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For a better state House

Races at a glance Office: Florida House of Representatives.

Term: Two years.

Salary: $22,560 plus $18,000 in unvouchered expenses.

As the federal government lurches leaderless from one budget crisis to another, it becomes more and more the burden of the states to define American society for the near future. Nowhere is that burden heavier than in Florida, where feverish population growth and a weak, outdated tax structure are responsible for some of the nation's worst crime and dropout rates, and for the ruination of an environment that was once compared only half-facetiously to paradise.

So many problems. So little money. Why do people still want to serve in the Florida House of Representatives?

For some, it's an ego trip. For some, it's just a job. But there are others who do it because they are truly devoted to better schools, safer streets, clean air and water and the fulfillment rather than the waste of human potential. On Nov. 6, Florida voters will try to sort the sincere from the insincere, the intelligent from the foolish and the honest from the corrupt. With luck, this will be the last election that special interests try to buy, the last in which candidates exchange accusations and excuses rather than answers and solutions. If well chosen, the members of the 1991 Florida House will work to prohibit the free trips and other lavish gifts that have put so many lawmakers to shame. They will put a stop to the poisonous influence of large campaign contributions.

We don't pretend to clairvoyance or infinite wisdom, but we have interviewed the candidates and weighed their records and platforms. The incumbents and challengers we recommend are those who, in our opinion, better recognize Florida's shortcomings and are better prepared to give Florida the quality of leadership the nation's fourth largest state demands.

Hawkes for District 26

Dick Locke can spin a tale. His country humor and charm make him appealing to the folks he represents in the Florida House. The strapping former sheriff's deputy with a rumbling voice is accessible and friendly, and that has been enough to get him through two terms.

His success certainly cannot be attributed to his voting record. For instance, this lifelong resident of Citrus County, where growth has put incredible stress on a once pristine environment, was one of only a few legislators who voted against the Growth Management Act of 1985. Even today he makes no apologies for that. He opposed increasing funds for better roads last session.

And at a time when the people of Florida are demanding ethics reform, Locke makes light of his consistent practice of accepting free, expensive hunting trips from lobbyists. How can he be expected to fight for that reform?

Fortunately for voters in District 26, there is a solid candidate opposing Locke. We strongly recommend Paul Hawkes, a Republican lawyer from Crystal River.

Three strong reasons support Hawkes' candidacy: His vocal support for growth management, his clear understanding of the judicial system and how to ease overcrowded prisons, and his adamant opposition to taking free gifts and trips from lobbyists.

Hawkes may not be as much fun around a campfire on a hunting trip, but he would be a much more thoughtful representative not only for the people of Citrus and Marion counties, but for the state of Florida as well. We strongly recommend him.

Smith for District 47

During his 24 years in public office, Charles R. "Chuck" Smith has earned a reputation as a strong communicator. Even those who disagree with his point of view agree that he presents it with intelligence and simplicity.

Those skills are being tested as he seeks re-election to District 47 of the Florida House, where he has served for 12 years. As chairman of the House Environmental Regulation Committee, he is a lightning rod for controversy. And in the heart of his district, Brooksville, he is under the most serious attack of his legislative career.

Smith, who represents Hernando and parts of Sumter and Pasco counties, has put his job on the line by suggesting that the cement kilns at the Florida Mining & Materials north of Brooksville may well be a suitable answer to the problem of hazardous waste disposal. In forcing the examination of this important issue, he opened himself up to a challenge from an opportunistic politician, Brooksville Republican Dean Beagle.

Beagle, who spent 20 years as a Church of Christ minister, has an obvious way with words. But there is little evidence to suggest that he would make an effective legislator. Smith is clearly the better candidate.

Smith has remained consistent in his support of publicly financed programs that would help build a strong, dependable tax base to take the burden off homeowners. He backed a 4-cent gas tax to build roads and a services tax to support sorely-needed state services. He is an expert on water issues.

An advocate of personal privacy, Smith backs a woman's right to maintain control over her own reproduction. Beagle is anti-abortion.

In almost two-and-a-half decades of public service, Smith's intelligence, honesty and devotion to the job have never been questioned and are good reasons to keep him on the job.

Mishkin for District 49

John Renke has worked hard to get into a position of power in the Florida House. After three terms, he is expecting to assume the role of minority leader, which given the loyalty level of Republicans in a chamber so long dominated by Democrats, means he will control a bloc of about 50 votes.

That means power, whether or not Bob Martinez retains his office or the Republicans take a majority in the Senate. The question to voters in Renke's district of West Pasco is whether this power position warrants his re-election. The answer is no.

To support Renke is to condone the mistakes of the Martinez administration. Renke has been his apologist in the House. And in Pasco County, which suffers from a primitive road network that destroys local efforts to recruit industry and broaden a thin tax base, that blind loyalty has been especially troubling.

Renke's record aside, voters have a fine alternative in Phil Mishkin. Though at 75 he is 31 years older than his opponent, Mishkin is known for his boundless energy and commitment to the elderly. The former labor organizer and machinist founded the Pasco chapter of the National Council of Senior Citizens and has earned a reputation for his advocacy of a national health care plan similar to Canada's. Mishkin served on the 11-member panel appointed by the House speaker to study Florida's health care needs.

Mishkin would go to the Legislature with only one agenda _ to serve the people. He has demonstrated that commitment for 16 years in Pasco County and we recommend him highly.

Muscarella in District 51

Patricia "Trish" Muscarella's victory against incumbent Gerald Rehm in the Republican primary can be attributed to several reasons. She has an impressive record of community service. She has a strong sense about what is wrong in Tallahassee and how to go about righting it. She waged an energetic campaign in a district short on progressive legislative leadership.

The factors that combined to give her a win in September make her the best choice in the general election as well.

Muscarella, a Clearwater land-use lawyer and a former teacher, seems driven by the need for ethics reform in government, better support for education and higher priority for other children's issues including health care and day care. She believes lottery money should be used as intended, to enhance education spending, instead of to replace general revenues. She recognizes the failings of Florida's criminal justice and transportation systems. She would not support any restrictions on abortion rights.

The Democratic contender in this race, Marilyn Dewey, is a bright candidate with a similarly knowledgeable grasp of the issues, but her base of experience and involvement is not as broad. She also seems less prepared for the race than in her 1988 attempt to gain the seat.

It should be noted that Muscarella championed the dredging of Dunedin Pass, an unsound environmental move. She also is pushing a misguided amendment that would limit annual increases in homestead tax assessments until property is sold, a dirty trick to play on young renters and other future homebuyers. As she pledges to do, she will have to be conscious of the conflicts inherent in being a lawmaker whose legal practice specializes in representing developers.

These concerns, however, do not overshadow Muscarella's overall potential for being an effective legislator. We recommend her in District 51.

Hafner in District 54

To judge whether Lars Hafner should be returned to the Legislature for a second term, voters should consider his record, of course.

As a newcomer to Tallahassee, Democrat Hafner did his homework, learned the process and worked hard to represent his constituents. In 1989 and 1990, he successfully shepherded efforts to restore money for social services for the elderly in Pinellas and Pasco counties that had been slashed because of a change in the way the state distributed funds. As a member of the Natural Resources Committee, he chaired the subcommittee that presented the House version of a key environmental land-buying program. He served on the Appropriations Committee, a prestigious appointment for a new lawmaker. Colleagues thought enough of Hafner to elect him president of the freshman class in 1988, and the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services recently recognized him as a Distinguished Legislator. Voters also should consider the enthusiasm and drive that allowed Hafner to accomplish so much in his first term.

This is in clear contrast to the Republican candidate, Dorothy Sample, who is attempting to take back the seat Hafner won from her in 1988. She was not an effective House member.

During his campaign to stay in the House, Hafner has walked precincts because he believes it is important for candidates to meet the people, a philosophy that helps keep him in touch with what members of his district think about government. He is an assistant professor of communications at St. Petersburg Junior College who sees education, the environment, crime and family issues as critical focuses for the coming session.

We strongly recommend letting Lars Hafner continue to serve the people of District 54 and all of Florida.

Brennan in District 57

Mary Brennan has done much to show voters in District 57 why they should send her to the Legislature.

Brennan, a public information officer for Pinellas Park, understands the legislative process. She has worked on several legislative campaigns, was a legislative aide and has been active in the Pinellas Democratic Party, including as its chairwoman from July 1989 to March 1990. In her first attempt as a candidate for District 57 in 1988, she received a respectable 42 percent of the vote.

More important than her political savvy, however, is her honest desire to serve constituents and her thoughtful perspective on how to do so. She recognizes the relationship between Florida's terrible dropout and juvenile crime record and the lack of a good start in life, from prenatal care to health care to child care. She believes the state has a responsibility to assure affordable health care for all its citizens. She knows that sound environmental policy depends on a wide-reaching approach that includes such things as stricter wetlands regulation and enforcement and the promotion of grassroots recycling efforts. She supports abortion rights.

Brennan has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to the community, with service in numerous civic organizations earning awards for her leadership. She has been active with the Pinellas Park Chamber of Commerce. She has cared enough about her surroundings to serve on the Pinellas Park Planning and Zoning Review Commission and Citizens Budget Advisory Committee.

Brennan's outstanding qualifications make the record of Republican incumbent Jim Frishe look particularly pale. In three terms, Frishe has been a true backbencher who has had little impact on the work of the House.

Brennan would make a difference, and we enthusiastically recommend her in District 57.

Rush for District 59

In four years in Tallahassee, Democrat Brian Rush already has demonstrated the intelligence and energy needed to become an important force for progressive reform in the Legislature. Well before the current probe of legislative ethics, Rush sponsored bills that would limit campaign spending in statewide races and prohibit state officials from accepting gifts valued at more than $100. While new ethics legislation awaits passage, he has voluntarily avoided the kinds of entangling relationships with lobbyists and political action committees that have embarrassed so many of his colleagues and besmirched the reputation of the Legislature.

Rush also has committed himself to substantive programs that would improve the state education system, protect our fragile water supply and expand basic health care to Florida's mostvulnerable citizens. And although he says he is no "tax-and-spend Democrat," he also has had the courage to support the expansion of the state tax base that will be needed to pay for those programs in the long run.

On the other hand, Rush's opponent, Tampa schoolteacher Polly Demma, has run a largely negative campaign that has been critical of the state education and law enforcement systems without offering realistic proposals for improving them. The Times strongly recommends Rush for re-election.

Figg for District 60

Mary Figg also deserves re-election _ and probably a Purple Heart as well _ if only in recognition of her tireless and innovative work on behalf of a new state transportation plan in the face of the governor's dithering obstruction. Her efforts were only partially successful, but she can claim credit for having worked for months to help the state avoid a true transportation disaster.

In the meantime, Figg also found time to direct her considerable talents to such pressing issues as infant mortality, inadequate education funding, water conservation and budget reform. By contrast, her Republican opponent, Todd Stevens, is a one-issue protest candidate who is generally unfamiliar with the pressing concerns that will confront the Legislature in the next two years. Hillsborough County, and all of Florida, will reap the benefits if Figg returns for a fifth term in Tallahassee.

Clements for District 62

Democrat S. L. "Spud" Clements Jr. will never be accused of excessive activism. He recognizes the inadequacy of the state's tax base, but he says he intends to wait for the report of yet another budget and taxation study commission before supporting any new revenue plan. As a member of the Commission on Assault Weapons, he has resisted efforts to ban the sale of military-style semiautomatic weapons in Florida. He supports the idea of reform in such areas as health care and criminal sentencing, but he hasn't been active in proposing or supporting new solutions.

Still, Clements' 10 years in Tallahassee have helped him develop a good understanding of the state's problems, as well as the ways in which the Legislature can realistically address them. His reliable, if uninspiring, legislative record warrants his re-election over inexperienced Republican challenger Chris Corr.

Martinez for District 65

Elvin Martinez's well-documented legal and financial troubles are not directly related to the longtime legislator's public duties, but they reached their climax at an especially inopportune time. Given the larger crisis of ethics and leadership now facing Tallahassee, a strong Republican opponent would have been well positioned to make a case for turning Martinez out of his job.

Unfortunately, Andy Steingold, the assistant state attorney who received the Republican nomination, has not demonstrated the depth and breadth that voters have a right to expect from their legislators. Steingold seems sincerely motivated, but he shows little grasp of the many important state issues that lie outside of his direct experience in the prosecutor's office.

Martinez's conviction on tax charges should be considered an extremely serious factor in his race, but not necessarily a disqualifying one. Despite his documented faults, Martinez has maintained a commendable record of progressive populism on such issues as juvenile justice, indigent health care and drug treatment. The Times recommends Martinez for re-election.

Glickman for District 66

Ron Glickman does his homework. In four years in the House, he has immersed himself in the details of important issues _ such as health care, taxes, education and ethics _ that affect virtually all Floridians. He showed a similar willingness to tackle some of the less glamorous aspects of public service during his tenure as a state prosecutor and in his partial term as a county commissioner. As a result, Glickman is a far more knowledgeable and effective legislator than he was when he first was elected to the House.

Moreover, Glickman has applied his knowledge and energy to a progressive legislative agenda. His Republican opponent, Dr. Jose Mijares, is a colorful personality who has been involved in the Tampa community since he emigrated from Cuba 30 years ago. However, he hasn't done his homework. For example, he professes to be utterly unfamiliar with such basic issues as the 1985 Growth Management Act or criminal sentencing guidelines. In the absence of informed opposition, Glickman clearly has deserves re-election.

Opportunity to reply

The St. Petersburg Times offers candidates not recommended by its editorial board an opportunity to reply in print. Candidates in today's House races who wish to take advantage of that offer should send their replies of no more than 300 words to Robert Pittman to arrive prior to 9 a.m. Oct. 25.

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