1. Archive

Outsider trying to unseat veteran

In the contest for the District 58 seat in the Florida House, it's the insider _ a popular, 12-term incumbent, versus the outsider _ a political newcomer who wants to scrap the state's tax system.

Elvin L. Martinez, 60, is the insider. Son of a Tampa cigar maker, he's a lawyer, grandfather of seven and Democrat whose popularity has been proven by his election to 24 years in the House since 1966. He has worked his way up to a powerful committee chairmanship. His campaign account bulges with hefty contributions from political action committees.

This year, Martinez was even revered by many of his constituents as "Hispanic Man of the Year."

The outsider is Douglas D. MacPherson, 58. Raised in Orange County, he's now a Town 'N Country Republican who co-owns a computer software business and is making his first run for state office. He thinks Florida's tax structure needs to be junked, and says Martinez, as a long-tenured incumbent, is part of the problem with Florida's government.

He's running a grass roots campaign, but so far has been clobbered in the race for contributions: $48,363 to $1,766.

MacPherson doesn't seem to mind.

"I think I have a good chance to win," he said. "And the No. 1 reason is that my opponent is an incumbent. I think the taxpayers are tired of the tax-and-spend liberal Democrat style of government in Tallahassee."

The central plank in MacPherson's platform is a novel idea about financing state government. He'd seek a tax cap, then abolish the existing tax system in favor of a maximum 1 percent, across-the-board "commerce tax" on every good and service purchased in Florida.

There'd be no more sales tax, no more property tax. MacPherson figures doing away with the county property appraisers and tax collectors in the state's 67 counties would save $600-million a year off the top.

But MacPherson's commerce tax plan strikes Martinez as unusual and cruel.

"One percent on a pint of blood or an iron lung?" he says. "That's kind of callous. That would really be death and taxes."

MacPherson is just as as acerbic about Martinez, whom he criticizes as being a "career politician" who has tied himself to special interests while accruing a small fortune in state pension benefits.

MacPherson says he would refuse state retirement benefits if elected, and he is opposed to taking campaign money from political action committees unless they have clear links to his West Tampa district.

So far, though, MacPherson hasn't been offered a dime of PAC money.

Martinez, meanwhile, has collected $15,450 in PAC contributions, according to his Sept. 30 campaign report. The money has come from PACs for dentists, teachers, bankers, auto dealers, beer distributors and phosphate interests, among others.

But Martinez makes no apologies for his PAC money, or for working in the state House since 1966.

"The financial commitments I've received are endorsements of the highest order," he says. "I'm honored by it. There's nothing sinister about it, especially with the broad spectrum of support I get from teachers, Realtors, law enforcement and others."

As chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee during the last two terms, Martinez re-wrote the juvenile justice crime bill whose philosophy forms the major plank in his platform.

"I intend to dedicate myself to seeing the Department of Juvenile Justice makes a difference with prevention and detention," he says. "If we don't stop juvenile crime, we're doomed."

He wrote legislation eliminating prison gain time and requiring inmates to serve 75 percent of their sentences and wants to assure resources are available to keep middle schools open until 10 p.m. so youngsters will have an alternative to crime on the streets.

A lifelong resident of Hillsborough County, Martinez is a graduate of Jefferson High School, the University of Tampa and Stetson University College of Law. He served a two-year stint in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and has been in private law practice since 1962. Married and the father of five, Martinez saw his tenure in the House interrupted only from 1974 to 1978, when he made unsuccessful bids for the Florida Senate.

His constituents seem hardly to have noticed his 1989 federal conviction for failing to file his income taxes on time. The misdemeanor brought probation and community service _ as well as an outpouring of financial assistance to help defray legal costs. Martinez insists the charges were politically motivated.

MacPherson attended Florida State University on a Fulbright scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree in science engineering from the University of South Florida. He's been in local politics as an elected trustee of the Twelve Oaks Special Taxing District and as a member of the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee. Married and the father of one, he holds patents on various inventions and co-owns a Tampa company called Basic Online Software Systems.

MacPherson also has an arrest record _ for disorderly conduct in Orlando in 1971. MacPherson says he was arrested during a domestic dispute involving his brother and sister-in-law, and that the judge later dropped the misdemeanor charge.

MacPherson has taken his campaign door to door with promises to address constituents' complaints about "crime, taxes and government accountability.

"It all comes back to getting more money out of their back pocket," he says. "There are too many people on the public payroll. The private sector is downsizing; government has to downsize."

Martinez endorses universal medical coverage and supported Gov. Chiles' health care reforms. MacPherson thinks businesses are already over-regulated, and opposes a government requirement for employers to provide health coverage.

MacPherson, whose daughter attends Citrus Park Christian School, favors vouchers for private schools. Under the current system of taxation, he says, the school district "gets $5,000 of my tax dollars for doing nothing."

Martinez's children all attended public schools (though one child spent three years in a private school), and he says a private voucher system "would destroy public education as we know it."