On its face, the race doesn't even seem to be close. The three-term incumbent representative in House District 49, John Renke, is being challenged by Phil Mishkin, a retired machinist in his first contest for public office. Renke, a Republican known for his close association with Gov. Bob Martinez, tentatively has been named minority leader for the next term of the Legislature.
Mishkin, a 75-year-old former union representative, says he can draw on his years of public service and his reputation as an advocate for the elderly.
Renke, 44, focuses on budget reform and says he wants closer monitoring of spending in state agencies, particularly the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.
Some local business leaders criticized Renke when he voted against a transportation bill in April that had provisions for Pasco County roads. Renke says the final bill, which he did support, will provide vital expansion of U.S. 19 and State Road 52.
Despite the advantage of incumbency, Renke says he is not taking the race lightly. "You have to stay in touch with the people," he said.
Mishkin, who was asked to run by state Democratic leaders, says health care and transportation are the most important issues for District 49. "People must be the first responsibility of government at all levels," he said.
Mishkin says the Pasco Shuttle, with which he was involved, couldn't pay for itself because the routes stuck too much with major highways and didn't reach enough people.
He says his three years of work with the Area Agency on Aging and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council have made him particularly sensitive to the needs of the elderly.
Mishkin says he favors government-sponsored health care for all who need it.
He says Renke has a "negative" voting record that consistently has denied important services to the elderly and children.
Renke replies that he has found the costs of certain programs, be it a breakfast program for children or the Pasco Shuttle, to exceed the benefits and that taxes to support such programs are a burden to older people.
The finances and symbols of the campaigns are as different as the candidates themselves.
Renke has raised more than $95,000 for his campaign. Among his many contributors are statewide political action committees for hospital associations, sugar and tobacco companies and building and banking groups. Renke's name stands out on large billboards along U.S. 19.
For his campaign, Mishkin has raised more than $7,000. Most of his contributions are small, although he has received $1,000 from the political action committee for the Pasco County school employees' union. Mishkin's signs tend to be small cards stuck in the ground on sticks.
_ LARRY DOUGHERTY
State House District 49 includes much of western Pasco County and includes New Port Richey, Port Richey and parts of Holiday, Hudson and Shady Hills. Representatives serve two-year terms and are paid $22,560 a year.
PHILIP MISHKIN, 75, is in his first race for public office. He is a retired machinist for Ford Motor Co. who was an elected union representative for the United Auto Workers. He came to Pasco County 16 years ago and has worked on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the Pasco Shuttle. He lives in Port Richey. He is married and has three adult children. ASSETS: Real estate, house, certificate of deposit, savings. LIABILITIES: None. INCOME: Social Security, Ford and union retirement pensions.
JOHN RENKE, 44, is completing his third term in the state House. He was Republican whip and Republican leader on the Finance and Taxation Committee. Renke came to Florida in 1969 after receiving bachelor's and law degrees in Michigan. He has a law practice in New Port Richey. He is married and has two children. ASSETS: Real estate, investments, vehicles. LIABILITIES: Loans, mortgages. INCOME: Lawyer's fees, state representative's salary, rental income.