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Rep. Rachel Burgin readies for House battle

BRANDON — For state Rep. Rachel Burgin, it was a tough year to start a new job.

The first-term District 56 Republican had to contend with massive budget cuts and a deficit. Her constituents at home were seeking advice for record unemployment rates.

Then there was the legislation she hoped to get through, marking her role as the youngest Republican woman ever elected to the House.

"But it wasn't as challenging as I expected," Burgin said. "People overall were very helpful and willing to work with me. I'm not a pioneer or anything like that."

As she looks toward finishing her two-year term, she must also assemble a solid campaign against potential rivals that could include political heavyweights like former state Rep. Sandy Murman.

Last week, Murman, also a Republican, attended a Brandon Chamber of Commerce luncheon and said that she is considering a run that could return her to her old job in District 56.

But there's no doubt Burgin will put up a fight.

Though many were shocked by her nomination to the seat, she says she went to Tallahassee prepared and ready to serve her district.

Burgin, 27, says arriving in the state capital with contacts in hand made for a smooth first session. She spent two years as an aide to former Rep. Trey Traviesa, whose seat she won when he abruptly stepped down and dropped out of the race in 2008.

Before that, Burgin worked with then-Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair. She was also a White House intern.

While her focus this year was to keep the local economy stable — District 56 begins in Brandon and stretches west to Davis Islands in Tampa — Burgin notes four bills she helped usher through the Legislature.

One bill, tucked into a budget package, affiliates the University of South Florida with the Byrd Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute. Though the center still struggles with funding, Burgin said that her main concern was connecting USF to the center.

Another, inspired by a pilot program in Hillsborough County, provides Internet safety training in public libraries to children and adults.

The other two bills help re-establish the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and give the agency power to withhold registration renewal on vehicles with liens.

"It was the lowest number of bills passed in this legislative cycle in recent history," Burgin said, "and I think I was able to significantly impact my district as a whole. The main concern was helping our local economy bounce back and not necessarily make new laws."

Burgin's critics say she hasn't done much at all.

She hasn't paid enough attention to growth and education in eastern Hillsborough, said Rosalind Moffett, president of the East Hillsborough County Democratic Club.

"People here are concerned about growth and making sure it's managed properly," Moffett said. "The other is the education system, which is incredibly poor. There are serious issues here and in other parts of the county, particularly when it comes to unfunded mandates.

"I don't know if anyone ever says that a huge concern for them on the state level is abortion," Moffett said.

Burgin sponsored a failed initiative that would have required all women seeking a first-trimester abortion to get an ultrasound exam. If it passed, doctors would have to allow the woman a chance to see the scan and provide information on fetal development.

Burgin says criticism comes with the political territory.

"For any member, regardless of what party you're affiliated with, there's always going to be discredit," she said.

She said she has served her constituents the best she can in her remaining year. Education, the economy and creation of more jobs will be key areas of focus, she said.

And with potential competition in District 56 lining up already, Burgin says she'll fight to keep her seat.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2454.

Rep. Rachel Burgin readies for House battle 11/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 5, 2009 3:31am]
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