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Education, health care focus in District 46

Democrat Craig McCart criticizes Republican incumbent Heather Fiorentino, but she says she stands behind her record.

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 27, 2002


Health care and education define the race to represent District 46 in the state House of Representatives.

Democrat Craig McCart says he'll reduce class size, raise teacher salaries, lower prescription costs and protect patients' privacy. Backed by a fresh infusion of cash from the state's Democratic Party, McCart attacks the voting record of Republican incumbent Heather Fiorentino.

In campaign fliers, McCart says Fiorentino is a teacher who doesn't understand what's best for kids, she disregards patients' rights and supports corporate profits.

"I think that people are dissatisfied with the current representative," said McCart, 52, executive director of the Sertoma Speech and Hearing Foundation of Florida.

Fiorentino, 44, an elementary school teacher running for her third term, stands behind her record.

"This is politics at its worst," she said in response to McCart's criticisms. "It's easy to throw stones at an incumbent. I'm not going to go negative. I'm an informed legislator, I read every bill and every amendment. I made my decisions based on what I believe is best for the people. I'm proud of what we did. I didn't take services away for anyone."

Fiorentino says she has brought a valuable teacher's perspective to political office. She says she's running because she wants to boost teacher benefits and improve health insurance options. She says that Gov. Jeb Bush asked her to run to get her input on education issues.

"I think we're doing wonderful constituent work for the people of Pasco," she said.

McCart wants to get rid of some tax exemptions in order to boost teacher salaries and reduce class size. "I believe the money is there to pay for this, it's just going to have to be seriously looked at as to where we're allocating it," he said.

McCart claims that Fiorentino has failed to improve education. One of his fliers says she voted to allow students to bring guns to school campuses.

Fiorentino says she voted for a bill that would have allowed kids enrolled in junior ROTC to keep their dummy rifles with them at school, and that she would bring "common sense" to the zero tolerance policies. Fiorentino also points to an incident last fall when, because of zero tolerance, a Fort Myers high schooler was banned from graduation when authorities found a kitchen knife in her car.

Fiorentino said she's most proud of her part in the school code rewrite and her efforts to streamline paperwork for teachers.

"I kept a teacher's viewpoint on a lot of it," she said.

Fiorentino opposes the class-size amendment. She says the state needs to take care of the teacher shortage first. In order to do that, she proposes providing money to school boards that could only be used for teacher pay raises. She says there's money in the Florida Retirement System Trust Fund that could help boost teachers' benefits.

Fiorentino points out that she has been named Legislator of the Year in 2001 by the state's association of school superintendents, and in 2001 and 2002 by the state associations of school boards.

"I don't think that they would pick someone who's hurting children or teachers," she said.

* * *

When it comes to health care, McCart is promising some first aid.

He wants to lower the cost of prescription drugs, and says he'd support the state buying drugs in bulk from pharmaceutical companies to lower costs for consumers. An amendment to that effect was proposed but died during the last session.

McCart says that if elected, he would support laws that protect a patient's rights, and the privacy of their medical records.

McCart says Fiorentino voted against providing $100-million to help seniors buy prescriptions.

In response, Fiorentino points to a bill she supported that provided $60-million to help seniors with prescription costs. "If I increased this by $40-million more, what services do you want me to cut?" she asked.

She points to the bill she supported in 2001, which allowed yes pharmacists to substitute less expensive generic drugs for expensive brand-names, including the popular blood thinner Coumadin. Fiorentino says she wants to work to make all types of insurance more affordable and available. That might involve limiting liability for medical malpractice insurance and changing policies that are causing nursing home companies and doctors to stop operating in Florida.

"We have to make something that's affordable for doctors but also citizens," she said.

In order to control escalating property insurance rates, she wants to examine overpumping of groundwater, which is contributing to sinkholes that are leading to big insurance claims.

"There's going to have to be a real in-depth look at insurance," she said.

Fiorentino points to her role in bills that let consumers chose their providers for at-home health care needs, set aside money for a state Office of Homelessness, and make communication between sexual crime victims and rape crisis center volunteers privileged and confidential.

She says that she was able to cut through red tape to bring Pasco over $29-million in projects throughout her current term, including funds for a new Hudson Senior Center, funds to dredge the Hudson Channel, to buy land for the Werner-Boyce State Park, for the Pasco Boys and Girls Club and for CARES.

When legislation comes up, Fiorentino said, "I call people back home and say, "How is this going to help Pasco?' These are things that are important."

* * *

The third candidate in the House 46 race is Libertarian Jon Kueny, 63, a retired building supply salesman. Beyond saying that he's against the class-size amendment, Kueny has not talked specifically about issues. Instead, he has stressed that he's free of special interests and party politics, and is willing to work with anybody to solve problems.

"We have one party that controlled things for many years. Another party got in control because they said they could do better," Kueny said at a debate earlier this month. "But let me ask you this, are your children better educated? Are your roads less congested? Do we have better health care and at a reasonable cost? I think it's time for a third view."

Fiorentino has raised $66,487 in campaign contributions from a wide variety of groups, including nurses and doctors, police, financial institutions and telecom companies.

McCart has garnered $4,450 in contributions from Pasco residents and businesses. The state's democratic party has funded more than half of his war chest, and published four campaign mailers on McCart's behalf.

Kueny said he would not solicit campaign money, and he has reported no contributions.

-- Jennifer Goldblatt can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is goldblatt@sptimes.com.

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