In race to represent Hernando residents in Tallahassee, it's prominent Republican incumbent versus optimistic Democratic newcomer

Colleen Kasperek and Blaise Ingoglia, candidates for state House District 35
Colleen Kasperek and Blaise Ingoglia, candidates for state House District 35
Published October 17 2018

Much as it did two years ago, this year's race for the Florida House of Representatives' District 35 seat casts a titan of his party against an underdog political newcomer.

Blaise Ingoglia, the Republican incumbent who also chairs Florida's GOP, has out-raised his opponent nearly 25-to-1 as he looks to hold onto his seat. Colleen Kasperek, the Democratic challenger, hopes to beat the long odds by bridging the partisan divide.

In his campaign materials, Ingoglia rejected the tag of "career politician" and emphasized his business experience — he built a prosperous home building business, which he still runs, during the real estate boom. And though he's spent two terms in the House and collects a salary for that seat and as party chair, he said he believes his constituents still view him as someone working from his community, not above it.

"As important as it is to be a political leader and a legislative leader," he said, "it's equally important to be a community leader."

Kasperek, an attorney who moved to the county nearly two decades ago, said another local Democratic Party member suggested she run for the seat. She was apprehensive, she said, but decided the race could be her chance to reach across the deepening divide of party lines and try to put people on common ground. And she wants to improve the quality of life in the county, which she said has been derailed economically, educationally and environmentally.

"Hernando County has so much potential, but it's just not making the grade," she said. "And it can make the grade."

To represent the bulk of the county in the state House — District 35 covers all but the northwest quadrant of Hernando County — Kasperek faces an uphill battle. Ingoglia handily defeated his Democratic challenger in 2016, with more than 60 percent of the vote. And Ingoglia has significant backing from his party, including nearly $20,000 to date in in-kind contributions.

Indeed, campaign contributions may illustrate best the difference between Ingoglia's and Kasperek's campaigns. He has raised more than $190,000, much of it from political action committees and major corporations. Kasperek's contributions total just more than $7,500.

Kasperek wants to run on her own merits rather than speaking negatively of her opponent, she said. But she said she sees Ingoglia's contributions as indicative of a political system that value corporate spending and PAC power over grassroots organizing.

"I feel like our elected officials should be like NASCAR drivers," she said, "and just wear (sponsorship) patches on their jackets."

Kasperek is right that Ingoglia has received donations from corporations near and far — Disney and Publix, Verizon and Visa — and from PACs and trade groups. But in an interview, he emphasized the money he's received from residents of and businesses in Hernando County. In his most recent campaign finance disclosure, about $33,000 came from those with Brooksville, Spring Hill and Weeki Wachee addresses.

"I think that shows where my heart lies," he said.

In interviews, both Ingoglia and Kasperek said they want to build a better economic future for Hernando County. But they diverge in the methods they'd use to get there.

Ingoglia said he wants to prioritize more opportunities for vocational training and education, which would produce a workforce he believes could attract and satisfy manufacturers.

"There's amazing opportunity for the next generation of electricians, welders," he said. "With that, there has to be a dialogue between the college, the business community and the high schools."

Kasperek describes attracting businesses that could sustain a middle class as part of an overall need for quality-of-life improvements. She believes more jobs at fast food or major retail chains would do little toward that goal. She wants better schools. She wants people to be able to afford health care.

"Let's have, literally, a healthy population, so they can work, and they can get a good education," she said.

Ingoglia said he understands what his constituents want most — for the county to stay affordable, for young people to be able to buy their first homes here. And he believes his local reputation will carry him through the race.

"They've seen how hard I work for the people of this county," he said.

Kasperek said she's optimistic, energized by in-person interactions she's had with people of both parties.

"I get a great reception from people one-on-one," she said. "They know my heart's in it."

Contact Jack Evans at [email protected] Follow @JackHEvans.