On The Record

The voting records of legislative incumbents speak louder than their campaign promises. Check these out before you cast your ballot.

Eleven state constitutional amendments clutter the Nov. 5 ballot. Confusing, huh? But if you take the easy way out, vote down all 11 and return the same crowd to the state Capitol, there will be more ballot initiatives in two years.

That’s because Gov. Jeb Bush and legislative leaders aren’t doing their jobs. Pleas for tax reform, more education money and stronger environmental protection are dismissed with the wave of a well-manicured hand in Tallahassee. That’s why advocates have been taking their case directly to the voters.

If you’re not up to sorting through the pros and cons of constitutional reform, at least take a look at the records of incumbent legislators.

Weekly Planet is limiting its review of legislative races to districts principally situated in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties where incumbents face major party opposition. Incumbents have voting records that can be checked against the hot air they expel on the campaign stump.

That means the Planet can offer only a quick pat on the back to representatives such as Republican John Carassas of Belleair and Democrat Arthenia Joyner for being stalwarts on behalf of open government. Nor do we have adequate space to condemn the continuing legislative assault on the environment to which representatives like Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Sandy Murman of Tampa are accomplices.

For now, we’ll focus upon good legislators in need of support and lousy ones who — with a few thousand conscientious votes — could be sent packing.

Who?: Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Sebesta may have to break a sweat to put down 30-year-old Democrat Allison McInnis-Gimbert of Town N Country.

What?: State Senate District 16.

Where?: St. Petersburg, south Tampa and Town N Country.

Why?: Sebesta’s voting record doesn’t thoroughly square with his good-guy image.

How’s It Look?: McInnis-Gimbert, finishing up a degree in political and environmental policy, is jumping right into it before she even graduates from the University of South Florida. With two young children in public school, she sounds genuinely worried about Florida education. But she doesn’t appear to have a prayer against Sebesta, who has shaken the Tallahassee money tree for more than $140,000 to crush her. The funds weren’t hard to come by. Sebesta voted with the Big Business lobby 88 percent of the time in 2001. (Associated Industries of Florida does have memory lapses. Sebesta dipped to 52 percent on this year’s AIF report card, perhaps due to his support of Senate President John MacKay’s ill-fated push for tax reform.) Sebesta scores in the largely anti-green bottom quarter of senators on Florida League of Conservation Voters tally sheets. Who?: Clearwater Republican Kim Berfield gets challenges from Democrat Kai Rush and Libertarian Brian L. Gilbert.

What?: State House District 50.

Where?: Clearwater and Largo.

Why?: With a district that went Democratic the last two presidential elections, Berfield stays close to the middle — and still ends up alienating environmentalists more often than industry.

How’s It Look?: Rush, a Dunedin High School teacher, couldn’t even win the Florida Education Association endorsement because Berfield sometimes sides with the teacher union against Bush. That’s not a good omen for Democrat Rush. However, the Florida Consumer Action Network does back him.

Who?: Young Democrat Richard Langton tries to dunk Republican incumbent Leslie Waters of Seminole.

What?: State House District 51.

Where?: Largo, Pinellas Park, Seminole and South Pasadena.

Why?: Somebody needs to retire Leslie Waters from politics.

How’s It Look?: District 51 voters haven’t been in good hands since 1998 when Waters, an Allstate executive at the time, was first elected. Waters chairs the House Insurance Committee and has used the post to screw consumers and workers alike. That’s got industry lobbyists scribbling in their checkbooks as Waters faces a tough re-election. The state GOP threw in $26,000 just to make sure she got out of the primary. Whether the 27-year-old Langton can earn the confidence of swing voters who have wised up to Waters remains to be seen.Who?: Shaky Republican Frank Farkas faces impressive Democratic challenger Christopher Eaton. Alison Lipscomb is in there, too, for the Libertarians.

What?: State House District 52.

Where?: Clearwater, Largo and northeast St. Petersburg.

Why?: Democrats think this is their best chance to take another House seat in Pinellas County.

How’s It Look?: Farkas doesn’t want another two years like these. Caught bullying a would-be witness with the chairman’s gavel at a Capitol committee hearing and trying to undo the med school rejection of a lobbyist’s son by legislative fiat, Farkas has a lot of explaining to do. But these incidents were merely the most publicized examples of the sorry Farkas record. Four of every five votes he cast on critical ecology issues during the past two years were anti-environment, according to the FLCV. That makes the Republican incumbent popular with Big Business, anti-tax groups and Bush. Unlike the temperamental primary foe Farkas beat, Chris Eaton is a reasoned voice for improving education and health care while looking out for our natural resources and small entrepreneurs. Eaton’s company assists churches and schools with cross-cultural humanitarian exchanges. Sounds like the perfect background to begin shaming GOP leaders into abandoning their siege of intimidation on Tallahassee.Who?: Democrat Charlie Justice defends his seat for the first time against Republican Ken Feck and Libertarian Michael Gilson-DeLemos.

What?: State House District 53.

Where?: St. Petersburg.

Why?: Republicans cannot let a Democratic seat go uncontested in what is supposed to be their county.

How’s It Look?: Former legislative aide Justice takes a fine record into his initial re-election campaign. The St. Pete native was one of the House’s 10 biggest environmental champions during his first term and has been endorsed by FCAN. Unlike many party colleagues, Justice picked up Democratic voters from this year’s redistricting in the wake of the 2000 census. That isn’t because GOP map-smiths love Justice. They just couldn’t figure out how to slip a few extra Republican precincts to the vulnerable Farkas and Waters in adjoining districts without helping the Democrat. Challenger Feck says all the right things about smaller government, but House Speaker-designate Johnnie Byrd (R-Plant City) hasn’t put the arm on lobbyists to finance a creditable threat to Justice.Who?: Freshman Rep. Frank Peterman Jr. has Republican Vincent K. Hopkins and Libertarian Thomas Kilmon keeping him on his electoral toes.

What?: State House District 55.

Where?: South St. Petersburg and minority neighborhoods in Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Why?: Voters will ask the same question when they see a Marion Barry protege on the ballot next to a seminary student in District 55.

How’s It Look?: Former St. Pete City Councilman Peterman should have no trouble with Hopkins, who was drawn to politics by the dubious example of Barry, the disgraced ex-D.C. mayor. Peterman, working toward an advanced degree in Bible studies, has shown himself to be every bit a progressive star of the region’s House delegation as Bob Henriquez, Arthenia Joyner, Charlie Justice and Sara Romeo.Who?: Two-term Democrat Bob Henriquez draws Republican retiree Hector Vila.

What?: State House District 58.

Where?: Town N Country and West Tampa.

Why?: The Republican redistricting team tests Henriquez’s appeal to non-Hispanic voters.

How’s It Look?: A football coach who really cares about education. That’s Henriquez, who answers to the nickname of "Coach" because he has been that at Tampa Catholic and Jefferson high schools. Republicans removed about half of the Hispanic voters from the old District 58 for Henriquez, whose great-grandfather was the last mayor of West Tampa before annexation. The GOP has put up the conservative Vila, whose campaign slogan is "one nation under God." Henriquez is hoping to ride support for public education and the class-size amendment to a third term. With a solid pro-consumer and pro- environment record, he deserves it.

Who?: Republican orthopedic surgeon Ed Homan of Tampa tries again to topple Democratic incumbent Sara Romeo of Lutz. Libertarian Ryan C. Conley tags along for the ride.

What?: State House District 60.

Where?: Lutz, New Tampa and Temple Terrace.

Why?: MDs are mad as hell about higher malpractice insurance. They want their own kind not just lobbying but voting at the Capitol next year, putting the screws to trial lawyers and other irritants.

How’s It Look?: Romeo has seen the inside of as many medical facilities as Homan since their 2000 meeting. After overcoming breast cancer and a brain tumor, Romeo probably doesn’t think this rematch looks so rough. Republicans in charge of redistricting rewarded the courageous Romeo by stripping out her old Democratic precincts around USF’s Tampa campus and replacing them with GOP-friendlier New Tampa ones. But Romeo boasts one of the House’s three best voting records on the environment and consumer issues. A Romeo loss would be a sad commentary on the state of Florida politics.Contact News Editor Francis X. Gilpin at 813-248-8888, ext. 130, or [email protected].

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