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Newcomer enters race for state House seat

John T. Russell, 46, said he wants to debate incumbent state Rep. Ken Littlefield at every turn.

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002


DADE CITY -- A political newcomer is entering the battle for the District 61 state House seat, taking on fellow Democrat Pat Burke for the right to challenge Republican state Rep. Ken Littlefield in November.

John T. Russell, 46, said he's preparing for a tough fight and promises to challenge Littlefield to debates at every opportunity.

"I'm not running against Pat Burke," Russell said. "I'm running against Littlefield from the get-go."

Russell is a registered nurse at Tampa General Hospital with master's degrees in nursing and a and in business. He said he has a passion to fix Florida's education system and to challenge the way the Legislature is run.

"My objective is to be a challenging voice to what I believe has been total nonsense in Tallahassee," he said. "So often, Republicans take a short-term, cash-in-the-pocket-now approach over long-term quality-of-life."

Russell, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., moved to Florida in 1994 and landed in Blanton, where he built his own house.

He said the confidence he had in tackling construction of a house -- with no formal training -- is the same that will serve him in his drive for office.

"That's the do-it-yourself attitude," he said. "The reason you do something yourself is because your experience tells you that the people who are doing the job cannot do it right."

On education, Russell said Gov. Jeb Bush's plan is doomed. Using FCAT exams to grade schools, then providing bonuses to schools that perform well, is not smart business, he said.

In a business, finances are directed toward fixing what's broken: the poorer performing schools. He said a task force of education professionals is needed to work with lawmakers to craft a remedial plan that would include appropriate levels of financial support, parental and administrative accountability and an examination of teachers and their methods.

Vouchers that the parents of children at poor-performing schools could use to send children to private schools don't fix the problem. Vouchers simply admit there is a problem, Russell said.

Health care, too, must be re-examined to focus on preventive rather than reactive medicine and to control costs, Russell said. And on the growth, Russell said Republicans have gone too far in allowing uncontrolled growth to destroy the quality of life and the environment that so many moved here to enjoy.

District 61 covers east and central Pasco County and a small part of Hillsborough County.

Russell said he realizes he still has to get through a primary, if both he and Burke qualify, but he said he is focusing already on challenging Littlefield's voting record and will insist on debating the incumbent.

"If he's on a street corner, I'm going to be right there next to him; we'll debate right there," Russell said. "I think I'm better than this guy."

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