In her 16 years in public office, Democrat Karen Thurman has run successfully twice for state Senate and four times for the Dunnellon City Council. But never has she been involved in a tougher _ or dirtier _ race than the one she is running to keep her seat as the senator from District 4.
"We kind of expected it . . . because they (the Republican Party) had said this was a seat they really wanted," said Thurman, 39. "But I didn't realize it was going to be this dirty."
In radio advertisements and at campaign stops, Republican Tom Hogan of Spring Hill has assailed Thurman for allegedly taking trips at theexpense of lobbyists. He also has lambasted her for taking campaign contributions from big oil companies and in turn voting favorably for the oil industry on issues in the Senate.
Thurman has denied any wrongdoing, often producing evidence refuting Hogan's allegations.
When recently questioned by Hogan about the financing of a trip to the 1988 Kentucky Derby, Thurman produced receipts showing that she paid for the trip herself, but admitted that a member of the state-appointed racing advisory commission paid for her lodging.
She does not deny taking campaign contributions from several oil companies, but she is quick to produce voting records showing cases where she voted against issues favorable to the oil industry, including her sponsorship of a bill that imposed a 10-cents-per-barrel tax on gasoline imported into the state to pay for cleaning up leaking underground gasoline tanks.
But Hogan and members of his campaign have criticized the bill as being another way for oil companies to pass along price increases and the costs of their mistakes to consumers. They also point out other cases where Thurman voted for issues favorable to the oil industry, and they bring her ethics into question whenever they can.
Members of the Hogan camp defend their tactics as necessary because Thurman is an incumbent.
"It's not mudslinging; it's informing the public about pandering by one of its public officials," said Mary Ann Hogan, Tom Hogan's mother and one of the managers of his campaign. "And it's not only a question of her ethics, but that of the entire state Legislature."
Hogan won the Republican primary election on a platform of reform and has said he will continue to scrutinize Thurman's ethics until the general election next month.
"We're going to continue to keep that issue in the forefront because it's something that everyone is interested in," he said. "It's a basic problem we have at all levels these days."
The race is Hogan's first for office. But while he may be lacking in experience as a candidate, he has had plenty of exposure to politics.
The 36-year-old lawyer grew up in Brooksville in a family of prominent Republicans and is quick to point out that he has been actively involved in every presidential campaign since Richard Nixon's.
He also has worked on numerous state and local Republican campaigns and as a state prosecutor in the 5th and 6th judicial circuits became well known in local circles.
Hogan's notoriety _ and that of his parents, the Republican state committeewoman and committeeman for Hernando County _ was one of the reasons he was urged by state party leaders to challenge Thurman.
The state party has a lot riding on Hogan.
Republicans need to win only four seats in November to gain a majority in the Senate. And District 4 _ which includes all of Citrus County and parts of Pasco, Hernando and Marion counties _ is one of several the party has targeted as its best chances of winning.
Because it is a so-called "targeted" seat, the state Republican Party has pumped additional money, advisers and other campaign resources into the District 4 campaign.
Hogan earlier this year moved from outside the district lines to Spring Hill, making himself eligible to run for the District 4 seat. Thurman has charged that he moved solely to be included in the district, but Hogan has said he was planning the move for years.
One of the first things Hogan said he will do if elected is to propose legislation making it illegal for any legislator to accept any gifts except those from family members.
He also has said he wants to create provisions to extend Senate sessions when needed and limit the number and types of riders that can be attached to Senate bills.
Thurman worked as a middle school math teacher for nine years before winning a seat on the Dunnellon City Council in 1974. She has served in public office ever since.
For her part, Thurman says that Hogan's ideas are naive and typical of someone who has no experience in office.
She charges that Hogan rarely has discussed issues during the campaign, dodging them instead by taking unspecific stands.
"He says he wants to save the environment and the children and the elderly .
. but we're all for all of those things," Thurman said. "We really haven't talked about any real issues."
But Hogan has said he will talk with Thurman about issues whenever she wants.
When asked by the St. Petersburg Times how they felt about certain issues that may come before the state Senate in 1991, here is how each of the candidates responded:
Crime and criminal sentencing: Thurman is not opposed to expanding the state's prison system, but also advocates double-bunking of prisoners when possible. She also advocates expansion of state-sponsored crime-prevention programs. Hogan advocates construction of more medium-security prisons and has proposed turning closed military bases into prisons. He also has said that if elected he will propose legislation to impose tougher sentences on "career" criminals.
Education: Hogan has said that if elected he will push to increase the percentage of state lottery revenues that go to education from the current 37.5 percent to 50 percent. He also favors increasing the management powers of local school boards and decreasing the state's role in local school district management. Thurman spent nine years as a public school teacher. She favors increasing funding to pay for new schools and also advocates year-round school. Thurman also is a strong advocate of increased interaction between public schools and private businesses, and has voted consistently for programs that created teacher-student advisory groups.
Taxes and other state revenue sources: Thurman voted against taxes on services and said she would not vote for a state income tax unless it was proposed along with methods to decrease other taxes, such as property taxes. She has proposed so-called"soda-pop" taxes that would be charged on syrups used in soft drinks and other products. Hogan said he is opposed to any taxes until he is assured that the state's budget problems cannot be cured by cost-cutting measures.
Economic development: Hogan advocates increasing ties between state and local governments to help recruit new industry to local communities and does not rule out the state offering more tax incentives to local governments to use when recruiting new industry. Thurman has voted consistently for legislation favorable to the thoroughbred horse industry and also advocates increasing state financing for sewer, water and other infrastructure needs to help local governments recruit new industry.
Abortion: Thurman said she is for abortion rights and "anti-government" when it comes to abortion. She advocates increasing funding to establish teen pregnancy counseling and adoption programs. Hogan is anti-abortion.