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District 49 race features distinctly different politics

The choice voters face for their next state representative for District 49 in West Pasco County is between distinctly different candidates. One is the Republican incumbent, John Renke, who assails taxes, favors budget reform and points to his record in the Legislature.

The other is the Democratic challenger, Philip Mishkin, who says his first concern is for people, cites his years of volunteer work and says Renke's record is a "negative" one.

Both came to Florida from the industrial Northeast in the 1970s. Renke is from Detroit, and Mishkin is from New York. But the politics they brought with them could not be more different.

Renke, 44, is a lawyer who focuses on reviewing the spending of state agencies and extending the rights of crime victims. Mishkin, 75, is a retired auto plant machinist and union representative who emphasizes universal access to health care and transportation for the elderly.

"People must be the responsibility of government at all levels," Mishkin said recently. He accuses Renke of voting against programs to benefit children and the elderly.

Renke said that when he is asked to vote on an entitlement issue he asks himself how it would benefit or hurt 82-year-old Rose Immediato, an old family friend and widow who lives on a fixed income in New Port Richey. "Will the program's benefits outweigh its costs to Mrs. Immediato?" he said he asks himself.

Renke is an ambitious legislator who has cultivated a close relationship with Gov. Bob Martinez. Renke has served as Republican whip, and been chosen to serve as House minority leader in the next term, should he win this race.

Mishkin, who never before has sought public office, was asked to run by state Democratic leaders who paid his candidate's filing fee. He says Renke is beholden to the businesses and lobbies that have contributed much to Renke's $95,000 campaign treasury. Mishkin counts contributions from the United Auto Workers and the Pasco school employees' union in his $7,000 campaign fund.

Renke says he is running on the strength of his record. On elderly issues, he says his efforts brought a range of health-care options to local hospitals, care that patients formerly had to travel to Tampa to obtain.

Renke says he plans to play an important role in the redrawing of state legislative districts in the next session, and hopes to give Pasco its own state Senate district. Renke also wants to increase the scrutiny of the finances of state agencies, particularly the departments of Health and Rehabilitative Services, and Education.

Mishkin has worked on elderly issues with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and studied elderly access to health care with a statewide committee on universal health insurance. "The United States and South Africa are the only industrialized countries without national health care," he said.

Mishkin's top two campaign priorities are health care and transportation. He was involved with the now-defunct Pasco Shuttle and says the shuttle failed to attract the riders it needed to survive because the stops were not accessible to many residents of the subdivisions in West Pasco.

Mishkin said he went to Tallahassee to help secure a state grant for two more buses, to make the shuttle more workable, only to return to find the Pasco Commission wouldn't match the financing.

"People who need the buses . . . are hurting," Mishkin said. "Public transportation will be successful in West Pasco County if we have the proper routes."

Renke said the shuttle was spending $600,000 for $40,000 in revenue. "If done in the proper way, you could have mass transit . . . one that pays for itself."

Mishkin cites several votes by Renke against breakfast programs for children, public transportation, elderly services. But Renke says raising and creating taxes are the real enemies.