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District 44 Florida House

Challenger Gregory Williams and incumbent David Russell are the last survivors of a crowded primary field.

By DAN DeWITTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


The race for the District 44 House of Representatives seat was crowded when Democratic challenger Gregory Williams entered more than a year ago.

Incumbent David Russell had briefly committed to running for the state Senate before deciding to seek re-election.

Seven candidates announced that they planned to run for Russell's seat; five of them, two Democrats and three Republicans, stayed in the running up to the September primary.

Now it is down to two: Russell and Williams.

Russell spent more than $60,000 in the primary and has the support of the statewide party and numerous political action committees. All of this would seem to make him the favorite.

But Williams has already shown he can pull off an upset. In September, his Democratic opponent, Diane TeStrake, was an associate dean at the University of South Florida whom state party leaders had sought out because they did not have confidence in Williams' campaign.

Williams defeated her by more than 8 percentage points.

If Williams defeats Russell, he will not do it by being as critical as Russell's primary opponents. They lambasted Russell for sponsorship of a law that allows motorcyclists to ride without helmets as long as they have $10,000 of personal injury insurance. They also said Russell was too willing to follow House leaders who cared little about the environment and the needs of ordinary residents.

In response, Russell pointed out that he voted against a widely criticized bill that would have allowed private landowners to seize control of much of Florida's shorelines. He also opposed a bill that would have eliminated state control of growth management.

For generally following House Speaker John Thrasher's direction, Russell said, he expects a position of leadership during the coming legislative session on one of the committees that controls transportation and economic development. He wants to push for a high-speed rail system that would reduce reliance on new roads.

Williams' main criticism of Russell is that his legislation, including the helmet law, has not directly benefited the residents of Hernando County.

For example, Williams said, Russell has done nothing to protect the area's water resources -- an issue Williams says he would make a priority.

Williams, a probation officer at the Sumter Correctional Institution in Bushnell, said he would also spend more money on education, and he opposes the Republican-backed A+

program for school improvement because it diverts funds from public schools.

THE JOB

State House District 44 covers most of Hernando County, except for areas in the northwest and southeast, and parts of Pasco, Lake, Polk and Sumter counties. State representatives serve two-year terms and receive a salary of $27,900.

REPUBLICAN

DAVID RUSSELL JR., 45, was elected to the state House of Representa-

tives in 1998. A native of Birmingham, Ala., where he completed high school, he has owned a pool supply and service company in Spring Hill for 19 years. He has been married since 1980 and is the father of two sons. ASSETS: home, business investments and cars. LIABILITIES: home mortgage, car loan and credit card. SOURCE OF INCOME: legislative and business salaries. E-MAIL: rus0432@hotmail.com.

DEMOCRAT

GREGORY WILLIAMS, 40, is a native of St. Petersburg who moved to Citrus County in 1991 and more recently to Ridge Manor. He works as a classifications supervisor for the state Department of Corrections and coaches basketball. He is a board member of the Hernando County NAACP. He is married and has four children. He is a graduate of Bethune-Cookman College. ASSETS: home. LIABILITIES: home mortgage and car loan. SOURCE OF INCOME: Department of Corrections salary. WEB SITE: http://www.gregorywilliams2000. com.

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