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House District 57 boasts a 3-way race

Experience. Environment. Engagement.

Each word corresponds with a theme for each of the three candidates running for state House District 57, which includes South Tampa, Town 'N Country and parts of Westchase.

The incumbent, Republican Faye Culp, has held the seat for eight of the past 12 years.

Democrat Deborah Cope is past president of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club.

Green Party candidate Brian Becker has had a campaign sign wrapped with toilet paper and his face ripped out of another. At least he wasn't being ignored, he said.

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While everyone was on their main course last week, Culp was still picking at her salad at the Tampa Interbay Rotary Club luncheon. She was the guest speaker. But before holding court, she took questions from the round table where she was sitting.

"Are there any big differences between you and your opponent?" someone asked.

Culp didn't mince words attacking Cope, whom she defeated two years ago.

"One major difference would be she, I don't think, knows anything about how government works," Culp said.

She said Cope didn't know much about business. She doesn't have a job, and Culp said she wonders what Cope does.

"She's a nice lady," Culp said. "Tends to agree with me."

She said Cope's last name posed the biggest problem to her re-election bid because it was similar to hers.

Culp tries to outwork her opponents, and she impresses voters with her knowledge of government. She can rattle off the voter registration phone line by heart and can explain the inner workings of the state House easily. She sleeps five hours a day and was known to run between meetings in the House.

She recently underwent gallbladder surgery, but the day planner she carries around shows she hasn't slowed down before the election.

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Cope sat outside the Jan Platt Regional Library on Halloween, where she would campaign and give out treats.

It was an appropriate location considering one of her heroes is Platt, the former Hillsborough commissioner who was often a lone, staunch vote in the face of opposition. She was also an environmental advocate.

Cope said she gave up her mid-six-figures consulting job because she was tired of traveling and watching bad development spring up in her back yard. She said she spends much of her time lobbying county boards and other government agencies about environmental concerns. With the Sierra Club, she said, she helped stop the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from building a training facility on land now preserved.

A state representative should focus on larger issues such as growth management and mass transit, she said, but Culp spends too much time on smaller issues.

"I don't think she's focusing enough on the important issues," Cope said.

Like Platt, she sometimes feels alone. Her entire family was staunch Vermont Republicans.

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Becker grew up in what was then West Germany with the Berlin Wall. It represented the segregation and silencing of political opinion, he said.

He believes everyone should engage in discussion and give a point of view even in the face of ridicule.

If his campaign does nothing else, he said, it's an opportunity for him to have his views heard.

He used to a be Libertarian and believes strongly in protecting civil liberties. But he doesn't trust that party's total faith in private industry. He invests in real estate and backs the environment.

"I'd like to say I'm in the left wing of the Libertarian Party, and the right wing of the Green Party," he said.

Some automatically discount him, like a woman who waved him off when he went door to door or a Republican who said, "I'm sorry. I can't vote for you."

But some listen. And when Becker found his face torn out of one of his signs, he joked, "was it a secret admirer?"

It was engagement, he said.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or