John Legg edges out Democrat

After a campaign soaks up money and spews attacks, victory goes to a Republican who has worked with Fiorentino and Fasano.

Published November 3, 2004

In a close race that had insiders guessing all the way to Election Day, Pasco voters picked charter school founder John Legg to represent them in the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.

At age 29, Legg beat out Democrat Dee Thomas, 58, in a high-stakes race to represent west Pasco's District 46.

"We're very excited and very relieved after all of this," Legg said Tuesday amid congratulations.

A proponent of in-home care for seniors, lower prescription drug costs, and more accountability in schools, he attributed his success to dedicated volunteers and a targeted message to fight for residents in Tallahassee.

"This race wasn't about me," he said. "It was about our beliefs."

The victory came at the end of a controversial race plagued by accusations of campaign smears, attack ads and threats of a lawsuit.

Insiders said such fallout was expected.

"I know it got a little bit dicey in the end," conceded Legg, who was accused of negative campaigning by Democrats. "But this was one of the most contested races in the state of Florida."

Democrats and Republicans estimated they spent a combined $500,000 on the race.

At stake: Republicans' ability to hold on to a two-thirds majority in the state House.

For Democrats, the open seat was a chance to shift the balance of power in Tallahassee and stop their legislation from being "railroaded," state party spokesman Steve Schale had said.

On Tuesday afternoon Thomas predicted "the voters are going to send the lady who ran the honest campaign with integrity to Tallahassee."

They did not.

Even so, "this campaign has educated me on the immense number of wonderful nonprofits here in Pasco that need volunteers," Thomas said, speaking of her stops at various venues during the campaign.

District 46 stretches from New Port Richey to the Hernando County line with 95,770 registered voters. Democrats edge Republicans 37,400 to 36,736.

Candidates called it an "independent-minded" district and said it supported Al Gore for president in 2000 but twice voted in a Republican for state House.

More than 61,000 people cast ballots in the race Tuesday.

Those voters saw a study in contrasts when it came to the candidates.

Thomas, a physical therapist, often jokingly pointed to her silver hair and promised she did not want to be a "career politician." Instead, she said, she wanted to fix the imbalance in Republican-dominated Tallahassee.

Legg championed his political experience and youthful energy.

He spoke to voters about his tenure as Fiorentino's staff director, a Republican consultant and his work with Republican state Sen. Mike Fasano. He noted his ability to "hit the ground running."

Although he never before held office, Legg ran in 2002 against Rep. Tom Anderson and gained experience in running a campaign.

A self-described "conservative," he is a teacher and founder of Dayspring Academy, Pasco's first charter school.

Those responsibilities will now be shared with his new duties as a legislator.