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Pinellas votes could change face of Cabinet

Let's be parochial for a minute.

Two longtime state representatives from the Tampa Bay area are fighting hard to get elected statewide.

Doug Jamerson, who represented St. Petersburg in the House for a dozen years, wants to be elected as Florida's education commissioner.

Sandra Mortham, who represented the Largo area for eight years, wants to become Florida's secretary of state.

The pair represents two sides of the political spectrum in Pinellas County: Mortham is the House Republican leader, known for stinging attacks of the state bureaucracy; Jamerson is a Democrat and loyal supporter of Lawton Chiles.

If elected, they would be the only Tampa Bay people to sit on the Florida Cabinet.

Both could be in trouble.

Jamerson squeaked by in the primary with about 51 percent of the vote. Now the latest poll by Associated Industries shows Jamerson slightly behind his Republican opponent, Frank Brogan. The same poll shows Mortham in a statistical tie with her opponent, Ron Saunders.

Can they win? Both remain upbeat about it.

"We're on target," Jamerson said. "We're in hyperdrive."

Jamerson said he is "uniquely qualified" for the job. He stresses his experience as a past chairman of the House Education Committee, as a teacher and administrator, but also hammers on the theme of change.

Jamerson was chief architect of the Blueprint 2000 school-reform plan, designed to bring more local control to schools.

"I forced the idea of change on the education establishment," Jamerson said. He said Brogan doesn't have the legislative experience to accomplish something like that.

"My opponent's going to have trouble finding out where the bathrooms are," Jamerson said.

He raps Brogan, the elected superintendent of Martin County's school system, for supporting school vouchers, which would use public dollars to allow parents to send their kids to private schools. "This guy's elected but still he's advocating destroying the public school system."

But Brogan said Jamerson is "owned lock, stock and barrel by the special interest groups," such as teacher unions.

As to Blueprint 2000, he says, "For 30 years the ship we call education has been sinking, and for 30 years we have been telling the people on deck to arrange the deck chairs." He puts Blueprint 2000 in the deck-chair category.

Brogan called Jamerson's comments about vouchers a "terror tactic." Brogan said that he would oppose a law requiring all Florida school systems to introduce vouchers, and that he supports local control for schools. So if local school boards decide they want vouchers, so be it.

In one sense, Jamerson is luckier than Mortham. People know what education is. Secretary of state is a different story. Say you're running for that office and it sounds like you're trying to unseat Warren Christopher.

Florida's secretary of state supervises records, oversees elections and administers cultural programs _ duties that are important but so boring that Mortham doesn't talk much about them.

Instead, she focuses on the Cabinet and points out that her vote on that board would count just as much as the governor's.

That's why the race comes down to a general philosophy of government, she said, and hers is that "less government is the best government."

She said the people want "someone who really has the guts to change things. The status quo is very obviously not working."

But Saunders, also a legislator for eight years, said he has the experience to get things done. He has been chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which puts out the state budget.

He pointed out that the incoming speaker of the House is a fellow Democrat, Rep. Peter Rudy Wallace of St. Petersburg. "I would say my rapport with Peter Wallace is better than his rapport with Mortham."

Jamerson and Mortham are so different it's hard to imagine the voters picking both of them.

If they do, Pinellas County might be the reason. It's known as a county that will support candidates from different parties.