tampabay.com

5 Republicans seek an edge in primary

By ASJYLYN LODER and JOHN FRANK
Published May 26, 2007


Voters elected a slate of state politicians about six months ago, but because of a special election, it's back to the ballot box for 12, 459 Hernando County residents.

In less than two weeks, voters in Florida House District 43 will vote in the June 5 primary elections set in motion by Gov. Charlie Crist's appointment of state Sen. Nancy Argenziano to the state Public Service Commission.

District 43 State Rep. Charlie Dean resigned from his seat to run for the empty Senate post. Nine candidates have crowed into the race to replace Dean, including a pair of candidates who resigned from local governing boards.

Low voter turnout is expected, making the race especially volatile. For the five Republican candidates vying for their party's nomination, the candidate with the most votes wins.

H. David Werder is a write-in candidate, and "Taxi" Dave Gregory has no party affiliation, so they won't appear on the primary ballot. They will go directly to the June 26 special election.

The district includes all of Citrus County, southern Levy County, and a slice of north central Hernando County. Hernando County's piece of District 43 includes 4, 835 Democrats and 4, 829 Republicans as well as 2, 142 voters with no party affiliation and 653 registered to minor parties.

Elsewhere in the district, Citrus County has an estimated 40, 158 Republicans, and 35, 978 Democrats; Levy has 969 Democrats and 855 Republicans.

Tuesday is the deadline to register to vote for the general.

Robert E. Haber

Haber, 47, describes himself as a "common, working man." The Floral City plumber is making his first run for office because, as he put it, "I think this is something God put on my heart to do." A former Catholic seminarian who converted to born-again Christianity, Haber isn't shy about saying his faith will shape his policy decisions. But, he says, "We don't have to all think alike." Haber sees three big issues in the race: taxes, energy and education. As a Hernando County employee he's worked for the utilities department since 2003, Haber says property taxes should be set by local government, not the state. He favors doubling the homestead exemption. He thinks the FCAT is too rigid, and more time should be spent on phonics, grammar, penmanship, and math. He'd like to see tax breaks to encourage local investment in ethanol, nuclear, solar, and wind power. He favors drilling for oil in the Gulf. He moved to Florida in 1988 to live closer to his parents, who live in Hudson. He earns a little more than $31, 000 a year, owes nearly $93, 000 on his Floral City home on top of a car payment and other debt, and has about $1, 200 in the bank. The divorced dad has one adopted son and three stepchildren ages 17 to 25.

Susan Kirk

Kirk, 53, resigned from the Crystal River City Council during her second four-year term to run for the Legislature. Often the lone voice of opposition and thereby a target for criticism on the council, Kirk took stands against a controversial annexation in 2004, against a new Wal-Mart that would have wiped out wetlands and against the mayor's proposed budget cuts in 2006. Kirk said the council taught her the power of a vote and made her realize how much she enjoyed public service. She said her experience working on statewide issues with the Florida League of Cities gives her an advantage. If elected, she wants to tackle property taxes, insurance and growth. Kirk said she believes in fiscal responsibility, the free market and property rights as remedies. She supports the extension of the Suncoast Parkway and says the state must ensure that local governments stick to their growth plans. Born in Hartford, Conn., she moved to Crystal River in 1984. She has worked as an executive assistant for the American Tort Reform Association in Washington, D.C., and as a clerk for the Maryland legislature. She is a licensed massage therapist with a home-based practice. She is married with no children.

Ron Schultz

Schultz, 68, was the Pinellas County property appraiser from 1976 to 1988, the lone Democrat in local office before he lost a tight election to a Republican challenger. Now a Republican, he moved to Citrus County in 1989, and served as property appraiser there from 1992 till retirement in 2005. When he saw the District 43 seat open up, he decided to run. He thinks Save Our Homes has grown unfair and should be amended to cap the amount of tax exempt value. As it is, there are owners of multimillion-dollar houses who pay little in property taxes while moderate-income families buying a new house get walloped. Schultz said Florida's natural resources, especially its waterways, are crucial to the tourist economy and must be "preserved, retained and revitalized." He serves on the board of directors for the Save the Homosassa River Alliance. "We need strong land use planning" at the local level, he said. Schultz lives on the Homosassa River with his wife of 40 years. The couple has two daughters and five grandchildren. They own their home, a condo in Palm Harbor, some vacant land, and some investments. He's got a mortgage, and earned a little more than $88, 000 in 2006, according to his tax return.

Winfield "Winn" Webb

Webb, 57, retired in 2006 as a community resource officer with the Citrus County Sheriff's Office after 18 years on the streets. Now he finds himself hitting the pavement again, this time looking for votes. This is his first run for public office and the novice acknowledges that an intense month-long campaign is a rocky introduction. "I've had a crash course in politics and issues, " he said. "I don't pretend to have all the answers." Webb said he decided to run because he looked at the candidates and thought he brought something different with his record of integrity and values. But he's not running on a law enforcement platform. The main issues for his campaign is portability of tax breaks when it comes to property taxes, improving education and preserving local government's water and mineral rights. Webb believes strongly that less government is better and local government control beats state government dictates. His similarities to Dean extend beyond law enforcement, he said. Born in Brooksville, Webb also grew up in Citrus County and comes from an old Citrus family. Before being a deputy, Webb was a corrections officer and a barber. His first wife died in 1975 and he remarried five years later; he has five children, all grown. He draws his income from state retirement funds and a number of rental properties.

Michael "Joey" White

White, 36, of Lecanto finished runner-up to Dean in 2002. In his second bid for office last fall, White ran for a non-partisan school board seat and finished last in a three-way race. He felt afterward that he needed to campaign harder, and says he's putting his full energy into this race. "The Legislature has always been my passion, " he said. He is using his experience on the campaign trail to garner endorsements from groups like the National Rifle Association and collect checks from groups with lobbyists in Tallahassee. White, who once fancied himself as a gubernatorial candidate, calls himself the "only consistent conservative" in the race. His top policy issues include reforming the property tax structure and improving the Department of Juvenile Justice. Born in Indiana, he moved to Dunnellon when he was 13. White said he served in the Army and now owns a business that does lawn care services for Citrus County government and serves legal papers for a law firm. White was divorced in 2000, and has one young daughter.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or (352)754-6127. John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

AT A GLANCE

District 43 election

What's happening?

The primary for state House District 43 will be June 5.

Who's running?

There are five Republicans and two Democrats.

Is that my district?

District 43 includes High Point, Brookridge, Weeki Wachee North, Weeki Wachee Gardens, and other voters. This affects the following eight Hernando County voting precincts: 13, 18, 24, 25, 49, 50, 53, and part of 3. If you don't know if you should vote in District 43, or you don't know where to vote, call the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections at (352) 754-4125.