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Spano, challenger Frazier square off in closely watched District 59 race

In a neighborhood diner, Rena Frazier pulls out a four-page letter, hand-written, front page and back, presented to her by a resident of state House District 59 who had been contacted by her campaign.

She didn't want to share details, saying it was personal, but Frazier summarized the letter this way:

"They feel like they don't matter," she said. State legislators "have forgotten about folks like her. That's what I want to address. The quality of life issues that are affecting everyday people. That's what we need to start focusing on, not criminalizing whether a man and a woman can live together when they're not married, not that we're providing tax incentives to sports franchises and corporations."

Frazier, a 38-year-old real estate lawyer from Brandon, last summer took those convictions into the race for the District 59 seat, where she's challenging Republican incumbent Ross Spano. It's a race that's drawing eyeballs statewide, viewed as one of maybe a half-dozen or so races that could allow Democrats to start chipping away at the GOP's 81-39 supermajority in the lower chamber.

"I kind of love a challenge, to be honest with you," said Spano, 50, a lawyer who lives in Dover. "I feel pretty good about where we are. I've worked harder than I ever have, we're more organized than we ever have been, and I feel we've got more grassroots support than we've ever had."

Spano was first elected in 2012 in a close race, and was handily re-elected in 2014. Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in the district, which spans the Brandon, Riverview and Valrico areas.

Spano holds a fundraising advantage over his challenger -- roughly $331,000 to $226,000 -- and given the high profile of the race, the state parties are heavily involved. Spano has received $82,000 from the Republican Party of Florida, while Frazier banked $54,000 from the Florida Democratic Party.

Among Spano's top legislative priorities are advocacy for small businesses and creating a pro-jobs business environment. He said he will seek a reduction and gradual phase-out of the commercial lease sales tax, which he considers a "double tax" on small businesses. He said he may introduce legislation that would require state agencies to conduct a formal analysis of the fiscal impact of any new regulation on businesses.

That is currently required of legislative bills, and Spano said it should be required of agencies as well. "These agencies are certainly well-meaning in their intentions, but they don't always think through the impacts of what they do," he said.

He advocates an emphasis on on-the-job training in the educational system.

Spano also is targeting human trafficking and child pornography; respecting constitutional prohibitions, he would like to see web sites involved in human trafficking shut down, and wants to provide more tools to law enforcement to prosecute child pornographers.

(Regarding Frazier's jab at criminalizing cohabitation, Spano voted against a bill repealing the state's ban on unmarried couples living together in a House committee hearing, but later voted for it on the full floor.)

Frazier served on the board of Brandon Regional Hospital, an experience that she said "really opened my eyes to how many in our community do not have access to affordable health care."

That and other quality-of-life issues would be her focus as a legislator, she said.

"When we're talking about moving the community and the economy forward, it's good schools. It's clean air and clean water. It's, do we have access to quality, affordable health care," she said. "Those are the things that I believe attract people to communities to live and work, and attract businesses."

Contact Jerome R. Stockfisch at jstockfisch@tampabay.com.

Spano, challenger Frazier square off in closely watched District 59 race 11/02/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 3:23pm]
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