House hopefuls talk

Candidates for Leslie Waters' seat weigh in on insurance, taxes, health care and class sizes.

Published August 9, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Both Republican candidates for state House District 51 made pitches to the St. Petersburg Times editorial board Tuesday.

Seminole Mayor Dottie Reeder touted her 17 years in local office, which she said makes her more aware of the unintended consequences of legislative action on municipal governments.

Bruce Cotton is the former legislative aide to Republican Leslie Waters, who currently holds the District 51 seat. Waters has termed out, leaving the seat vacant.

"I like doing constituent work," Cotton said. During his time in Tallahassee, Cotton said, he has seen many legislators come and go and thought after seeing some, "I know I can do a better job than that person."

The state's property insurance system needs help, he said. "We've let the system screw up for so long, we're in crisis mode."

The best solution, he said, is to use an amalgam of ideas that could include having insurance companies rate the risk of an individual property rather than a general area. The company could charge according to the risk presented by that individual home or business.

Enforcement of stricter building codes would lead to less property damage in the long run, he also said.

He advocates lower rates for homeowners who upgrade their property to reduce the risk of storm damage.

Reeder said her main issues are "health care, education and economic growth," but she conceded that those are not the topics she hears about on the campaign trail.

The voters, she said, are interested in the high cost of "taxes for their home, insurance for their home. That's all they care about."

Although the solutions for both are multifaceted, Reeder suggested that money being put into Citizens could be better used to lure reinsurers into the market.

And taxes could be held low, she said, by leaving the tax rate with the house.

That way, when people buy a house, they buy the existing tax rate. The rate could go up only 3 percent a year after that. It would apply only to homesteaded properties, not commercial or rental properties, she said.

"This is just an idea I had," Reeder said. "This could work to a degree."

Reeder advocated reconsideration of the class size amendment, which placed a cap on the number of students per class. The cap, she said, should apply only to elementary-level classes. Smaller classes are not so important in middle and high school, she said.

Reeder advocated breaking the proposal into two to allow voters to individually reconsider the middle and high school caps. Part of that reconsideration, she said, would be to "put the price tag to it" so voters understood the cost of the initiative.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Janet Long in November.

House District 51 meanders from Largo to South Pasadena and includes parts of Seminole, Pinellas Park, the unincorporated Lealman area and St. Petersburg.