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By MELANIE AVE
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000
TAMPA -- Plant City attorney Johnnie Byrd appeared headed to an easy victory Tuesday night and a third term as representative for state House District 62.
With a majority of the votes counted, Byrd, a Republican who raised about $300,000 to finance his re-election bid, was outpacing Democratic challenger John Wayne Clark, a retired social services administrator who has never held public office, by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1.
"A lot of different people from a lot of different segments of society support us and that makes us feel good," said Byrd, 49, a lawyer.
He attributed the voter support to his accessibility the past two terms. "We keep our people informed. We just don't surface three weeks before the election," he said.
Byrd was first elected four years ago after restaurateur Buddy Johnson announced his retirement. He was the victor again in 1998, defeating Dover middle school teacher Jeff Johnson in the primary with no Democrat opponent to face.
Byrd, who works for the Plant City firm of Trinkle, Redman, Swanson, Byrd & Coton, hopes to become House speaker in 2002. His priority for the next session is education: reducing class sizes, improving school work conditions and increasing teacher pay.
Facing a well-funded incumbent, Clark, 57, called the District 62 competition "the toughest race in the state of Florida."
Throughout the campaign, he portrayed himself as a political outsider.
Even though Byrd held a sharp lead throughout the night Tuesday, Clark refused to concede until the end. But he said he hopes his election bid shows people "you can run a race without special interest money. It tells everyone we can mount a front to take back the state from special interest money."
Many important issues face the Legislature, Byrd said, and he plans on playing a large role. Other than education, he said he wants to work to make health care affordable and keep the costs of prescription medicines low. "I want to make sure nobody is left behind," Byrd said.
House District 62 covers most of eastern Hillsborough County.