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  1. Opinion

For a better Florida House

Nancy Argenziano

District 34

Nancy Argenziano is a former legislator known for her independence, a quality in short supply in the House. The former Republican is running as an Independent in this district serving much of northwest Hernando County and all of Citrus County.

Argenziano, 57, is a former Public Service Commission member who looked out for consumers. She says the state should do more to encourage renewable energy and help businesses and homeowners become more energy efficient. She would repeal the 2006 law that enables utilities to bill consumers for preconstruction costs of nuclear power plants that may never be built.

Among Argenziano's other priorities are ethics reform and restoring environmental protections that have been weakened. She opposes the expansion of tuition vouchers and supports collection of the sales tax on Internet sales. She voted for the "stand your ground'' law regarding self-defense and says it is misused to protect criminal behavior. She is open to revising the law but not repealing it.

Republican Rep. Jimmie T. Smith, 47, has served one term. He offers few substantive ideas, and his most notable accomplishment is pushing a law that requires random drug testing of state employees, which is tied up in court. Argenziano's legislative accomplishments include environmental protections, improving seniors' access to generic prescription drugs and helping kill a plan to double local telephone rates.

There is no Democrat in this race. For Florida House District 34, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Nancy Argenziano.

Rose Rocco

District 35

Rep. Robert Schenck is seeking a final, fourth term in District 35 that encompasses most of Hernando County, but his performance does not merit re-election. The Spring Hill Republican is not accessible, and he has not been effective in addressing the district's pressing need to diversify its economy. His tepid embrace of a database to combat prescription drug abuse is also worth noting in a county where babies are four times more likely than the state average to be born into drug addiction.

Schenck, 37, agreed to the database in 2011 but insisted no state or drug company dollars be used — shirking any responsibility for the program's effectiveness.

Hernando County Commissioner Rose Rocco, a Democrat, has focused her campaign on sinkholes and their negative impact on local property tax rolls. She has a record of public service, working to bring infrastructure improvements to impoverished South Brooksville and other communities. She has supported mass transit in Hernando County, and she recently acknowledged she was wrong to promote sprawl by approving large-scale housing developments in rural areas.

Rocco, 71, was far from a perfect commissioner, but she would better represent this district in the House than the incumbent.

For Florida House District 35, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Rose Rocco.

Jake Raburn

District 57

Republican Jake Raburn has the edge over another political newcomer in this race to represent the southeastern Hillsborough County communities of FishHawk, greater Sun City Center and Wimauma.

Raburn, 27, is a Hillsborough County native who has a bachelor's degree in agriculture and works at his family's farming operation, and that experience would be useful in Tallahassee. Raburn also has a broader agenda for job development. He supports investing in the state's infrastructure, including deep-water ports. He would re-evaluate standardized testing in public schools and bring more attention to career and technical training. Raburn said the state needs to give students more opportunities to build a life and a career in Florida.

Bruce Barnett, 49, entered the race out of concern over state funding for education, especially to universities. The Democrat opposes the use of tax incentives to industry, saying the way to attract new companies is to offer quality schools and a better transportation system. Barnett, an Army veteran and businessman, has life experiences that offer a mature perspective.

Raburn has stronger local ties. His open personality and broad civic involvement give him a good feel for the community's pulse.

For Florida House District 57, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jake Raburn.

Dan Raulerson

District 58

Republican Dan Raulerson is the only credible choice in this race to represent this House district that includes Thonotosassa, Plant City and Temple Terrace.

Raulerson, 55, is a Plant City city commissioner and former mayor. His platform is conservative — reduce state spending, cut regulations and make government more business-friendly. None of this breaks new ground. But Raulerson, an accountant, at least understands how governing works and knows eastern Hillsborough County.

Jose Vazquez is a 38-year-old security consultant. The Democrat's agenda is a mishmash of incoherent ideas, from creating a "state car insurance" for some vehicles to exempting companies from certain taxes if they employ workers until their retirement age.

Raulerson earned good marks for his work as mayor and as a commissioner. He recognizes how eastern Hillsborough is changing. He has a good relationship with Tampa and county leaders and understands that government at all levels needs to cooperate to operate efficiently. His history as a city official would likely make him sensitive when lawmakers are looking at pre-empting local control or passing an unfunded mandate.

For Florida House District 58, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Dan Raulerson.

Gail Gottlieb

District 59

The two attorneys in this race both focus on job development. Gail Gottlieb's approach is more sensible, and her open, straightforward style would make her effective in Tallahassee.

Gottlieb, 52, understands that the economy depends on a dynamic private sector. The Democrat would improve the business climate by investing in schools, roads and public safety; leveling the regulatory and tax system; and retooling education to ensure that employees have the skill sets that companies need. Gottlieb sees the value in standardized testing but wants to intervene earlier to address chronic needs in the schools, from keeping class sizes low to reinforcing reading.

Republican Ross Spano, 46, talks of reducing corporate taxes to create a business-friendly environment. But the state has moved in that direction already. Spano has been active in civic life in this eastern Hillsborough County district.

The Brandon area, Valrico and Riverview are experiencing the pains of growing communities. Gottlieb's focus on education and tax fairness, the middle class and ethics in government would raise this district's profile and quality of life. Her plan to make college education more accessible and affordable should appeal to young families in this increasingly diverse area.

For Florida House District 59, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Gail Gottlieb.

Janet Cruz

District 62

Rep. Janet Cruz believes in fair play and opportunity. Those core values and her likable style well serve this heavily Hispanic working-class district, which includes West Tampa, Egypt Lake and Town 'N Country.

Cruz, 56, was first elected in 2010. The Democrat has been a strong supporter of public schools, health and child welfare programs and protecting consumers. She opposes expansion of the use of public vouchers for private school tuition, saying it only drains money from public education. She wants the state to focus instead on fostering and retaining quality teachers. Cruz also wants to reassess how standardized testing is being used to rate the classroom experience.

Republican Wesley G. Warren, 49, is a self-employed maintenance contractor who lives in Seminole Heights. He said the Legislature has not worked hard enough to attract new industry and that state leaders such as Cruz have been absent in the community. These are not compelling arguments for making a change.

Cruz raised the district's profile even in the Republican-dominated House. She has a good working relationship with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and strong ties in her native Tampa. Her attention to health care, criminal justice and small business issues is the right agenda for this urban district. Her work ethic is helping her advance up the leadership ladder.

For Florida House District 62, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Janet Cruz.

Shawn Harrison

District 63

Republican Shawn Harrison has been a moderate voice at the state and local level for his north Tampa constituents. He remains a good fit for this redrawn district, which covers New Tampa, Lutz, the university area and Forest Hills.

Harrison, 47, is a former Tampa City Council member who was first elected to the House in 2010. He has focused mostly on transportation and job development efforts. Harrison supports the use of tax incentives to attract targeted industries, and he wants to provide more assistance to small employers. That could include some regulatory breaks in concert with city and county governments.

Democrat Mark Danish, 58, is a middle school science teacher. Danish says Florida must build its way out of the slow economy, with investments in transportation, public schools and clean energy. He is a credible first-time candidate who knows this district well.

Harrison, though, has a broader grasp of transportation issues. He understands how to work with local players to leverage the regional clout of the University of South Florida. And Harrison has long worked across party lines on issues from tax and social policy to red-light cameras. He pays attention to details and his respectful demeanor helps foster a dialogue in this sharp political climate.

For Florida House District 63, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Shawn Harrison.

Carl Zimmermann

District 65

Voters in this North Pinellas district serving Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Dunedin and parts of East Lake can be forgiven if they experience a sense of deja vu. This is the third time that Republican Rep. Peter Nehr has faced Democrat Carl Zimmermann. And once again, Zimmermann remains the better choice.

Nehr, 60, is a former Tarpon Springs city commissioner seeking his fourth and final term in the House where he has failed to gain significant influence among his colleagues or a leadership post. Nehr contends that is because of his occasional break from the Republican leadership, such as his push to repeal the advanced nuclear cost recovery fee. But he is a reliable vote for the leadership, and his investment in a sweepstakes cafe reflected poor judgment. He sold out only after getting a stern letter from the sheriff.

Zimmermann, 61, a journalism teacher at Countryside High School, has twice narrowly lost to Nehr. He offers a passion for public education and a better sense of what works in the classroom, including favoring end-of-course exams instead of the FCAT. He supports alternative energy, opposes using tolls to pay for widening existing roads and wants to consider creating a statewide sinkhole pool and other reforms to strengthen the state's property insurance market.

For Florida House District 65, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Carl Zimmermann.

Mary Louise Ambrose

District 66

Republican Rep. Larry Ahern of St. Petersburg is a tea party favorite who is probably Pinellas' most conservative lawmaker. The one-term House member has voted in lockstep with leadership and special interests to the detriment of his constituents. Ahern, 57, sided with out-of-state travel companies that are seeking to pay less local bed taxes than hotels do. He also voted against legislation that would have required the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to give up its property tax if voters approve a 1-cent sales tax to pay for better transit. It was a conservative bill, but Ahern opposes light rail and Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the legislation. He would need to move about three miles west if elected. This redrawn beach district stretches from Indian Shores to Clearwater and includes Bay Pines, Seminole and part of Largo.

Mary Louise Ambrose, 69, of Belleair Bluffs has a sophisticated understanding of state issues. The Democrat owns a Largo insurance agency with her husband, giving her insight into the importance the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has played in keeping rates affordable for homeowners who cannot afford the depopulation plans pushed by the governor. She wants Florida to invest more in education and transportation to ensure a stronger long-term business climate. She opposes legislative efforts that have interfered with women's reproductive choices. Ambrose moved to the area eight years ago after a career in New Jersey that included practicing law and working in financial services.

For Florida House District 66, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Mary Louise Ambrose.

Ed Hooper

District 67

Ed Hooper is not the loudest voice in the House, but he is one of the more practical Republicans and can serve one more term before term limits force him out. This redrawn district covers much of Clearwater and Largo.

The former Clearwater city commissioner and retired firefighter knows the community. He opposes oil drilling in state waters, the expansion of tuition vouchers and casino gambling. He says Gov. Rick Scott should have accepted the federal money for high-speed rail. He also is skeptical about removing insurance policies from the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and steering them to private insurers that have little or no experience with hurricanes.

Ben Farrell, 50, is part-owner of a popular Clearwater restaurant and a first-time candidate. The Democrat has vague ideas about creating jobs, supports public education and is frustrated by the direction of the Republican-controlled Legislature. But he does not make a compelling case for replacing Hooper.

Hooper, 65, supports collecting the sales tax on Internet sales and broke with Republican leaders to vote against drug testing for state workers. He also sponsored a 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 sales tax by 1 cent. Rail opponents persuaded the governor to veto the bill.

For Florida House District 67, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Ed Hooper.

Dwight Dudley

District 68

Two familiar names are battling for this open House seat covering northeast St. Petersburg and eastern Pinellas Park. Republican Frank Farkas represented much of this area between 1998 and 2006. Democrat Dwight Dudley is a first-time candidate whose uncle, Bill Dudley, serves on the St. Petersburg City Council. Dudley would bring a fresh voice to Tallahassee and better represent consumers.

Dudley, 58, is a lawyer who has spent more than 15 years running his own law practice and before that worked as a legislative aide and as an assistant public defender. He would repeal the 2006 law that allows Progress Energy to bill ratepayers in advance for costs tied to a proposed nuclear plant, and he supports the 10 percent cap on rate increases for homeowners insurance from Citizens Property Insurance Corp. He understands the importance of properly funding public schools and higher education, supports improving Florida's ports and opposes paying for expanded highways by adding toll lanes.

Farkas, a 56-year-old chiropractor, sees a lack of leadership in Tallahassee and too much legislative interference in higher education. He regrets voting for the advance nuclear plant recovery law and pledges he would be more independent now. But Farkas too often went along with wrongheaded House leadership in his first stint, and the nuclear plant law was not the only time he voted in favor of special interests and against the consumer.

Dudley says he would work with members of both political parties and views former St. Petersburg Rep. Bill Heller and outgoing Rep. Rick Kriseman as role models.

For Florida House District 68, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Dwight Dudley.

Kathleen Peters

District 69

Residents in this redrawn south Pinellas County district that includes several beach communities have two credible candidates. Republican Kathleen Peters' public sector experience gives her the edge for this open seat.

Peters, 51, the mayor of South Pasadena, has lived in the district more than 25 years, raising four children and helping run the family convenience market with her husband before returning to college, launching a new career and running for office. She is the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce vice president for public affairs and has worked at the Juvenile Welfare Board and the YMCA on children's issues. She was elected to the City Commission in 2008 and served as mayor since 2009. She would be a moderate Republican voice in Tallahassee, supporting schools, the collection of Internet sales tax and the improvement of Pinellas County's mass transit system.

Democrat Josh Shulman, 36, sees education and infrastructure investment as central to Florida's long-term health and would protect customers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. from rapid premium increases. The certified financial planner would invest more in public schools and supports collecting the Internet sales tax.

Both candidates offer thoughtful approaches to governing, but Peters' experience in government makes her best prepared to make an impact.

For Florida House District 69, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Kathleen Peters.

The Florida House will have many new faces and should take a less ideological approach to meeting the state's challenges.