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A Times Editorial

Williams for state House 44

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000

Finding a reason to support Republican incumbent David Russell Jr. for re-election to state House District 44 is like panning for gold; you have high hopes you'll find something of substance to sustain your search, but you grow weary of sifting and feel the urge to move on.

That option is available to voters in the candidacy of Gregory Williams, a Democrat from Ridge Manor, who offers an opportunity to bring moderate and independent representation to the district, which includes all of Hernando and Sumter counties and portions of Lake and Pasco counties.

Russell's two years in the House have been unremarkable. Yet, his most notable and far-reaching accomplishment was to successfully sponsor a reckless bill that allows motorcyclists to ride without helmets. That wrong-headed measure, which took effect in July, already has resulted in several traffic deaths that might have been prevented if the law had not been changed.

On almost all matters of significance, Russell has been nothing more than a rubber stamp for the agenda of his party's leadership. He did summon the courage to vote against the so-called "land-grab bill" that would have given some of the public's waterfront lands to private interests, but that was a rare departure from the timid, follow-the-leader mentality he exhibited during his two years in office.

That record is particularly disappointing because Russell and his staff demonstrate a penchant for quality constituent service, particularly in Hernando County, which is the core of his sprawling House district. But that is not enough to overcome his lack of initiative on matters of the most concern to his diverse constituency.

Meanwhile, Williams, who is a classifications specialist for the state Department of Corrections and a trained human resources worker, appears more attuned to the problems of working-class residents. His platform focuses on:

HEALTH CARE: Williams advocates better care for the under-insured, including state funding for doctors and hospitals that treat indigent and uninsured patients.

EDUCATION: Increased state funding for practical education needs such as teaching materials, technology and vocational training.

GROWTH MANAGEMENT: Maintaining the state Department of Community Affairs' oversight of new commercial and residential development that has significant impact on regions' natural resources and infrastructure.

WATER: Compelling the state's water management districts to work more closely with local governments to solve the demands of supply and conservation.

FIREARMS: Prohibiting the sale of military-style automatic weapons to the public.

Williams is an ingratiating and dynamic personality who will be a good fit for voters who expect their elected representative to do his homework and assert his conscience without fear of falling into disfavor with the powers that be in the state Capitol. Because of Williams' promising attitude, and Russell's disappointing performance during his freshman term, we recommend residents vote for a change in District 44.

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