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A Times Editorial

For a better state Legislature

There are three Democratic primaries in the Tampa Bay area for legislative seats on the Aug. 26 ballot.

One is a state Senate race and the other two are state House races. Fred Taylor

Senate District 11 A diverse pair of Democrats are running in District 11, which stretches from North Pinellas up the coastline through Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. University of Central Florida senior Richard Skandera of Palm Harbor faces Fred Taylor of New Port Richey, who was awarded the Purple Heart three times in the Vietnam War and who now operates a business brokerage. The winner faces Republican incumbent Mike Fasano in November.

Skandera, 21, is armed with 100 ideas to improve Florida, but many are unworkable — such as pushing all high school students into college preparatory classes. He is thoughtful and earnest, but his limited life experience is a significant drawback.

Taylor, 60, moved to Pasco County from Indiana in 2002 to care for his ailing mother. A onetime Ronald Reagan Republican, Taylor said he switched to the Democratic Party in part because the GOP hierarchy didn't want someone to challenge former state Rep. Gus Bilirakis' 2006 ascent to his father's former seat in Congress. Taylor served as a Medicaid program director for the Indiana Department of Health, was a national officer for the Disabled Americans Veterans and national commander of the 43,000-member Military Order of the Purple Heart. In that post, he advocated for veterans' issues during both the Clinton and Bush administrations. His experience makes him well-positioned to be a strong voice in Tallahassee for veterans and the elderly.

In the Democratic primary for Senate District 11, the Times recommends Fred Taylor. Darryl Rouson

House District 55 Rep. Darryl Rouson has barely gotten his seat warm in Tallahassee and already finds himself running for re-election in House District 55, which stretches from south Pinellas through Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties. The St. Petersburg lawyer won a special election this spring after former state Rep. Frank Peterman was chosen to lead the Department of Juvenile Justice. Now he faces one of his opponents from that election in the Aug. 26 Democratic primary.

Rouson, 53, hardly has a legislative record to evaluate. Nothing has substantially changed since we recommended him in the special election. He says his few days in Tallahassee at the end of the legislative session were "a very humbling process'' and confirmed that confrontational tactics that worked for him as head of the local NAACP chapter won't work as well in the state House.

As a member of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, Rouson was a leader in placing Amendment 5 on the November ballot. It would reduce school-related property taxes and open the door for a sales tax increase and the elimination of many sales tax exemptions. Other votes are more difficult to defend. On the commission, Rouson supported an amendment that would remove a constitutional ban on public money going to churches and religious organizations but opposed one to allow public money for private tuition vouchers. Curiously, he does not see the inconsistency.

Charles McKenzie, 52, a former Pinellas teacher and minister, has led the state Rainbow PUSH coalition and fought for farmworker rights. But his second campaign against Rouson is focused more on criticizing his opponent than on promoting his own candidacy.

Rouson deserves an opportunity to demonstrate he can draw on his energy and political connections to become an effective legislator. The winner of the primary faces a write-in candidate in November. In the Democratic primary for House District 55, the Times recommends Darryl Rouson. Betty Reed

House District 59 This race is a rematch from 2006. Voters were right to choose Betty Reed then in House District 59 in Hillsborough County and should do so again.

Reed, 67, is a longtime civic activist in this east Tampa district, which is largely black and struggles from a range of social and economic problems, from joblessness, crime and a lack of health and housing to under-performing schools. Reed has given her time over the years to addressing all of these problems. Her opponent, Warren Dawson, is a community leader, too. The 68-year-old Tampa attorney was a leading force in desegregating the Hillsborough schools. The two know the district and have a genuine calling for public service. They differ little on issues, though Dawson is right that Floridians have taken on too much exposure by insuring more property through the state-run insurer.

The real difference between the two is style. Dawson paints Reed as a lightweight. While Reed needs to assert herself more, her disarming nature can be a plus. Even as a junior legislator in the minority party, she put health issues on the agenda. She can connect with people from all walks of life. Dawson, by contrast, is overly taken with his own voice and accomplishments. That style seems out of synch with a struggling district and not particularly effective in dealing with constituents or those involved in the lawmaking process.

Because these two Democrats were the only candidates to qualify to run, this race is a universal primary, open to all voters in District 59. Whoever wins this primary Aug. 26 will be elected for the two-year term.

In the Democratic primary for House District 59, the Times recommends Betty Reed.

Opportunity to reply The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Legislative candidates should send their replies no later than 5 p.m. Friday to: Philip Gailey, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; by fax: (727) 893-8675; or online at: www.tampabay.com/ letters. Replies are limited to 200 words.

Opportunity to reply

The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Legislative candidates should send their replies no later than 5 p.m. Friday to: Philip Gailey, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; by fax: (727) 893-8675; or online at: ww w.tampabay.com/letters. Replies are limited to 200 words.

For a better state Legislature 08/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2008 4:15pm]

    

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