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Perez hopes second time's a charm

In a district where incumbency and partisanship weigh in his favor, Republican Ed Homan can all but sit back and watch the votes roll in next week.

The Tampa orthopedic surgeon, who is seeking re-election for the third time in Florida House District 60, has earned endorsements from local fire and police associations. He has raised plenty of money from fellow doctors and other high-earning groups. He has the benefit of name recognition, having sat in the same seat for the last four years.

Yet repeat Democratic challenger Karen Perez thinks she has something better to offer: a face and a little human-to-human interaction.

"Over and over, I hear people say, 'We've never even seen him,' " she said. "People are looking for a change. Why not send somebody to state that wants to represent people in this district?"

As a social worker and clinical therapist, Perez, 42, enjoys going door to door and hearing people's problems. She's used to reaching out and showing compassion when people are angry or downtrodden.

Her cell phone voice mail greeting ends with the closing, "Much love, much warmth, much peace."

This kind of empathy is what Perez thinks will give her an edge in the somewhat politically balanced District 60, which includes the mostly suburban areas of New Tampa, Temple Terrace and Lutz. Never mind that she lost to Homan in 2004 by nearly 10,000 votes. This time will be different, she believes, because she has sharpened her campaigning skills while preserving her human touch.

"This second run has given me a place of growth," she said. "I've enjoyed campaigning, and I've enjoyed meeting people. I think people can tell that about me."

But will that necessarily translate into votes?

Homan may not be as openly passionate as Perez about issues involving children and the elderly. But he has been focusing on two issues of great importance this election season: property taxes and insurance. He opposes plans to allow people to take their Save Our Homes property tax cap with them when they move as too costly. And he feels that homeowners should have a variable home insurance rate based on their geography and risk, much like car insurance.

He also believes his experience in office gives him more clout in the House, not to mention an extreme advantage over Perez.

"I didn't understand the advantage of incumbency or partisanship when I first got into politics," Homan said. "But I still have to represent my district. If I'm not doing a good job, the people of this district are going to vote me out."

Perez is counting on it. As a first-time candidate, she got 42 percent of the vote in 2004 to Homan's 58 percent. She talks about hopes for more parental involvement in schools, more medical assistance for the elderly, more focus on families.

Homan, 63, considers himself more of a moderate lawmaker and a champion for broader issues such as health care initiatives and affordable housing. He feels his medical expertise is invaluable to the House, where other representatives call him "Doc."

In Perez's eyes, the differences between her and Homan are simple.

"He fixes and repairs broken bones," she said. "And I fix and repair families."

Emily Nipps can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or nipps@sptimes.com.

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