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What's on voter's minds?

We sat down separately with the Republicans, Democrats and independents and talked with each small group for 60 to 90 minutes, looking for themes.

By JIM VERHULST
Published October 22, 2006


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The general election is Nov. 7, but early voting begins tomorrow.

To find out what's on voters' minds as Election Day looms, we gathered more than two dozen of them in recent days for wide-ranging discussions moderated by Times political editor Adam Smith. // We wanted to hear from Republicans, Democrats and independents. But most of all, we wanted to hear from people who actually vote. Using the voter rolls (to ensure we picked people with a record of voting), we randomly chose 10 of each affiliation. // We brought in only a handful of people, so their views are not necessarily reflective of all voters. But we wanted to spend some quality time with a smaller number of people to get beyond the simple yes or no answers from typical polls. What we lack in quantity, we hope we gain in quality.

We sat down separately with the Republicans, Democrats and independents and talked with each small group for 60 to 90 minutes, looking for themes.

Very few politicians excite these voters. And while they are dedicated voters, they aren't certain their votes count for much - even though the recent history of 2000, when a presidential election was decided by a small basket of votes - would indicate otherwise.

Many of them vote defensively. They may not like their own party's candidates that much, but they prefer them to the other party's guy. And it was common across all three groups to split their votes across party lines.

Know this: The independents are not necessarily in the middle. They simply don't want to join a party or be told how to vote. Our small group of independents included conservative and liberal thinkers united only by their desire not to be affiliated with a party. Oh, and don't forget: Election Day is Nov. 7, and early voting begins Monday.

To give you a flavor of the three discussions, here are some edited remarks grouped by topic (remember that while the comments are melded, the three groups talked about them independently of each other):

Property insurance

Melinda, Democrat: Property taxes keep increasing. Actually, homeowners insurance is more of a concern. My insurance bill doubled since last year. I've actually thought about leaving Florida.

Leonard, Democrat: My insurance has doubled. Have tried to solve the problems, but laws don't allow you. If you have enough deductible, your premium is going to go way down. Many people have enough equity to have a $10,000 deductible for every $100,000 value. All we need is someone to tell the insurance companies you can do that. We're restricting them from doing that. I would like to have the option of saying, No, I don't want anything inside my house insured. (Insure the structure, not the contents.)

Ron, Democrat: I'm retired. I sold my home because of taxes on the home and moved to a retirement community. Couldn't afford it, being retired without going out and finding another job. I put the money in investments. It was a wise decision. I'm happy now. I can go on vacation and not worry about anything.

Katie, Democrat: I live in Gulfport. So far, it's been a great place to raise kids. Now we're in a position where there are 100 places for sale in Gulfport, and it's all about insurance. I have a friend whose taxes were $600 and now it's $1,800. Everybody's talking about moving to Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North and South Carolina. Now it's scary.

Judith, Democrat: I'm reaching retirement age; I had a home built 15 years ago, and I paid, like, $49,000 for it. Now it's valued at $260,000. I have six living children, 16 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. I'm looking to retire in five years, and I'm thinking of moving to Georgia because I won't be able to afford it in Florida with taxes and insurance. When I'm on a fixed income and prices go up, what am I going to do?

Melinda, Democrat: We need some sort of (property tax) cap for rental properties.

Kathleen, Republican: I'm upset about the insurance. I have lived in my house for 19 years. I don't have to evacuate. We were just canceled. We've never had a claim, and trying to find another insurance is very difficult without the cost going up a lot. We're thinking of moving because you just can't afford to stay where you're at.

Jim, Republican: After we're almost through with the hurricane season and nothing happened, it would be nice to think that there would be some idea from someone who's running for office to say all these premiums were collected and there's no reason to keep those premiums without returning something. We're at the end of the line here if we don't do something pretty quick. Doctors are leaving and people are leaving, and it's time to stop it.

Doug, Republican: What bothers me is we didn't have losses for years and years before this. What did they do with all that money? What they've done is isolate Florida from the rest of the world, so we have to be self-insured, basically. (Later asked if the property insurance problems will affect his vote, he added), There hasn't been one candidate who can convince me he's going to do anything for us on insurance.

Why they vote

Albert, independent: If you don't like it, change it, but how do you change it? They say your vote counts, but unless you have an army that agrees with you, why cast it?

Kerri, independent: What does our opinion matter? Gets to the point you don't want to vote.

Larry C., independent: It takes power in numbers.

Daniel, independent: When the Democrats come to the center, and some of the right comes to the center, then they might start to really get something going.

Julia, independent: The only power we have is the vote. Margaret Mead once said that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has. I believe in that. So I'm going to continue to vote. The only thing I can do is vote.

Jeff, Republican: The whole thing is a mess; whole things have got to be changed. I'm for whoever is in, vote them out; make them change every two years. They go up there with good ideas, but once they're there for a while, their priorities become infected and wrong.

Robert, Republican: I believe first of all that power corrupts. I believe that the people I've voted for have the best intentions, but as soon as they're voted in, their primary objective is keeping their job. Last two major elections I voted against someone, not for someone. There was no one running I had any confidence in. As a general voting philosophy, I am conservative. I vote antiliberal.

Doug, Republican: There's hope that something will change, that you'll get the right person.

The war

Robert, Republican: I lived in Morocco two years. I could have told you we would have never won this war.

Darlene, Republican: I'm disappointed in the war. Initially, based on the information given, yeah, I was all for it. Go, go, go, let's make some change. And then about a year later, I'm saying, now how many years is this supposed to go on? If I had any idea back when, I would have had a different opinion. I'm just disenchanted.

Ron, Democrat: What's going on in Iraq will continue for years. It'll be worse than Vietnam. We have people in Washington who are not truthful. (Later, he added:) We need different foreign policy: Iran, North Korea, our approach has been arrogant and assertive. Not working with the international community.

Damon, Democrat: I say the war also. Spending billions of dollars overseas while people in Louisiana are still suffering. Are you going to rebuild? I don't see money being pushed down in that area.

Larry C., independent: The biggest thing on my mind is the war. Thirty-three men have been killed in September. I'm a former military man. It really irritates me that there's no plan. And they want to commit troops through 2010. That's ridiculous. How many people are we going to lose between now and then?

Julia, independent: I never supported this war. Preemptive action for the United States for any reason whatsoever is just way out of line. As each day goes by, I'm convinced we were sold a bill of goods. I've never trusted this administration.

Adam, independent: It's just a lack of coherent vision in domestic policy, foreign policy for the future. It seems like everything's based toward the next election. It's bickering back and forth. Who's going to gain control of Congress seems to be the biggest issue - and not where are we going to be 10 years from now, where are we going to be 20 years from now? It's not about the next decade. It's about next month. The war is a problem. We need to gather people together. Administration doesn't want to hear other people's opinions. They call it "resolve," and to me it's stubbornness.

Education

Bonnie, independent: Education is a universal problem. Education is not respected.

Adam, independent: I was in Tanzania in an exchange program with the University of Florida. Every student there dressed in their best clothes when they went to school.

Julia, independent: We have single parents who cannot afford a higher tuition or a safe place to live. Health care is not affordable. These are the responsibilities of the government, to provide an equal opportunity to all. The lesser of society don't have the basic things a human being deserves.

Kathleen, Republican: There's no discipline or control in the school. There's a lot of disruptions. I have two teenagers in the high school. In one period a student would throw things at the window. You cannot learn in that environment. They're just moving kids along. It's sad.

Ani, Democrat: As an educator, I'm totally against the FCAT. Education should be for the whole person. Everything that feeds the soul is cut away, like the arts.

Health care

Harry, Democrat: I'm retiring in a few years, and I'm concerned about affording continuing health care. How do we continue to pay for it? While I'm working, I'm okay, but when I retire, I'm concerned how am I going to do it.

Darlene, Republican: Elder care is big for me - I took care of my mom at the house for eight years after her strokes - finding a good nursing home and the political game with Medicare and Medicaid.

Doug, Republican: Health care is an issue. I don't think anything is going to change until our congressmen need to get their own insurance.

Larry C., independent: I'd rather spend money on health care than on a war.

Julia, independent: I haven't had health care insurance for four years. I'm just in a position now with my business that I can afford it.

Miscellaneous

Leonard, Democrat: I sent an e-mail to Charlie Crist and addressed seven questions to him, and he sent me back all this stuff and answered me. I said I will vote for you but it's a contract. Majority of the people I vote for are Democrats. I did not get an answer back from Davis.

Melinda, Democrat: At the federal level, same-sex marriage should be legalized. I remember one ad campaign; I'm going to vote for the guy who is the opponent of the guy against same-sex.

Adam, independent: Focus our resources on America. We're trying to spread our influence everywhere and we have pressing issues here.

Independents

Adam Steadman, 32, St. Petersburg: Born in St. Petersburg, lived here most of his life. Runs a store in John's Pass that makes candles for sale to tourists. Lived in Tanzania for a year. Travels a lot. (He notes that the Tanzanian election went off without a hitch in 2000.)

Kerri Lilly, 37, St. Petersburg: Sales manager.

Daniel Farhadi, 59, St. Petersburg: Resident since 1977. Came to America as a foreign student.. Works in electronic manufacturing.

Larry Cranford, 62, St. Petersburg: Retired.

Albert Richmond, 66, Clearwater: Retired from Wal-Mart. Lived here since 1988.

Bonnie Chambers, 61, South Pasadena: Lived here all her life.

Larry Tarantino, 53, Treasure Island: Works in Property Appraiser's Office; just changed from no party to being Democrat. Grew up in St. Petersburg. Came back in 1998 after being in the Air Force for 20-plus years.

Julia Brazier, 51, St. Petersburg: Moved here seven years ago from the Washington, D.C., area. A Realtor.

Republicans

Robert Oblinger, 66, St. Petersburg: Retired dentist; grew up here; left in 1957; came back in 1997 to retire.

Doug Goetschius, 66, St. Petersburg: Worked for the Department of Agriculture; moved here 10 years ago.

Jim Thompson, 61, St. Petersburg: Born here; has been practicing law for 38 years.

Darlene Smith, 43, St. Petersburg: Born and raised here; day care supervisor.

Kathleen Swinsinski, 52, St. Petersburg: Social worker; has lived here most of her life.

John Livingston, 47, Tampa: Grew up in Tampa, third generation.

Jeff Barnes, 55, Gulfport: Born in Indiana; moved here in 1975; musician.

Carol O'Bryon Rogich, 63, Tierra Verde: Interior designer.

Democrats

Leonard Bauduin, 61, St. Petersburg : Retired; came to Florida in 2000 from Pennsylvania; spent his life overseas, military and State Department.

Ani Crane, 67, Gulfport: Lived in New York City; retired teacher; moved here five years ago at retirement.

Harry Long, 60, Treasure Island: Medical sales exec; lived in Florida for 27 years.

Judith Thomas, 55, St. Petersburg: Behavior specialist and school bus trainer; lived here all her life.

Katie Los Balogh, 55, Gulfport: Lived here 11 years; from Los Angeles; kids are teenagers; has an event planning business with a friend.

Ronald Bulington, 64, Tampa: Retired landscaper; lived here 40 years; moved from Indiana.

Damon Myrick, 32, St. Petersburg: Born and raised in St. Petersburg; design engineer for an electrical company.

Micah Mayer, 31, St. Petersburg: Warehouse manager for Target; Florida native and a parent.

Melinda Malec, 41, Gulfport: Moved from Michigan 10 years ago; in the asset protection department at Target; has rental properties.

[Last modified October 24, 2006, 09:49:42]


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