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Student, legislator engage in electronic duel

The woman, who is not state Rep. John Legg's constituent, says he mistreated her in his response to her e-mail.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
Published May 28, 2005


PORT RICHEY - State Rep. John Legg was coming home from a church function earlier this month when he read an e-mail from Marcia Scheppler on his handheld BlackBerry device.

Scheppler, a student at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, was questioning Legg's support for the "academic freedom" bill. The measure, which died last session, would have given college students the right to be graded and taught without political bias and the right to object if professors repeatedly discuss controversial issues irrelevant to a class.

"I still fail to understand how you can introduce a bill that circumvents the exact purpose of a higher learning institution," Scheppler began her four-paragraph missive, sent May 11. "You say that you are a teacher. . . . Perhaps, you could explain why you think this bill is necessary and what types of overt discrimination and intimidation that you have witnessed." In hindsight, Legg said, he made the mistake of immediately firing back a reply:

"Since you failed to learn from your teachers that brevity is a virtue. I will address you (sic) first question since that is a (sic) far as I read.

"Students are being harassed for having a diffrent (sic) view of why things occured vs. what occured (sic). From the revolutions of americas and europe to the reformation to the World Wars.

"Look at neitche (sic) and jefferson and you can easily see why we need a bill that protects independent thoughts.

"Please lobby your legislator,since they are your voice. I'm sure they are as responsive as I.

"Thank you for following this great bill which protects our civil liberties."

Scheppler, 40, who is finishing her bachelor's degree in English, was stunned.

"I thought that was not befitting of a person in a legislative role," she told the Pasco Times. "An elected official, whether I'm his direct constituent or not, should not treat a person in that manner."

So she fired back her own reply.

"For a man who believes in his "great bill,' you are certainly reluctant to give reasonable feedback (vs rhetoric) on why you promote it. You get an "F' in constituent service and English. Is that brief enough for you?"

Then, she said, she forwarded the exchange to every member of the Legislature.

"I wanted his peers to know that this is how he treats people," she said.

In an interview this week, Legg, R-Port Richey, said he makes no apologies for "sticking up for the intent of the bill." Legg, who teaches history and government at the Dayspring Academy charter school, chalked up the e-mail errors to the difficulty of typing on the BlackBerry's tiny keys.

His mistake as a freshman legislator, he said, was to spend time debating someone outside his district.

"It does a disservice to our constituents because we only have so much time," he said. For people outside Pasco County, Legg said, "I try to end the correspondence in a polite way" and refer them to their hometown representative.

Cassandra Dahnke, president and co-founder of the Institute for Civility in Government in Houston, said such a referral would be appropriate.

In general, she said, elected officials should follow the golden rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

What about the tone of Legg's response?

Dahnke, a well-mannered Presbyterian minister, paused.

"I think I'm just going to stick to my original answer, that you should address people in the way you would like to be addressed," she said.

Scheppler said she wanted to talk to Legg because he was a co-sponsor of the bill. She also talked to the sponsor, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and the other co-sponsor, Rep. John Stargel, R-Lakeland.

She said Baxley and Stargel were scheduled to come to the university next month to debate Scheppler and other opponents of the bill.

Legg said he won't debate the bill unless it is refiled. If it is, he said, he will spend most of his time responding to constituents in his own district.

"She has some valid concerns," he said of Scheppler. "That's why she has a representative."

Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is bhall@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 28, 2005, 00:09:12]


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