It's Not Too Late

Injecting untreated wastewater into the Florida Aquifer. Trusting telecom conglomerates to cut the cost of a long-distance phone call. Curtailing the rights of advocacy groups to testify at permit hearings.

Our state lawmakers have once again done us proud.

Who elected these guys anyway? The bad news: We did.

You can look away in embarrassment. You can throw up your hands. You can drink yourself into a stupor on Election Day. If you plan on staying in Florida, however, you will have to live with whatever new asinine decisions these guys make during the next two years.

That's why you should make it to the polls Sept. 10. The primary election that day is your first opportunity this fall to try to prevent what could be a disastrous two more years under incoming House Speaker Johnnie Byrd of Plant City and Senate President Jim King of Jacksonville.

Here are three Tampa Bay area House races where an intelligent vote could begin to help us avoid a hellish 2003 legislative session:

House District 47: Protect What's Left of the Environment

Wouldn't it be a hoot if voters in this now purely Hillsborough County district replaced term-limited environmental foe Rob Wallace with Sierra Club activist Lynn McGarvey?

Wallace, you may remember, is the one who tried to use his legislative office last year to punish county environmental regulators for fining a client of his engineering firm.

Oh, so very Florida Legislature, Rob.

Wallace's lame-duck bill, forcing the EPC to seek legislative approval of its fine and penalty schedule, was tossed aside by saner and more disinterested members of the Hillsborough delegation.

If McGarvey gets in there, voters won't have to worry about her pulling that crap.

As co-chair of the local Sierra Club chapter's conservation committee, McGarvey is obsessed with growth management. That's not a bad thing in this northwest Hillsborough district, which has been overrun by real estate developers during the past decade.

McGarvey says she would take a regional approach to dealing with urban sprawl, using metropolitan Portland, Ore., as a model.

She campaigns with a heavy heart. Her husband of 42 years, Sierra Club leader David McGarvey, died in June. Lynn McGarvey hopes to carry on his work not only in the Tampa Bay club but in the Florida House.

Michael Steinberg, a Social Security benefits lawyer, is one of two men competing with McGarvey for the Democratic nomination. Steinberg is the candidate of the local party establishment, for what that's worth. Big on more money for education, he exhibits a goofy charm along the campaign trail. But that won't be enough next spring to disarm Byrd and Associated Industries of Florida, the big business lobby that made him speaker.

In the District 47 Republican primary, which also features a field of three, Kevin Ambler has financial support from an interesting crowd that includes powerful north Florida landowner-developer St. Joe Co., Tampa's Lykes family and former Hillsborough officials Joe Chillura and Fred Karl.

Ambler, a Northdale lawyer who chairs a taxing district in his neighborhood, is striving for a moderate message to contrast with party activist Jill Collins, who favors school vouchers and opposes abortion and gun control.

Gov. Jeb Bush put Collins on a regional planning council two years ago. The Forest Hills business consultant also serves on the Barrio Latino Commission, where she has voted against developers bent on ruining Ybor City's architectural feel.

House District 52: Consumers Get Last Laugh

Maybe all committee chairs in the Florida House treat average citizens the way Frank Farkas (R-St. Petersburg) treated Arthur Green at a Capitol hearing in February.

But it was Farkas' misfortune to choose Green for his patsy. Green is a very quotable Broward County lawyer. By the time Green was finished basting Farkas in the press, election opponents were lining up back in the slightly Democratic 52nd district.

Farkas refused to let Green or any other consumer speak on an insurance bill, but he did see fit to allow an industry lobbyist to comment upon the same bill. The St. Petersburg chiropractor had tried since 1999 to ram through the bill allowing insurers to drop mandatory coverage for certain medical procedures so they supposedly could offer barer-bones policies to more people.

The two-term incumbent claims it was a big misunderstanding with Green, but he's been on the defensive ever since. Bush came out with an unusual pre-primary endorsement of Farkas, reinforcing the perception that the governor's horse is behind.

The various explanations haven't washed with marine biologist Cary D. Burns, this year's Republican challenger who lost to Farkas in a 1996 GOP primary.

Burns says the insurance fiasco shows that constituents in northeast St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and Largo don't come first with Farkas. Burns' in-your-face campaign has opted for the slogan: "People count more than money."

Another sleazy deal that Burns is highlighting was Farkas' sponsorship of legislation to force the University of Florida to admit to medical school the son of a lobbyist whose application had been rejected.

Burns, with his "ethical grounding," promises to work hard for affordable medical care, a fairer state tax system and environmental protection in Florida.

According to the League of Conservation Voters, Farkas voted pro-environment only 18 percent of the time last year. (Believe or not, that's high for a Florida House Republican.)

Farkas has been hostile to consumers, too.

He voted to seal nursing home-injury reports from the public, making it tougher for Floridians to determine if they are putting loved ones in a safe place.

Farkas voted for a dubious phone bill, too. A bait-and-switch similar to the insurance legislation, the phone bill promised lower long-distance bills in exchange for the certainty that consumers would pay more for local calls.

If Farkas survives Sept. 10, a Democrat and a Libertarian await in November.

Frank Farkas

House District 57: Close Out Culp

Are south Tampa and Town N Country voters tired of Faye Culp?

Culp was apparently a little tired of them in 1998. After two terms representing the 57th district, Culp was seized by a grand notion that she should be education commissioner. Republican primary voters across Florida didn't share her notion.

Two years ago, Culp returned to the ballot. She set her sights lower, a state Senate seat. Culp got clobbered again in the primary by Victor Crist.

Now this political wayfarer is back to reclaim her old House seat.

Culp may think Chris Hart IV was keeping it warm for her. Hart decided not to run for a third term this year. But two other Republicans have not stepped aside for Culp.

The more interesting of the pair is Jim Johnson, a legislative aide for almost 10 years. Johnson worked for both Crist and Culp. In fact, Johnson claims he held down the legislative fort while Culp was scurrying around the state in the 1998 education race.

Although Johnson's youth and lack of strong local ties probably doom his candidacy, he sounds like the best-informed contender of this lot.

Johnson likes less government. After he cuts the waste, however, he would appreciate state government operating a little smarter. He would replace FCAT with a "more reliable and valid system" of student testing that incorporates socioeconomic factors and teacher performance.

Both Johnson and fellow GOP challenger Marcos Lorenzo say Culp is in for a surprise if she thinks she'll stroll back into office.

Lorenzo, a Tampa family physician since 1976, caught the political bug while lobbying for Tampa General Hospital in Tallahassee. His fellow M.D.s are behind him big time.

But Lorenzo's association with former TGH President Bruce Siegel, architect of the county hospital's controversial privatization, cannot help with voters who have unpleasant memories of the squabbling on Davis Islands five years ago.