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Politics

Candidate says ad crossed line

By MELANIE AVE
Published November 5, 2006


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ST. PETERSBURG - An emotional state Senate candidate Charlie Justice held a last-minute news conference Saturday to chide opponent Kim Berfield for what he calls "baseless, extreme attacks" that label him a friend of sexual offenders and predators.

The race for the District 16 seat has been particularly fierce between the two Pinellas County House members. But Justice, a Democrat, said in recent days it sank to new lows as his Republican opponent's television ads and fliers accuse him of choosing "creeps over kids."

"Today, she crossed the line," Justice said at a news conference outside his headquarters on Martin Luther King Jr. Street, "I think we all agree there's a line of taste, a line of decency she's crossed."

Both sides said Saturday that the other is making an eleventh-hour appeal to win votes for Tuesday's election.

One flier paid for by the Republican Party shows a small picture of Justice next to a fat-cheeked baby.

"Liberal extremist Charlie Justice voted to put the rights of pedophiles and sexual predators ahead of protecting our kids," it states. "How could you, Charlie Justice?"

Justice - with his wife, a teacher, and two young daughters behind him - said Berfield has taken "one vote out of context."

"It's personal," said Justice, his eyes growing watery.

But Berfield said Justice is trying to run from his own record.

Much of the advertising in question centers on Justice's vote on Senate Bill 2986 in 2004, which required criminal background checks on all school personnel with direct contact with students. Justice was one of four House members to vote against the bill.

"I personally think that's outrageous," Berfield said. "By voting no, he put the rights of predators over the rights of students and teachers.

"That has nothing to do with anything personal. That is his record."

Justice said he voted against the bill because it prohibited school applicants from denying arrests that had been expunged or sealed.

At the news conference, Justice provided a list of 20 bills that he supported or sponsored since 2001 that toughened restrictions on pornography, child exploitation and sexual offenders.

"I'm an educator," said Justice, an academic adviser at the University of South Florida. "My wife is a teacher. I have two children.

"Why would I put them in jeopardy?"

Melanie Ave can be reached at 727 893-8813 or mave@sptimes.com.

[Last modified November 4, 2006, 23:28:24]


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