — at least $45,000 so far — on Taylor, helping him pay to staff and plan his bid. He has received $64,000 in campaign contributions overall.
Skandera has provided all $2,000 that his campaign has received, and promises not to accept any donations, even if state Democrats offer.
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.