LOW-PROFILE RACE: State Rep. David Russell, a Brooksville Republican, faces Democrat Jim Hughes, who charged his opponent was ineffective. But Russell counters that his opponent's facts are out of date.
By DAN DeWITT
Published October 26, 2004
State Rep. David Russell says there are unseen disadvantages to running against a low-profile challenger.
"It's rather difficult when you have to convince the electorate that you have a race," said Russell, a Brooksville Republican who has held the District 44 House seat since 1998. "It's much more difficult to raise money."
Russell's Democratic opponent, Jim Hughes, a veterinarian who lives in central Pasco County, began his campaign with an aggressive attack on Russell's record.
Russell, Hughes said, was beholden to the special interests that had financed his campaigns. Russell's signature legislation, a bill that ties development to water use, was ineffective, Hughes said. And, he said, Russell has not worked hard enough to manage growth in Florida.
Hughes also advocated less reliance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in public schools and higher salaries for the state's teachers.
Shortly after announcing his candidacy and platform, however, a background check by the Times revealed that Hughes' wife, Elizabeth, had sought several domestic violence restraining orders against him and that Hughes has been convicted of passing bad checks and of misdemeanor battery.
Since then, he has been barely visible on the campaign trail, Russell said.
But Hughes said he was lying low during the primaries to avoid taking the spotlight from Democrats fighting for their party's nomination in other races.
If Russell is claiming he is running a stealth campaign, Hughes said, "I would tell Mr. Russell that he has been pursuing a stealth legislative agenda. His record is lackluster at best."
Russell said that regardless of whether Hughes takes a more active approach, he can counter Hughes' criticisms.
A new version of the water bill passed during the 2004 legislative session is much stronger than the one Hughes attacked, Russell said. It requires local governments to address the availability of water in their comprehensive plans and strengthens the state's local sources first law, he said.
"I think it's a huge step forward, and I think it will last us for decades," Russell said.
As chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Russell helped secure funds for local projects, including the widening of County Line Road. He also pushed for an integrated transportation system that will make the state eligible for more federal transportation money.
Russell said he also is a proponent of growth management, though he added that much of the responsibility for managing growth lies with local governments. He said the state's laws governing large projects - known as developments of regional impact - may be flawed because so many developers are skirting them by proposing subdivisions just under the legal threshold.
"I have some concerns about the way DRIs are structured when so many developments come in with 999 homes," he said.
Though the amount of money Russell has raised for this year's campaign dropped sharply compared with his race in 2002, he has raised more than twice as much money as Hughes: $56,209, through Sept. 9, compared with $24,625 for Hughes.
DAVID RUSSELL, 49, grew up and completed high school in Birmingham, Ala. He has served on the boards of several community organizations and was a member of the Hernando County Aviation Authority during the mid 1990s. He was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1998 and has been a member ever since. For the past 23 years, he has owned a swimming pool business in Spring Hill. Previously, he built pools; now his company services them and sells pools supplies. He is married with two sons and lives south of Brooksville. ASSETS: home, business and land. LIABILITIES: home mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: salary from business and the Legislature.
JIM HUGHES, 48, is originally from New York. He moved to West Palm Beach in 1974 and to Pasco in the early 1990s. He has a master's degree in immunology and a veterinarian's degree from the University of Florida. He owns two veterinary clinics. ASSETS: veterinary clinics and house. LIABILITIES: home mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: veterinary practice.
District 44 includes all of Hernando County except for a small portion of northwest Hernando. The district also includes north-central Pasco County and the southern part of Sumter County. State representatives pass state laws and approve the state budget each year. Representatives serve two-year terms and make $29,916 a year.