1. Opinion

For a better Florida House

Published Jul. 20, 2012

The Aug. 14 primaries for the Florida House offer Tampa Bay voters an opportunity to choose some new faces, embrace some old ones who want to return to the Legislature and advance some incumbents.

Lynn Thomas Dostal District 34, Democrats

This isn't much of an election. Lynn Thomas Dostal, a special education teacher in Hernando County, wants the Democratic Party nomination. Yet it doesn't seem likely he will stick around for the general election to challenge incumbent Rep. Jimmie T. Smith, R-Inverness.

Dostal, 70, of Homosassa initially suspended his candidacy after independent Nancy Argenziano, a former Republican state senator and Public Service Commission member, announced her intention to challenge Smith. But the emergence of a stealth Democratic candidate caused Dostal to resume his campaign. Dostal hopes to win the Democratic primary, then consider withdrawing, allowing Argenziano to unify the opposition against Smith.

Robert Raymond Goocher, 25, a technician in his father's automobile repair business, paid the $1,781 candidate filing fee even though he listed a 19-year-old pickup truck valued at $3,000 as his sole asset. Goocher has not answered the claim from Democrats that he is a Republican Party plant trying to help Smith position himself for the general election. Democrats deserve better in this district, which covers Citrus County and part of northwest Hernando County.

In the Democratic primary for House District 34, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Lynn Thomas Dostal.

Mike Fasano District 36, Republicans

Florida needs more public servants like Mike Fasano in Tallahassee.

After 18 years in the Legislature, the last 10 as a west Pasco-based senator, Fasano is running in the newly drawn House District 36. The west Pasco district runs the length of the county.

Fasano, 54, of New Port Richey has grown from a loyal Republican foot soldier to an independent lawmaker willing to butt heads with Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders over such ill-conceived ideas as privatizing prisons, creating a new state university in Lakeland, and wildly raising premiums for sinkhole coverage and other property insurance. His constituent service also is excellent.

James Mathieu, 58, a Port Richey lawyer, and Michael Kennedy, 42, a Hudson electrician, cannot offer legitimate reasons for Republican voters to reject Fasano's experience and leadership. Mathieu's next-door neighbor filed as a write-in candidate for the November ballot, so the closed primary excludes Democrats and independent voters.

In the Republican primary for House District 36, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Mike Fasano.

Richard Corcoran District 37, Republicans

Over a few months in 2010-11, Rep. Richard Corcoran went from a behind-the-scenes Republican operative and legislative staffer who had never won an election to become the presumed speaker of the Florida House in 2016. The midcareer transformation is a testament to this west Pasco lawyer's tenacious political skills that should be a long-term asset to constituents in the newly drawn District 37 in Pasco County.

Corcoran, 47, doesn't stray much from the conservative playbook. He wants to limit government regulation to create jobs, and he still supports the onetime proposal from then-Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio to increase the sales tax while eliminating property taxes. Corcoran was chief of staff during part of Rubio's tenure as speaker.

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Strother Hammond, 37, of Land O' Lakes is a first-time candidate who sells long-term care insurance. He is focused on civil liberties and overturning the federal Affordable Care Act. He is not a viable candidate.

There is no Democrat in the race, which will be decided by Republican voters only because of a write-in candidate on the November ballot. Republicans who want a strong, credible legislative leader should stick with Corcoran.

In the Republican primary for House District 37, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Richard Corcoran.

Jake Raburn District 57, Republicans

The strongest Republican candidate for this southeast Hillsborough County seat is also the youngest.

Jake Raburn, 27, is a Hillsborough native who grew up in Plant City. He knows this rural, suburban and farming area like the back of his hand. In Tallahassee, his degree and experience in agriculture would be a plus for this vital Florida industry. His job as marketing director for a family farm and packing house also keeps him in touch with the concerns of small employers.

Raburn and his opponent, business development officer Brian Hollands, offer much of the same low-tax, business-friendly policies. Both would focus on improving education, but Raburn seems more supportive of the public schools. He also has a broader outlook on the need to invest in transportation and other infrastructure.

Hollands, 45, also marginalizes himself by vowing to serve no more than four years in the House. Raburn better understands the diversity of the district, which includes the communities of greater Sun City Center, Wimauma and Fish Hawk, and his personable nature is appealing.

In the Republican primary for House District 57, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jake Raburn.

Betty Jo Tompkins District 59, Republicans

This is a choice between bumper-sticker candidates and an established Republican who actually knows what she's doing.

Betty Jo Tompkins, 65, is a longtime fixture in the Brandon area, the heart of this newly drawn east Hillsborough district. It covers much of the area served by Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, who is running for state Senate. Tompkins' work at the county farm bureau and with the Brandon chamber give her the perspective and the contacts to push a broad agenda.

A solid conservative on tax and regulatory issues, Tompkins has responsible ideas for education reform, economic development and job training. Her approach for curbing welfare spending — denying recipients the ability to purchase "jumbo shrimp" and other items — is demeaning and shallow. But Tompkins' real-life experiences make her the adult in this race. Her reputation for speaking her mind could put her district's concerns ahead of the top-down agenda in Tallahassee.

Joe Wicker, 34, a corporate business manager, looks like a bright, young face from central casting, but he cannot spell out even the sketchiest agenda. Michael "Mike" Floyd, 68, a retired police officer, has a thoughtful agenda, but his campaign is lackluster. Ross Spano, a 46-year-old attorney, offers little.

In the Republican primary for House District 59, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Betty Jo Tompkins.

Betty Reed District 61, Democrats (open primary)

The incumbent in this race has had a hard time putting her priorities — health care and social services — at the forefront of a Republican-led Legislature. But Rep. Betty Reed has championed the concerns of this urban Tampa district and merits another term.

Reed, 71, was first elected in 2006, and a victory would give her a final, two-year term. As a member of the small Democratic minority, she has done a good job advocating for public health, education and civil rights, and in tempering the excesses of the Republican majority. Reed has supported expanding health care, substance abuse and suicide prevention programs to at-risk populations. She has long worked to curb infant mortality, and she has been a strong voice for antidiscrimination efforts.

Tatiana M. Denson, 33, wants to inspire "generational" change, a not-so-subtle dig at Reed. She is a first-time candidate with a weak political agenda and an undistinguished civic record.

Because these two Democrats are the only candidates running, this race is open to all voters in the urban neighborhoods of Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights and Temple Crest.

In the Democratic primary for House District 61, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Betty Reed.

Mark Danish District 63, Democrats

Democrats have a choice between two strong candidates in this race, both of whom understand the role higher education plays in Florida and this university-area district. The winner faces incumbent Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison in November.

Mark Danish, 58, has the edge in this race. The middle school science teacher has lived in the community for 35 years, and he has a solid grasp of the district's bread-and-butter concerns. Danish would spend more on the schools, make the tax code fairer and invest in ports, transportation and other public infrastructure.

Z.J. Hafeez, 28, embraces largely the same platform and speaks as movingly about modernizing Florida's economy. An attorney, he ran two years ago for a House seat in southern Hillsborough. Hafeez is sharp and engaging, but he needs to put down more roots if he wants a political career.

Danish is attuned to middle-class concerns, and his focus on the basics — quality schools, jobs and transportation — should have broad appeal in this north Tampa district, which includes Tampa Palms, Lutz, Lake Magdalene, Forest Hills and the University of South Florida area.

In the Democratic primary for House District 63, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Mark Danish.

Peter Nehr District 65, Republicans

Incumbent Rep. Peter Nehr has drawn three primary opponents as he pursues a fourth and final term in this newly redrawn North Pinellas district, but none of them should pose much of a threat.

Nehr, 60, of Palm Harbor has an unremarkable legislative record and generally follows the House Republican leadership. To his credit, he voted against an anticonsumer property insurance bill. He offers experience and a modicum of common sense.

The new district includes about 60 percent of Nehr's old District 48, stretching southward from Tarpon Springs to Clearwater. Nehr points to his support of veterans and support for education funding while holding down spending as his major achievements during the last legislative session. He has opposed the expansion of offshore oil drilling, and he supports efforts to collect the sales tax on Internet purchases.

Advertising account executive Tory Perfetti, 30, retired design engineer Philip Tropea, 74, and real estate agent Marg Baker, 71, echo the same mantra of reducing the size of government but offer few realistic ideas on how achieve it. Tallahassee needs pragmatic solutions to the state's problems, not more empty rhetoric.

In the Republican primary for House District 65, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Peter Nehr.

Mary Louise Ambrose District 66, Democrats

Democrats in this redrawn, mid Pinellas district that includes the beaches have a choice between two good candidates. Mary Louise Ambrose of Belleair Bluffs and Joanne "Cookie" Kennedy of Indian Rocks Beach are small business owners who want the chance to face incumbent Republican Rep. Larry Ahern. Kennedy is engaging, but Ambrose has a more sophisticated undeed understanding of state issues.

Ambrose, 69, moved full time to Belleair Bluffs seven years ago and owns a Largo insurance agency with her husband. Before that, her career in New Jersey spanned from practicing law to working in financial services. Ambrose is no fan of the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., but she is aware that homeowners, particularly in Pinellas County, cannot afford the wholesale depopulation that Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott are pushing. She champions investment in education and transportation as necessary to Florida's long-term business climate. And she opposes legislative efforts that have made voting less accessible and interfered with women's reproductive choices.

Kennedy, 52, grew up in Pinellas County and owns a hair salon. She has similar policy positions. She is a likable candidate and a proven campaigner, serving as city commissioner in Indian Rocks Beach. But Ambrose is better prepared to serve in Tallahassee.

In the Democratic primary for House District 66, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Mary Louise Ambrose.

Ed Hooper District 67, Republicans

Ed Hooper has represented his North Pinellas district well for six years. The former Clearwater city commissioner and firefighter is a mainstream conservative and a pragmatic lawmaker who is not given to extreme positions.

Hooper, 64, opposes oil drilling in state waters, universal vouchers and the expansion of casino gambling. He supports the "stand your ground'' law but says it should be clarified. He backs the collection of sales tax on Internet sales and recognizes the importance of investing in education. He usually votes with the Republican House leadership, but he voted against drug testing for state workers.

This year, Hooper sponsored the local bill that would have required the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to give up its property tax if voters approve a transit plan that calls for raising the local sales tax by 1 cent. It was a conservative approach, but rail opponents persuaded Gov. Rick Scott to veto it.

Christopher Shepard, 24, is an Osceola High School graduate, military veteran and St. Petersburg College student. He is a tea party member who opposes the Pinellas transit plan, but he has little grasp of state issues.

District 67 covers about two-thirds of Hooper's old district and includes parts of Clearwater, Largo and Pinellas Park.

In the Republican primary for House District 67, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Ed Hooper.

Frank Farkas District 68, Republicans

Frank Farkas represented northeast St. Petersburg in the House in 1998-2006 and seeks to return to Tallahassee because he does not like the Legislature's direction. The 56-year-old chiropractor cites a lack of leadership, the approval of Florida Polytechnic University and too much meddling in higher education.

In the House, Farkas worked on health care issues and reforms for Medicaid and nursing homes. He embraced public education causes and criminal justice alternatives to prison. But Farkas also backed drug industry efforts to weaken the tracking of drugs and was too loyal to discredited House Speaker Johnnie Byrd.

Distance has provided Farkas with some valuable perspective. He says he would be more independent if he returns to Tallahassee. He regrets voting for 2006 legislation that allows Progress Energy to bill customers for advance work on a nuclear power plant that may never be built. He also voted for the "stand your ground'' law and says it should be modified. Now Farkas wants to help Florida businesses expand and create other training options for students who won't go to college. He supports a Pinellas referendum on mass transit and collecting the sales tax on Internet sales.

Daryle Hamel, 37, is a New York native who moved to Florida in 2009 and is a finance manager at an auto dealership. He supports universal school vouchers and more offshore drilling. Hamel knows little about the district or state issues.

District 68 covers northeast St. Petersburg and part of Pinellas Park. In the Republican primary for House District 68, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Frank Farkas.

Kathleen Peters, District 69, Republicans

There is a clear choice in the Republican primary in this south Pinellas district. South Pasadena mayor and businesswoman Kathleen Peters offers a welcome dose of common sense, political experience and a commitment to civic activism for House District 69. She has a breadth of experience that includes creating her own business, addressing the needs of her city and working for years on juvenile justice and education issues.

Peters, 51, the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce vice president for public affairs, understands public policy. She understands the value of investing in public education and training the workforce. She supports collecting the sales tax on Internet sales, exploring alternative energy sources and improving mass transit in Pinellas.

David Phillips, 30, is an attorney specializing in health care matters. He offers few specifics beyond wanting to serve his community. Jim Dobyns, 47, a political consultant and entertainment industry props supplier, believes too much money is spent on education and wants to find a Florida billionaire to underwrite an effort to develop alternative energy resources.

District 69 is an open seat in Pinellas County and includes Gulfport, Kenneth City, part of west St. Petersburg and several south Pinellas beach communities. In the Republican primary for House District 69, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Kathleen Peters.


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