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Ex-lawmaker wants to return to capital

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By TIM NICKENS Times Political Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 13, 1999

After living for several years in Tallahassee, former education commissioner and state lawmaker Doug Jamerson plans to return home to St. Petersburg and ask voters to send him right back to the state capital as a state senator.

Jamerson said Tuesday he will run for the Senate seat now occupied by Jim Hargrett of Tampa, who will be forced out of office next year by term limits unless he files a court challenge and wins.

Even without Hargrett in the race, Jamerson's decision sets up a Democratic primary battle with another prominent African-American politician, House Minority Leader Les Miller of Tampa.

"I weighed the pros and cons and tried to assess my chances and whether I can appeal to the folks," Jamerson said. "I think I can, so I am going to give it a good-faith effort."

But first he wants to find a house in Senate District 21, which links racially mixed and predominantly black neighborhoods in south Pinellas, Tampa and Manatee County.

Jamerson said he owns his late grandmother's former home in St. Petersburg, but he said it sits across 20th Avenue S from District 21. He said he hopes to buy a house and return to the city by the end of the year.

First elected to a St. Petersburg House seat in 1982, Jamerson served almost a dozen years in the Legislature and was a leader in education and prison issues.

He was chairman of the corrections committee in the late '80s when the state embarked upon an enormous prison-building program. He also headed the education committee in the early '90s when lawmakers began efforts to hold schools more accountable for their performance.

Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed Jamerson as state education commissioner in 1993 when incumbent Betty Castor resigned to become the president of the University of South Florida. But the following year Jamerson lost his bid to become the first African- American elected to the state Cabinet, as Republican Frank Brogan won a decisive victory.

Following that defeat, Chiles tapped Jamerson to head the state's Department of Labor and Employment Security. Jamerson held that job until Republican Jeb Bush took office in January, and he has been working as a consultant and lobbyist since then.

Jamerson, 52, said his years living in Tallahassee should not be an issue.

"I didn't intend to live in Tallahassee forever," he said. "I don't intend to be buried in Tallahassee. St. Petersburg is where I am from, and this is where I am coming back to."

Most of District 21, which was drawn to give minority voters a better opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice, is in Hillsborough. Jamerson said he also has family roots there, and he said voters there also know him through his previous state jobs.

Jamerson said he is concerned about issues such as redrawing the legislative districts based on the 2000 Census and the proposed amendment to ban affirmative action, which he opposes.

It is unclear who the winner of the Democratic primary would face. Rep. Rudy Bradley of St. Petersburg, who switched party affiliations and became a Republican earlier this year, has said he is still deciding whether to run for the Senate seat or seek re-election to his House seat.

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