NEW PORT RICHEY — Tuesday's Republican primary seemingly offers something for everyone: a newcomer, a political veteran and a minister who ran for office last year.
The three Republicans aiming to replace Mike Fasano in the state House share some views and differ on others, namely Internet sales taxes, school funding and their legislative priorities.
Political novice Jeromy Harding, 23, works at a family-run insurance company. He said he decided to run after hearing friends and neighbors complain about insurance premiums, sinkholes and private utilities.
As a legislator, he said he would push for better water quality and in some cases the takeover of private utilities with track records of poor service.
He'd also push for more accurate property valuations by Citizens Property Insurance. Inflated valuations are partly to blame for higher premiums, he said. Also, more competition by private insurers would help drive rates lower.
In a Times questionnaire, Harding further noted, "It may be necessary for Citizens to gradually increase premiums over the next few years to encourage people back into the private market."
Harding hasn't formed an opinion on whether Internet sales should be taxed and said he backs increased funding for classrooms but not school administration.
Attorney James Mathieu, 60, chairs Pasco's Republican Party and is president of Athenian Academy of Pasco Charter School. He said he decided to run because many legislators are not taking time to thoroughly read bills before casting their votes. Mathieu said he would bring an informed perspective to Tallahassee.
A former Port Richey city attorney and ward leader in Philadelphia, Mathieu not only is knowledgeable about the legislative process, but he wrote several ordinances himself, including the state's first red-light camera ordinance.
He said his top legislative priority is education. He supports school vouchers and increased state funding for schools overall, but he opposes state dollars going to school construction.
He backs standardized testing but draws a line at Common Core, the federal testing program to gauge student proficiency state to state. The program would put too much control in federal hands, taking it from state and local officials, he said.
Mathieu supports a cap on Citizens' insurance rates and increased competition from private insurers to lower rates. He said Internet sales should be taxed to create parity between Web-based companies and traditional businesses.
Bill Gunter, 43, is a Presbyterian minister at Redeemer Community Church in Port Richey. He ran unsuccessfully last year for County Commission against Jack Mariano.
Supported by House Speaker Will Weatherford, Rep. Richard Corcoran, Sheriff Chris Nocco, schools superintendent Kurt Browning as well as several lobbyists, Gunter has emerged as a favorite among the candidates.
He said he decided to run after hearing church members and friends complain about property insurance, sinkhole costs, utility rates and other issues. His legislative priority if elected is economic development. He said he would leverage his position to bring industry to Pasco to create jobs. He also suggested partnering with grass roots groups such as Metropolitan Ministries to help people access jobs and housing.
He favors school vouchers and standardized testing but opposes increased state funding for education, saying the private sector should play a larger role in education. Regarding Common Core, Gunter offered a nuanced view.
"We must look at it all and figure out which standards achieve the greatest outcomes for our schoolchildren," he said.
He believes Citizens' rates should be capped and that laws governing sinkhole repairs should be overhauled to eliminate some costly requirements for homeowners. He opposes Internet sales taxes.
All three candidates back the state's Stand Your Ground self-defense law. They also support a drug database to fight prescription drug abuse. Gunter has personal reasons for backing the database. He admitted to doing drugs and drinking in high school and college and had a brother who died from drug abuse. He's often talked about the perils of drugs in sermons and hasn't tried to hide his past.
The three are running to represent District 36, which generally runs west of Little Road from Hernando to Pinellas. Of the three, two live outside the district — Harding and Gunter — and would need to move to the district before the Supervisor of Elections certifies the Oct. 15 general election results. Tuesday's primary is open only to Republicans in District 36. Democrat Amanda Murphy was not challenged.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.