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No free pass: James Riis stresses the need for competitive elections and FCAT reform. Incumbent Bob Henriquez touts his experience.

Published October 26, 2004

It's not always easy running against an incumbent.

And that's exactly why James Riis took on the job.

The Seminole Heights resident and schoolteacher is running on the Republican ticket against three-term incumbent Bob "Coach" Henriquez for state House District 58.

"I was particularly concerned with the fact that many incumbents run unopposed for the Legislature," said Riis, 48. "I don't see this as healthy for the system."

But Henriquez, now in his third term of office, said his experience is an advantage.

"We're going to have a very difficult budget year," Henriquez said. "You're going to want to have people there who can hit the ground running and not have to be brought up to speed."

In addition to redrawing legislative districts that have been designed to protect incumbents, Riis says the big issue he would tackle is education.

With 21 years of experience teaching at Zephyrhills High School, Riis says he would work to revamp the FCAT so that it's geared to courses students are taking as opposed to gearing learning to the FCAT.

Riis would also strongly promote vocational education so students could learn skills that translate into jobs, from mechanical drawing to nursing to plumbing.

Henriquez agrees about the need to move the state's concentration away from standardized tests. But he believes the government needs to hold schools accountable for students' learning. Riis said that legislators dictate what should be placed into curriculum at what time of the school year, even when it completely clashes with lesson plans.

The two candidates agree on several issues, as Riis breaks with traditional Republican stances.

Riis thinks development should pay for itself through user fees. Henriquez calls user fees an "inexact science" and says the state is better off not giving away thousands of dollars in tax breaks to companies without a guarantee they'll stay.

Riis also said he supports the individual right to choose abortion, but opposes the use of public funds for the procedure. Henriquez said as a state policymaker, he wouldn't take away an individual's right to choose abortion, but he thinks the Legislature needs to spend more time improving foster and adoption programs and job opportunities for single moms.

Both oppose President George Bush's tighter travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans that limit their visits to the island to once every three years, down from once a year.

Born and raised in Tampa, Henriquez said his Cuban and Spanish heritage sets him apart from Riis because he "understands the unique nature of our district in terms of its Hispanic and immigrant makeup."

Riis said he thinks he can relate to all types of constituents.

"We should be at a point where we choose our elected officials on their ideas," Riis said.


JAMES R. RIIS , 48, was born in Roslyn, N.Y., and graduated from Dowling College in Oakdale, N.Y., in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in social sciences. He moved to Florida for the teaching opportunities and has taught government and history at Zephyrhills High School for 21 years. He is single with no children and lives in Seminole Heights. He belongs to the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association and the United School Employees of Pasco and has volunteered for Republican candidates since he was in high school. In his free time, he enjoys books, films and is a history buff. ASSETS : house, bank accounts, investment s LIABILITIES : mortgag e SOURCE OF INCOME : Pasco County School District. WEB SITE :


BOB "COACH" HENRIQUEZ , 40, was first elected in 1998 and is seeking his fourth consecutive term. Born and raised in Tampa, he graduated from Tampa Catholic High School before going to Princeton University, where he obtained a political science degree in 1986. His great-grandfather was the last mayor of West Tampa. He was head coach of the Tampa Catholic High School football team for almost 10 years and is now an assistant coach at Jefferson High School. He worked on the Gore campaign in 2000 and the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1996. He was a former project planner for URS Corp., an engineering firm, but currently considers his legislative post as his full-time job. He is chairman of the Florida Democratic Party and vice chairman of the Hispanic Caucus of the Florida Legislature. He is divorced with no children. ASSETS: Vehicle, home, boa t LIABILITIES: mortgages and loa n SOURCE OF INCOME: State of Florida WEB SITE :

THE JOB : The district encompasses West Tampa, Seminole Heights and a small part of Town 'N Country. House members serve two years and make $29,916 a year.

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