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    Senate race focuses on future vs. past

    Faye Culp wants to improve education; Victor Crist touts his community work.

    By TIM GRANT

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 31, 2000


    TAMPA -- In the Republican primary for state Senate District 13, Faye Culp is campaigning on what she would like to accomplish, while her opponent Victor Crist emphasizes what he already has done.

    Culp talks about how she can improve state education, but Crist points to community programs he has established to address issues like adult illiteracy, vocational training and the achievement of GED certificates.

    Still, Culp says she is the better candidate on education.

    "My background is in education," Culp said. "I've been a schoolteacher, served on the School Board and I'm working on my doctorate in education leadership. I have extensive background in education that Victor Crist doesn't have."

    Culp, a state House member from 1992-98 and School Board member from 1988-92, also has served on a long list of boards and committees, but the net results of her community and public service shrink next to Crist's.

    As a four-term representative from House District 60, and a longtime civic activist before that, Crist has accomplished plenty.

    For example, among Culp's list of achievements as a state legislator is the installation of a street light on Hillsborough Avenue after a fatal wreck in Town 'N Country. In comparison, Crist boasts of helping to land more than $100-million to revitalize the blighted neighborhood around the University of South Florida.

    While Culp points out how she had sandbags delivered to flooded areas of Town 'N Country, Crist cites his leadership role in building an $8-million community center for at-risk youth.

    "She says she wants to do all these things, but why hasn't she done it?," said Crist. "When I see problems that need to be fixed, I don't wait for the process."

    Among other things, Crist said he acquired the funding and led the development of the first welfare-to-work job centers in Tampa. He led the initiative to bring two magnet schools to the USF area and helped establish a medical clinic that opened in the USF area this summer.

    Their campaign styles differ as much their ideas on how to most effectively represent District 13, which includes northwest Hillsborough, New Tampa and southern Pasco.

    Crist has raised about $135,000, mostly from businesses and interest groups such as insurance, advertising, gambling and the funeral industries. Culp's $35,000 has come largely from small donors in the district.

    Crist has hired political consultants and run an expensive media-driven campaign, while Culp has focused on door-to-door canvassing, working the telephones and attending fundraising parties.

    As part of her grass-roots effort, she has even tried connecting with voters through her poetry on the Internet.

    A third Republican candidate, David Reynaert, runs a homeless shelter and touts himself as the moral conscience in the race, but has raised no money and his only exposure has been through televised debates.

    He said he was called by God to enter this year's state Senate race.

    The candidates are running for the seat being vacated by Carrollwood Republican John Grant, who is leaving office because of term limits. The winner of Tuesday's primary will face Democrat Kathy Castor in November.

    During his eight years in office, Crist has earned a reputation for being tough on crime. He once gained national notoriety for a statement which suggested he was in favor of reinstating the guillotine, which he has repeatedly denied. Most recently Crist was at the forefront of the Republican party's failed attempt to eliminate steps in the death row appeals process.

    He currently serves as chairman of the Legislature's justice council. He has led the charge on spearheading major crime laws including the Three Strikes Violent Felony Act and 10-20-Life.

    Crist said that as a senator he would broaden his focus to health care reform and economic development. His goal is to serve as chairman of the state Senate committee on appropriations, he said.

    During her time in the House, Culp did not lead the passing of any major legislation, but spent more time trying to solve day-to-day problems for many of her constituents.

    "Constituent service, I think, differentiates me," Culp said. "I'm always in the community trying to do as many things as possible and being involved in as many things as possible."

    Culp said one of her main goals, if elected, would be to improve the state school system by supporting more charter schools, smaller class sizes and higher pay for teachers.

    She said she would also like to address staffing problems at nursing homes by forming an organization of nursing home volunteers similar to the Parent Teachers Association.

    "Many of the people in nursing homes have no family to help take care of them and if that is the case, it becomes a community issue and we could all help," Culp said.

    - Tim Grant can be reached at 226-3471 or grant@sptimes.com.

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