Two House hopefuls stand out in primary

By Times editorial
Published May 29, 2007

Almost 12, 500 registered voters in Hernando County are eligible to cast a ballot in the June 5 primary for the District 43 seat in the Florida House of Representatives. If you are not already registered to vote, today is the last day to do so.

Two candidates are seeking the nomination of Democrats, and five are on the GOP ballot. The winner of each of those races will join one no-party candidate and a write-in hopeful in the general election June 26.

These special elections became necessary when incumbent Charles Dean resigned his House seat to run for the state Senate seat vacated by Nancy Argenziano, who resigned to accept an appointment to the state Public Service Commission.

House District 43 cuts a swath through central Hernando County that runs parallel to State Road 50 from Weeki Wachee to about the Suncoast Parkway, then stretches north to Citrus County. The district includes all of Citrus and a sparsely populated area of southern Levy County.

This whole process has moved very quickly, so neither candidates nor voters have had much time to get acquainted. But we have interviewed all the candidates and researched their backgrounds and platforms, and these are our recommendations in the June 5 primary.

For Democrats

Sophia Diaz-Fonseca is saying things you hear from your neighbors and friends.

"Why is everything in Tallahassee a knee-jerk reaction?" "Tallahassee needs to take its own advice" when it comes to spending. "We need people up there who will start shaking it up."

Fortunately for Democrats voting in this primary, Diaz-Fonseca's words are more than rhetorical sound bites. She means what she says and she is determined that if she is elected to the House, her colleagues will hear it, too. "I will not be ignored, " she promised. Given the energy and resolve Diaz-Fonseca has demonstrated as a community activist and member of the Inverness City Council, we do not doubt her intent or her ability.

Diaz-Fonseca, 48, is conversant on the issues, but her platform is centered on better managing growth, which she says is responsible for many of Florida's other ailments, including high property taxes and insurance rates. She also advocates targeting Medicaid fraud to weed out the abusers and then increasing reimbursements for doctors her husband is a physician because she believes it will have a positive trickle-down effect for health care employees.

On education, Diaz-Fonseca opposes school vouchers, supports accountability testing (but disapproves of using the results to punish schools), and agrees with giving teachers merit bonuses.

Diaz-Fonseca's only opponent in this contest is Patricia Kittleman, a poised, progressive and independent-thinking 72-year-old who has vowed to never accept money from lobbyists. She, too, is conversant on the issues, and her stances mirror her rival's on several, especially education and insurance.

But Diaz-Fonseca's engaging style and dogged approach to solving problems make her a better choice in this two-person primary.

For Republicans

Ron Schultz is verbose and a tad imperious; but he also is informed, analytical and tenacious.

That bookish mixture of traits and talents has served Schultz well for more than 30 years, most of which he spent as property appraiser in Citrus and Pinellas counties. His extensive government experience, coupled with his willingness to take on big businesses and other well-heeled landowners on behalf of less influential taxpayers, are what earns Schultz our recommendation in this five-person Republican primary.

Schultz's opponents are all sincere, creditable candidates. We applaud Robert Haber, Susan Kirk, Winn Webb and Michael "Joey" White for offering themselves for public service in the state House. However, none can overcome the utter timeliness of Schultz's candidacy.

As Florida wrestles with the overriding and controversial issue of property tax reform, Schultz's entry into this race is nothing less than opportune. Schultz, 68, recognizes that the property tax crisis will not be solved during the upcoming special session of the Legislature. It took years to evolve, and it will take years to unravel it. His ability to think in those broad, long-range terms, reinforced by his intricate knowledge of property policy and statistics, is what sets him apart. It also serves him well in his outlook on growth management.

Schultz, who describes himself as "moderate Republican socially, and a conservative economically, " is the obvious choice in this primary.

Opportunity to reply

Candidates who are not recommended by the Times are invited to respond. Responses for House District 43 must be received by 5 p.m. Thursday. E-mail to webb@sptimes.com or fax to (352) 754-6133.