tampabay.com

Candidates for state House compare stances

By LEONORA LAPETER
Published October 14, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - House District 52 candidates Bill Heller and Angelo Cappelli sought the political center during a forum Friday, trying to tune into the largely moderate views of voters in the district.

Heller, a Democrat, and Cappelli, a Republican, jabbed at each other's values and experience during the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting. District 52 includes north St. Petersburg and parts of Largo, Clearwater and unincorporated Pinellas County.

Looming in the background of their showdown: a Florida Christian Coalition questionnaire that Cappelli answered in August and Heller ignored - except to use against Cappelli.

Heller, former University of South Florida St. Petersburg dean, even included the questionnaire in one of his fliers and put it on each seat at Friday's event at St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

House District 52 is a moderate district. They want moderate leadership, not a "far-right social agenda," the 71-year-old Heller said.

Cappelli, who turns 37 on Monday, disputed the characterization, saying it was wrong for Heller to attack him with a questionnaire he hadn't filled out himself.

"I expected a little more intellectual honesty from you, professor," said Cappelli.

Heller responded that he did not seek the Christian Coalition's endorsement, so he didn't have to answer the questionnaire.

Heller said he felt it highlighted how he and Cappelli were different. Both serve on many boards and even live in the same Placido Bayou neighborhood.

The questionnaire asks about views on abortion, stem cell research, same-sex unions and gun regulation.

Cappelli, a SunTrust bank trust adviser, says Florida should not recognize same-sex unions, and he thinks abortions should be illegal in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. He opposes a ban on semiautomatic weapons. He opposes embryonic stem cell research that requires destruction of human embryos.

Heller is prochoice on abortions and supports stem cell research, same-sex unions and a ban on semiautomatic weapons, except those used for hunting.

But Cappelli, a St. Petersburg native who has raised twice as much money as Heller, said the race is not about those issues.

He said voters are more concerned about the state's insurance and property tax crises. He said his finance background - he has an MBA and a law degree - makes him the best person to deal with them.

He thinks the answer to rising property insurance premiums can be found by bringing private insurance companies back to the state. He suggested shoring up a state catastrophe fund that could be used to provide reinsurance to those companies. He also said he favors doubling the property tax homestead exemption.

Heller said he opposes doubling the homestead exemption without knowing how it would affect schools and other services.

He said he favors convening experts to come up with an insurance solution, and would stand against companies that drop policies and cherry-pick auto and life insurance policies.