House 43, Republicans
Rep. Ron Schultz, R-Homosassa, former property appraiser for both Pinellas and Citrus counties, faces his first challenge since winning the District 43 seat in a 2007 special election. With no Democrat running, this Republican contest is open to all voters in the district covering Citrus and portions of Hernando and Levy counties.
Schultz, 71, is the best choice. His admirable environmental stances include work on the just-completed protection of nearly 58 acres at Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River and his push to guard the 380,000-acre sea grass bed off the coast of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties from offshore drilling. His expertise on property appraisals and tax law is a valuable asset, providing a counterweight to unworkable ideas like eliminating all property taxes in favor of a higher sales tax.
Jimmie T. Smith, 44, is a retired 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army who now does security work at Progress Energy's nuclear plant in Crystal River. He is a tea party supporter favoring oil drilling off Florida's coast and relaxed growth management rules. He offers no concrete ideas on balancing the state budget, guiding water policy or making homeowners insurance more available and affordable. He wrongly perceives a disconnect between Schultz and the desires of his constituents.
In the Republican primary for House District 43, the Times recommends Ron Schultz.
House 44, Democrats
Three Democrats are vying to challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, in November. The clear choice is Diane Rowden, a former Hernando County commissioner and School Board member, who offers Democrats the greatest potential for success in the general election.
Rowden does not live in the district but promises to relocate if elected. She notes the gerrymandering of Hernando is one reason why she should go to Tallahassee — to better represent the entire county. District 44 includes most of Hernando and a portion of north-central Pasco.
As a two-term county commissioner, Rowden, 60, was a hard-working, independent-thinking problem solver. It is a trait that hasn't stopped since her defeat in 2008. Recently, Rowden was instrumental in getting the payment deadline for state permitting fees extended 90 days for fisherman affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Rowden's opponents cannot match her experience as an elected official or her record in public service. Perennial candidate David Werder, 55, is making his ninth run for public office and is not to be taken seriously.
Jay A. Thompson, 31, is a college political science instructor. He is knowledgeable, and his platform includes traditional Democratic planks such as improving funding for public schools and higher education. His campaign, however, feels more like an academic exercise than a committed run to serve in elected office.
In the Democratic primary for House District 44, the Times recommends Diane Rowden.
House 45, Republicans
Pasco County School Board member Kathryn Starkey is the most qualified among three Republicans seeking the House District 45 seat, currently held by term-limited Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin. The outcome of this primary will all but decide the race for the west Pasco and North Pinellas seat. No Democrat has filed to run, but a write-in candidate for the general election in November closed this primary to only GOP voters. Starkey would be an effective legislator with broad ties to the district as a homeowner, businesswoman and local elected official.
Starkey's influence is obvious across Pasco County. More than a decade ago, she championed improved aesthetics via a billboard ban and then founded Scenic Pasco, a group that lobbied for county ordinances to control commercial sign clutter, enhance landscapes and set architectural guidelines for commercial developments.
She then turned her attention to education. Six years ago, voters elected her to the Pasco School Board where she emerged as a leading advocate for developing career academies in local high schools to better prepare students to enter the working world.
Richard Corcoran, 45, of New Port Richey, is a political insider with no elected office on his resume or strong record of service to the community. Fabian Calvo, 32, of Clearwater, is a businessman whose companies buy and manage apartment complexes. Neither can match Starkey's commitment to bettering public education nor have they demonstrated an ability to work in a bipartisan, consensus-building manner that has been Starkey's trademark.
In the Republican primary for House District 45, the Times recommends Kathryn Starkey.
House 47, Republicans
The four Republicans in the race to succeed Rep. Kevin Ambler all have recognizable names in this Carrollwood-area district. Irene Guy stands apart for her experience with statewide policy and involvement with civic groups.
Guy, 60, retired in 2009 after 39 years with Verizon, where she worked her way up to lobbyist and community liaison. In those roles, she shaped public policy at both the state and local levels. Guy understands the state's fiscal problems and has solid ideas for improving career training and targeting economic development incentives to businesses. She also appreciates the need to balance growth with protecting Florida's natural resources, a key interest for this suburban and semirural district.
James Grant, 27, is a sharp and engaging fresh face. The lawyer has the energy and personal skills to build coalitions, and he talks convincingly of the need to strengthen Hillsborough's clout in Tallahassee. But his platform is broad. Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair, 53, has no focused agenda beyond offering to be a good listener. Tom Aderhold, 66, has a record of community activism, but his issues are more local than statewide.
Guy's work with dozens of community groups dating to the 1980s gives her a solid feel for the district and for the county's broader needs. She is plugged in, thoughtful and knows how to navigate the political process. Her life experience would also help her balance the competing interests of residents in Citrus Park, Northdale, Keystone and Cheval. In the Republican primary for House District 47, the Times recommends Irene Guy.
House 48, Republicans
Republicans looking for change in House District 48, which covers parts of North Pinellas and a slice of southern Pasco, will be disappointed with their options. Incumbent Peter Nehr is the only viable candidate in a field of three. Nehr is not a powerful representative, but he is admirably independent and cannot be bullied by the Republican House leadership in Tallahassee.
Nehr, 58, is a former Tarpon Springs commissioner first elected to the House in 2006. Nehr isn't particularly liked in Republican Party circles, in part because he broke ranks on some major legislative issues. He refused to vote for Senate Bill 6, a controversial teacher accountability measure, despite considerable pressure. Unlike many other House Republicans, he wanted Floridians to vote on a constitutional amendment banning offshore oil drilling.
Nehr supports state funding for high-speed rail, is open to reviewing Florida's dysfunctional tax structure, and would offer incentives to businesses to use renewable energy. To address state budget shortfalls, he wants to combine departments, reform Medicaid, reduce the number of state employees and improve collections of Internet sales taxes.
Nehr must make sure that recent personal problems, including the failure of his flag shop business and a bankruptcy filing, do not distract him from his legislative duties.
Steven Mueller, 41, of Palm Harbor, who says he has a home-based financial management business, calls himself an advocate of smaller government. Marg Baker, 69, of Palm Harbor, formerly sold real estate and says she was motivated to run for office by listening to radio commentator Glenn Beck. Neither Baker nor Mueller can match Nehr's grasp of state issues.
In the Republican primary for House District 48, the Times recommends Peter Nehr.
House 55, Democrats
Darryl Rouson made a positive contribution in his first full term. He was not shy about speaking his mind on the House floor. He played an influential role in setting priorities for spending money on criminal justice programs, and he brought home money for a badly needed jobs program. He also passed creative legislation aimed at cracking down on tobacco shops that sell pipes and bongs commonly associated with illegal drug use, a longtime personal goal.
The 55-year-old St. Petersburg lawyer voted for a bill that weakened growth management. He voted against bills that would have abolished teacher tenure and lifted the ban on drilling in state waters. He has demonstrated he can work with members of both parties, and this year he was the only Democrat who voted for the state budget. In a second full term, Rouson wants to focus on creating more jobs and would push for tax reform, including extending the sales tax to Internet sales and examining sales tax exemptions.
April Sheffield, 42, of Sarasota, runs an adult family day care home. She is not as familiar with the district or with state issues as Rouson. She appears to be primarily motivated by her dissatisfaction with previous legal advice she received from him. District 55 includes parts of south Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties. The winner of this election faces only a write-in candidate in the general election.
In the Democratic primary for House District 55, the Times recommends Darryl Rouson.
House 56, Republicans
Rep. Rachel V. Burgin was unqualified for the office her predecessor and then-boss, Rep. Trey Traviesa, cleared the way for her to win in 2008. For someone who entered public office under such circumstances, Burgin should at least have reached out and showed some mettle during her first term. She hasn't, and now Republicans have a real choice in dentist Marc Johnson.
Johnson and Burgin share a conservative platform of cutting taxes and government regulation. The difference is that Johnson has the life experience that constituents look for in a leader. The 41-year old major in the Army reserves owns his own dental practice. Johnson offers specifics on how to attract good-paying jobs and diversify the local economy. He also sees the need to recruit more math and science teachers to the schools.
Burgin, 28, was a legislative aide at the state and local level before party officials picked her two years ago as the nominee. She talks in lofty terms about her agenda, but so far her issues have been low-hanging fruit. This district, which extends from FishHawk to Brandon and Davis Islands, needs a go-getter who can think for himself and does not require on-the-job training.
In the Republican primary for House District 56, the Times recommends Marc Johnson.
House 57, Republicans
The three biggest issues in this coastal, west Hillsborough County district are the economy, education and the environment. Republican Dan Molloy has his priorities straight and his two primary challengers do not.
Molloy, 58, is a former Hillsborough prosecutor now in private practice who has long represented the development industry. His background as a business owner and in economic development and transportation gives him a broad grasp of the challenges facing the region and the state. Molloy has commonsense ideas for how to pare the reach and cost of government. He is a strong advocate for local control of schools. And his proposals for spreading the risk of damage claims could better prepare Florida for hurricanes and make property insurance more available and affordable.
C. Todd Marks and Dana Young offer little beyond talking points and red meat. Marks, 40, a lawyer who has lived in the area for five years, seems to think the district's greatest need is an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigrants. Young, 45, a stay-at-home mother and former real estate attorney, talks broadly about cutting government red tape. But her idea to consolidate wetlands protections could have serious impacts in this coastal community, where wetlands play a critical role in flood control and filtering runoff entering the bay.
Molloy has been much more engaged in charting a course for this community. He knows the political process and he has crossover appeal, an important consideration if Republicans want to prevail in November. This district covers south Tampa, parts of Town 'N Country and Westchase.
In the Republican primary for House District 57, the Times recommends Dan Molloy.
House 60, Republicans
The major challenge in this suburban district in northern Hillsborough is balancing the need for transportation, utilities and other infrastructure without inviting even more urban sprawl. Shawn Harrison's pragmatism and experience make him the strongest Republican in the race.
Harrison, 45, was generally a responsible voice during his two terms representing New Tampa on the Tampa City Council from 1999 to 2007. He helped bring money to the district for roads, parks and improved fire service. Harrison also has been active — both in and out of office — in the regional discussions to build a better transportation system throughout the Tampa Bay area. His priority as a legislator would be to grow small business. He opposes drilling for oil near the Florida coast.
Trey Stroud, 48, is a marketing consultant who owns a television production company. He touts many of the same themes — low taxes, limited government. But Harrison, a Tampa attorney, has a record of accomplishment. He understands the lawmaking process and how the layers of government work. Harrison also is widely regarded for the respect he shows colleagues across the political spectrum. His moderate agenda and style are well suited to the neighborhoods of Temple Terrace, Lutz and north Tampa.
In the Republican primary for House District 60, the Times recommends Shawn Harrison.
House 60, Democrats
Both Democrats seeking this open seat are first-time candidates with thin records in the north Tampa community. Retired Air Force veteran Russ Patterson has rich life experience that better prepares him for the serious challenges in Tallahassee.
Patterson, 58, moved to Tampa in 2004. He spent 20 years as an Air Force navigator and the past decade as a consumer advocate and substitute teacher. Patterson would close sales tax loopholes, invest more in solar and other renewable energies and manage growth by steering development into already-urbanized areas. He has impressed many established local Democrats by seeing the big picture and having the maturity to realize that progress in Tallahassee can come in small pieces.
Christopher Carlos Cano, 27, is a third-generation Tampa native who is studying for a master's degree in public administration at the University of South Florida. A Democratic and Hispanic activist, Cano has energy and passion. Public service needs more young people with a long-term view. But Cano is not up to speed on fundamental issues; he is more attuned to politics than policy.
Patterson has worked harder in this campaign and reached out to more constituent groups. The district, which covers New Tampa, Lutz and Temple Terrace, has varied interests and needs a representative who can juggle.
In the Democratic primary for House District 60, the Times recommends Russ Patterson.
House 61, Republicans
Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is one of the primary reasons voters have a say in easing the budget-busting class size amendment in November. Weatherford, chair of the House Education Policy Council, championed Amendment 8, which would replace inflexible caps on individual class sizes in favor of schoolwide averages. If voters approve, it would save the state and local school districts as much as $1 billion a year by some estimates — money that can be put to better use elsewhere during these austere times.
That effort alone is enough to recommend Weatherford, 30, in the Republican primary for House District 61, which encompasses east and central Pasco and a portion of New Tampa. He is Republicans' strongest choice for the November ballot. Weatherford is designated to become speaker of the House in 2012.
Kevin Wright, 55, of Wesley Chapel, is the owner of a small Tampa-based company that produces and sells T-shirts. He is a tea party advocate critical of both parties for failed leadership in Tallahassee. Wright thinks big, calling himself a Walt Disney Republican and offering grand ideas. But on one of the most pressing issues facing the Legislature — balancing the budget — he promotes unworkable plans to eliminate property taxes in favor of a sales tax, and he wants to expand lottery games. Trying to squeeze more money from people who can least afford it is an unfair way to make ends meet.
In the Republican primary for House District 61, the Times recommends Will Weatherford.
House 67, Republicans
Greg Steube knows this three-county district better than his two Republican opponents, and he seems committed to work for the entire Tampa Bay area. The Bradenton native and 32-year-old attorney is the son of Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, which helps explain his overwhelming support from the GOP establishment. But Steube is a bright, thoughtful candidate in his own right. His agenda is boilerplate conservative — low taxes, cut government red tape — but Steube also appreciates the need to protect the environment in this low-lying and agricultural district.
Robert K. McCann, 52, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, would end teacher tenure and allow oil drilling in near-shore waters off Florida. Jeremiah Guccione, 33, who works in his family's health care business, has solid ideas for attracting high-tech research clusters, but his overall agenda is thin.
The heart of this district is Manatee County, and it touches Sarasota County. But Steube has a grasp of the growing neighborhoods in southern Hillsborough County, from Apollo Beach to Ruskin, and he vows to pay more attention to these under-served areas.
In the Republican primary for House District 67, the Times recommends Greg Steube.
Senate 12, Republicans
Republicans should ignore the phony distinctions being tossed around about which candidate is more conservative. They should focus on who is able to tackle serious issues, from jobs and taxes to property insurance. Rep. Kevin Ambler has a stronger record of thinking on his own and conducting public business in a transparent way.
Ambler, 49, a Tampa attorney, was a solidly conservative voice in his eight years representing the greater Carrollwood area in the Florida House. The former federal prosecutor and judge advocate for the Air Force has a good grasp of statewide policy. He has sensible proposals for cutting the size of government, targeting tax incentives to attract high-paying jobs and improving the quality of teachers. Ambler would subject property insurers to much more rigorous review before they could raise rates, a key concern for a district that is highly vulnerable to hurricane and sinkhole damage.
Jim Norman, 56, has served on the Hillsborough County Commission for 18 years, where his causes were parks and youth sports. Norman started out as a moderate voice. But he later championed the interests of developers. Norman was slow to see the recession and has no real plan to jump-start the recovery. He can be pushy and a sore loser, the last thing Tallahassee needs. And he has a shown a secretive streak in his public and private business that raises questions about his ethics and judgment.
Ambler has embraced the party line too often. But with few policy differences between the two, the choice boils down to who is most capable of moving the district and state forward. This Hills- borough-Pasco district, which includes Carrollwood, Lutz, Land O'Lakes and Dade City, needs a senator who can hit the ground running and compete for the region's fair share of resources.
In the Republican primary for Senate District 12, the Times recommends Kevin Ambler.