Kim Berfield vs. Charlie Justice

Florida Senate District 16

click to enlarge LAUGH, AND YOUR STAFF LAUGHS WITH YOU: Kim Berfield with staffer Jacqueline Deherre at her campaign headquarters in Clearwater. - Eric Snider
Eric Snider
LAUGH, AND YOUR STAFF LAUGHS WITH YOU: Kim Berfield with staffer Jacqueline Deherre at her campaign headquarters in Clearwater.

I do not believe that Kim Berfield or Charlie Justice are total shills for the insurance industry. Each candidate has desperately tried to tar the other as exactly that during this particularly divisive campaign. But such a take is just too simple for me — even though the insurance industry has given far more money to the Berfield camp (a reported $44,330) than to Justice's ($5,400).

One of the central ironies in campaigns like this one that resort to negative messages is that both candidates feel dismayed that their records and positions have been miscast, but neither seems aware of their own culpability in slinging distortions at the other.

I sat down with Justice and Berfield on separate occasions — Justice over a leisurely lunch in downtown St. Pete, Berfield in a morning interview in her Clearwater campaign headquarters. Nursing a cold, Berfield came across a bit more worse for wear; she won a bruising primary against total shill Frank Farkas, while Justice bagged the Democratic nomination unopposed.

I found both candidates to be authentic people and was especially pleased that neither took all of my questions and spun them into selling points. Justice, 39, a student advisor at USF St. Petersburg, comes off as a likeable preppie with his wire-rim glasses, button-down shirt (with pen in pocket) and khakis. He exhibited a wryly self-deprecating sense of humor. Berfield, 35, who has a part-time job in advertising, skewed a bit more corporate and formal — at our meeting she wore a dark business suit over a pink shirt with white collar, her blond hair immaculately coiffed. She was not, however, the stiff young Republican I expected.

Whether the candidates like it or not, their hotly contested race has boiled down to a main course of property insurance with a side of property taxes. Justice feels he has more credibility in these areas because he's a homeowner with a wife and two small children, while Berfield is single and rents. "At one point, [the Berfield campaign] said that I wanted to add $2,000 to every homeowners insurance policy," he said, incredulous. "Why would I do that? That affects me in a very real way."

Berfield, whose apartment is in Clearwater, says she's affected as well because when taxes and insurance go up, so does her rent. To these less-than-expert ears, neither candidate has a finely honed plan for solving the insurance issue, but quite honestly I don't expect them to. For either to suggest, let alone promise, that they could waltz up to Tallahassee as a brand-new senator and fix the mess would be at best disingenuous.

I have to give an edge to Justice on the insurance matter, because Berfield had a shot as chairwoman of the House Insurance Committee, which essentially tanked on the problem.

My choice: Based upon this central issue, and based upon my gut appraisal of the two candidates, I give the nod, and my vote, to Charlie Justice.

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Elections 2006