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For a better Florida House of Representatives

District 43:Helen Spivey

Helen Spivey staged one of the truly remarkable comebacks of this election year when, after finishing second in a three-way Democratic primary, she rallied to overcome well-heeled opponent Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick in the October runoff. Now she is facing Republican nominee Gene Keith in the general election.

Spivey is by far the more qualified candidate and deserves the support of all voters in District 43, which is in Citrus and Hernando counties.

Spivey has distinguished herself as an unrelenting defender of the environment and is as well-versed in land- and water-use management issues as most people who make a living in that field. Her tireless efforts to preserve sensitive lands and water resources and to protect the manatee have earned Spivey the praise of her supporters and the respect of her detractors.

But Spivey, a Florida native who lives in Crystal River, is not a one-issue candidate. Her thinking is equally progressive on the need for comprehensive health care reform, more focused educational curricula and the need to overhaul the state's criminal justice system. On every significant topic, Spivey outshines her opponent, Keith, who has an alarmingly weak understanding of the issues facing Florida.

Helen Spivey should be an outstanding state representative. We strongly recommend her.

District 44: Jeff Stabins

In a contemporary political climate where many voters put great stock in labeling candidates "conservative" or "liberal," Jeff Stabins is a contradiction. While the Republican incumbent is conservative when it comes to his philosophy on government intrusion, fiscal management and taxes, he is liberal on social and educational issues.

Judging by the impressive win Stabins posted in the primary election _ 70 percent of his party's vote _ his nonconformist doctrine is popular with his constituents.

Because of that widespread support, and because Stabins has been a conscientious and accessible lawmaker during his first term in the state House of Representatives, we recommend voters re-elect him.

Stabins' opponent is Joan Smith, a political newcomer who lives in eastern Hernando County. Although Smith has been active in Democratic Party politics, this is her first run for elected office. While Smith probably would be a promising county commission candidate, she has not demonstrated the acumen to be an effective state legislator.

On the other hand, Stabins, who was as green as they come when he took office two years ago, has grown in his job. He now handles the responsibility with aplomb, and his perspective on issues facing the district is much broader. However, Stabins needs to improve his ability to build consensus among his colleagues for his ideas. With that stipulation, we have no reason to doubt Stabins' promises to work even harder during his second term.

We believe voters in District 44, which includes Hernando and Sumter counties and parts of Pasco, Polk and Lake counties, should give Stabins that opportunity.

District 45: Marcelino Oliva

Democrat Marcelino Oliva's history of community service, professional and personal achievement, make him the best candidate by far to replace retiring Rep. John Long in District 45.

Oliva has served his state and community for decades both professionally, as a Dade City osteopathic physician, and personally in a variety of ways. In 1972, for example, Oliva was appointed by Gov. Reubin Askew to the founding board of directors of Pasco-Hernando Community College. He served as vice chairman of that board in 1973-74. Oliva served as an appointed member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission in 1977-78. In 1979 he was appointed to the Florida Board of Governors of the Patient's Compensation Fund. He also is the recipient of numerous professional honors and awards.

With Long's departure, residents of central and west Pasco County lost a large measure of power in the Legislature. Oliva is unquestionably the more likely of the two candidates in this race to quickly recapture that influence. As a state representative, he would command immediate and well-deserved respect from his colleagues. Many lawmakers already know him, if not by reputation, by personal contact through his work as chairman of the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association's legislative committee.

Oliva's qualities as a candidate contrast sharply with those of his Republican opponent Mike Fasano, whose combative political reputation was forged by petty controversy rather than public service. Fasano, a former candidate for the Pasco County Commission and Florida House, has alienated members of his own party and is seen as a political opportunist. This year he worked hard to overcome his past by projectinghimself as a gentle, moderately conservative states-man. His packaging was impressive, until late in the campaign when it began to disintegrate.

We recommend Oliva.

District 46: Debra Prewitt

West Pasco voters will choose from a slate of familiar candidates Nov. 8 to replace retiring Rep. Phil Mishkin in District 46. We recommend Democratic candidate Debra Prewitt.

Prewitt, 30, already has more experience in elective office than many candidates who are twice her age. For six years she served on the New Port Richey City Council, the last two as mayor. During that time she helped maintain the city's robust financial condition, while continuing an ongoing program of capital improvements and forging a strong comprehensive plan.

As mayor, Prewitt proved her mettle during a controversy concerning the establishment of an adult bookstore. City residents pressured the council to block the bookstore, though it met all legal criteria necessary to open. As other council members pandered, Prewitt argued persuasively in defense of the First Amendment. Her efforts, though still unpopular among some city residents, undoubtedly spared the city an expensive lawsuit.

Prewitt's Republican opponent, Bill Phillips, 37, also served his community as a member of the New Port Richey City Council. Like Prewitt, he is thoughtful, articulate and moderately conservative. He and Prewitt agree on many issues. Against another opponent we might recommend him. Against Prewitt, he is a close second. As a city council member facing difficult decisions, Phillips occasionally waffled and played to the gallery. Whether this reflected honest indecision or political calculation, we believe Prewitt's solid record suggests that she is the more reliable of the two.

District 47: Brian Rush

In his eight years representing District 47, which now includes parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, Democrat Brian Rush has proved to be a strong voice for progress. He helped increase Hillsborough County's share of funding for public schools, stood up for ethics in the Legislature and voted for measures to protect the environment. Those are compelling enough reasons to return him for a fifth term, but his opponent provides a few more.

Unlike Rush, Republican Rob Wallace believes money isn't a problem for public schools. Rush knows it takes more than rhetoric to improve education, which is why he has proposed a local-option sales tax to build a special school for disruptive students and to make other improvements. That's a reasonable position and in keeping with the trend of giving more power to local school boards.

Unlike Rush, Wallace supports casino gambling. He says he doesn't see it as "a serious threat." Rush, on the other hand, understands that Florida doesn't need casino gambling and is "absolutely opposed" to a constitutional amendment that would authorize it across the state.

Wallace is more moderate than many of the Republican candidates running in this cynical election year, but rather than simply railing against government, Rush has tried to improve it. He deserves another chance to keep up the good work.

District 49: Larry Crow

Voters in this district _ in the central and northern parts of Pinellas County _ are fortunate to have a choice of two worthy candidates to replace former Rep. Sandra Mortham, who gave up the seat to seek the secretary of state's office.

Tarpon Springs lawyer Larry Crow is a moderate, energetic Republican who promises to work for bipartisan consensus on issues such as education reform and growth management. He already has developed personal and political connections with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle, and those existing relationships would give him a head start on most Tallahassee freshmen.

Crow's Democratic opponent, Dr. Nicholas Alexiou, is a Clearwater physician who has been active in his party's organizational efforts in Pinellas County. Alexiou speaks passionately and knowledgeably about the need for health care reform, and he also has progressive ideas on education and crime.

But Alexiou, who acknowledges having entered the race only after failing to persuade other possible candidates to run, doesn't speak with Crow's detailed knowledge on the broader issues that come before the Legislature. The Times recommends Crow, who has the preparation and personality to become a leader in the Tampa Bay legislative delegation.

Libertarian Party candidate Paul Crumrine also is on the ballot in this race.

District 51: Mary Brennan

Democrat Mary Brennan's opponent in this race is trying to win by pinning political labels on her, but they won't stick. That's because Brennan is, at heart, a Pinellas Park community activist; Pinellas Park is, in turn, at the heart of this district. She is a civic believer who went to Tallahassee and who has worked hardest on the community issues for which there is broad consensus _ education, health care, law enforcement and the environment.

In her two terms as state representative, Brennan also has maintained her refreshing candor and her strong commitment to open and accountable government. Insurance agent Carl Neuman, her opponent, is running a disappointing campaign that relies on shallow polemics; his platform, which includes dismantling welfare and giving tax money to private-school parents, is far outside the political mainstream.

We recommend Brennan.

District 53: Lars Hafner

Lars Hafner grew up in the neighborhood and schools he now represents as a state lawmaker, and the connection has worked for him. In his district, which includes western St. Petersburg, Hafner is known as a representative who has been able to wield influence in the state Capitol but who puts the interests of his own constituents first.

That combination, which is increasingly rare in today's politics, is what has helped Hafner, a Democrat, become a three-term representative. And it is why voters in District 53 should want to send him back.

Hafner has used his position on the influential Appropriations Committee to assure that programs for the elderly are protected, and to secure $27-million in state money for a marine science center and library at the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus. At the same time, his support of larger elderly service goals, educational reform, environmental programs and criminal justice reform has won him recognition on a statewide level.

Hafner's opponent in this race is Republican Ernest Curtsinger, who was fired in 1992 as police chief of St. Petersburg and then ran unsuccessfully for mayor. Curtsinger may think he still has a score to settle at City Hall, but in this race his anger is simply out of place. Curtsinger's opponent here is Hafner, not City Hall, and Hafner has a long and respected history in the district; in a telling endorsement, Hafner also was named legislator of the year by the Pinellas Police Benevolent Association. Curtsinger, on the other hand, moved to the city four years ago and was actively seeking police jobs elsewhere within a few months of announcing his candidacy.

Hafner is a solid lawmaker who has won acclaim from senior citizen groups, environmental organizations, law enforcement, educators _ and most notably from his constituents. We strongly recommend him.

District 56: Jim Davis

Democrat Jim Davis has been such a calm, reasoned voice for change during his three terms in the House that it's easy to lose sight of his steady leadership. His colleagues have recognized his abilities, though, once naming him House member of the year. He has compiled a strong record on education, environmental protection and energy conservation.

Unlike his Republican opponent, Bill Butler, Davis understands that the problems facing Florida are too complex for simple, sound-bite solutions. He favors repealing unmeritorious sales tax exemptions, increasing Hillsborough's share of education funding and continuing the Preservation 2000 land-buying program.

Butler, on the other hand, is satisfied with the state's inequitable tax base, doesn't think money is a problem for schools and has no opinion about Preservation 2000. Their differences should make this any easy choice for the voters in District 56, which is based in Hillsborough County.

The Legislature needs more intelligent, moderate members like Davis. Voters should send him back to Tallahassee for a fourth term.

District 57: Ron Glickman

It says something about the level of voter disenchantment with government this year that a dedicated legislator like Democrat Ron Glickman would find himself facing a tough re-election bid against a candidate who served a single, undistinguished term on the Hillsborough School Board.

There are some incumbents in the Florida House who don't belong there, but Glickman isn't one of them. He deserves the enthusiastic support of his constituents, who are based in south Tampa; they would be hard-pressed to find a legislator who devotes more energy and thought to the task of improving state government.

Glickman is the opposite of the modern, blow-dried politician. He's not glamorous, his answers are often long and complex, but he knows what he's doing. And he doesn't care if he gets the credit. He is the kind of legislator who keeps track of court decisions to find defects in state law and then sponsors legislation to fix them. No one asked him to do this; he just does it. He also has focused attention on ethics by banning lobbying contingency fees and improving the monitoring of lobbyists. His ethics are above reproach, which is more than can be said for many of his colleagues.

Republican Faye Culp gave up her seat on the Hillsborough School Board to run against Glickman in 1992. She said then that she was running because she couldn't get much accomplished on the School Board, hardly an admission to commend her for the Legislature. Now she is back for another try and is attempting to paint Glickman as a tax-and-spend, anti-business liberal. Yet Culp herself voted to raise taxes while on the School Board, offers only hollow examples of Glickman's non-existent anti-business bias and suggests only simplistic solutions to the state's complex problems.

Few House members take their jobs as seriously as Glickman. Voters shouldn't give up that kind of dedication in a fit of pique over government in general. Glickman has earned re-election.

District 58: Elvin Martinez

If ever there was a year for Democrat Elvin Martinez, this is it. He is largely responsible for persuading the Legislature and the governor to adopt comprehensive reform of the juvenile justice system and to back that reorganization with the funding to make it work. Others may claim credit this election year, but Martinez deserves it the most.

As chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, Martinez in 1993 pushed through revisions to the sentencing guidelines that ensure that violent repeat-offenders serve a larger portion of their sentences. Martinez also thinks the state should take the lead in reforming health care, especially now that Congress has shrunk from the task.

Republican Doug MacPherson, who is challenging Martinez in this Tampa district, says he should be elected because he's not an incumbent or a lawyer like Martinez. His platform offers the usual simplistic solutions _ eliminate the Department of Education, cut taxes, give vouchers to parents who send their children to private schools.

Martinez has worked hard and deserves to be re-elected.

District 60: Mary Figg

Mary Figg gave up a distinguished career in the House in 1992 to take on state Sen. John Grant. Grant's victory was a double loss for the Legislature, because it left both his constituents and her former constituents without Figg's able leadership.

Figg now is campaigning to unseat Republican Victor Crist, who won the House seat she gave up two years ago. The voters of District 60, based in northeast Tampa and Temple Terrace, would be better served by returning Figg to her seat in the Legislature.

Crist is a man of unusual energy and intensity. He has earned praise for his work as head of a civic association for a beleaguered neighborhood near the University of South Florida, nicknamed Suitcase City. But his two years in the state House have been less distinguished.

He did manage to pass a few bills during his freshman term, mostly because House Speaker Bo Johnson saw a conservative ally in Crist. But he surely will find legislative life far more difficult under incoming House Speaker Peter Rudy Wallace, D-St. Petersburg. Figg, on the other hand, is an old ally of Wallace's and will likely find a spot in his leadership circle, and that will benefit District 60.

Although Crist sounds more moderate than the more strident elements of the GOP, when push comes to shove he votes with his party. He showed that this year when he voted for a limited _ and inherently flawed _ test of school vouchers in Dade County. Figg has criticized that vote, and Crist has retreated. Now he says he's not sure where he stands on vouchers, that he wasn't clear on the original bill but would still like to see the idea tested somewhere.

If Crist cannot see the obvious problems with vouchers after two years in the Legislature, the voters in District 60, which includes many educators, ought to wonder how he will vote on other crucial issues. Consider these: Figg favors comprehensive health care reform while Crist believes a healthy economy is enough; Figg supports bans on assault weapons while Crist says he is "skeptical"; Figg is staunchly pro-choice on abortion while Crist favors a so-called waiting period.

Figg's constituents lost a strong voice in Tallahassee two years ago. They now have a rare chance to bring her back. The Times strongly recommends her.

District 61: Candy VanDercar

Democratic candidate Candy VanDercar and incumbent Republican Carl Littlefield are equally likable, articulate candidates in District 61, a district that includes parts of Pasco and northeast Hillsborough. Both candidates are fiscal conservatives. They agree on some important issues. But there are several important differences, all of which favor VanDercar.

VanDercar says she wants to go to Tallahassee to tackle juvenile crime. Her work as a certified school psychologist lends credence to her approach. She would impose longer jail terms against violent offenders, implement alternative punishments against non-violent offenders, and establish early intervention programs for very young children. The entirety of her plan is too long to detail here but it is based on reason rather than demagoguery.

VanDercar supports abortion rights. She expresses strong support for Florida's growth management laws. She makes a wise argument in favor of the state's Preservation 2000 land-conservation program, noting that "Florida's economy and its environment are intrinsically bound together." VanDercar also is an unequivocal opponent of publicly funded vouchers for private schools.

Littlefield advocates the construction of more prisons but he is unimaginative on the larger question of crime prevention. He is a conditional supporter of private school vouchers. He opposes legal abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. He does not express strong support for Florida's growth management laws and says Preservation 2000 "may have outlived its usefulness." The Florida League of Conservation Voters grades him poorly. To his credit, Littlefield has been responsive to his constituents and effective in passing legislation of importance to them. But we believe VanDercar is the wiser candidate.

Opportunity to reply

The Times offers candidates not recommended by its editorial board an opportunity to reply. Replies from candidates in the state House races should be sent in no later than noon Monday to: Philip Gailey, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. (Fax: 893-8675). Replies are limited to 250 words.