NEW TAMPA — Newly elected state Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, exudes enthusiasm as he settles into his new district office off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
His executive secretary, Brian Mason, was busy recently hanging murals of scenes from Florida history, which each legislator received.
Danish spent the day teaching seventh-grade science at Benito Middle School and stopped by his house to change into his lawmaker attire — suit and tie — before arriving at his office for a news interview.
Danish, 59, who has been traveling back and forth to Tallahassee for committee meetings the last two months, said he's enjoying the detail work and eager for the session to start Tuesday.
"It's absolutely exciting for me. It's been a tremendous learning experience.''
The educator narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Shawn Harrison in November after the District 63 boundaries changed. He senses that Democrats are beginning to make some progress in the Republican-controlled legislature. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he wants to see more bipartisanship, Danish noted, "and some of us say we're going to hold him to that.''
Danish, who will take a leave of absence from school during the session and have a substitute take over his class, views his election and that of two other teachers last fall as a message from voters.
"When three teachers get elected to the legislature, people are making a statement that they want average people to represent them," he said. Danish, who has taught in Hillsborough County for 17 years, graduated from City University of New York with a degree in earth environmental science and secondary education. He has been assigned to committees on education and economic affairs and subcommittees on government operations appropriations and agriculture and natural resources.
He has filed or is preparing three bills. One would post a list of dangerous chemicals on the state's website. Another would establish a "homeowners' bill of rights.'' And the other would require that gasoline service station employees statewide, when more than one is one duty, help disabled people pump gas. He said his big priority, however, is improving funding for education.
He wants to see a shift in education to accommodate students who aren't going to college, as well as those who are. He heard that 100,000 technical or skilled jobs are currently available in this state, he said, but not enough people are trained to fill them.
"Many of these jobs, I've been told, pay in the vicinity of $20 an hour and above,'' he said. "That's good work; when you start hitting $20 an hour, you can make a living.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected]