By JOUNICE L. NEALY
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000
Hoping to return to the state capital, this time as a lawmaker, former state legislative aide Charlie Justice was leading St. Petersburg City Council member Bob Kersteen late Tuesday in the race for House District 53.
Justice, 32, is seeking the seat being vacated by his former boss, Democrat Rep. Lars Hafner, who was elected 12 years ago. Hafner is leaving because of term limits.
Justice had a comfortable lead over Kersteen, who has held that post for five years.
With 80 percent of the precincts reporting, Justice had 55.8 percent of the votes and Kersteen had 44.2 percent.
"We're feeling pretty good," said Justice, who hadn't seen exactly which precincts had been counted. But "we feel very confident and very good that this is going to continue," he said.
Justice, a project coordinator at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg campus, has said all along that he gained firsthand experience of state-level public service as Hafner's aide for five years.
"One of the things that we've talked about is who is prepared to go to Tallahassee and be effective from day one," Justice said. "It's been a year of true grass-roots hard work. We've just been pounding the pavement and tonight it looks like they're responding."
The district includes west St. Petersburg, parts of Gulfport, Largo, South Pasadena and Seminole. State representatives serve two-year terms and earn $27,900 annually.
Justice has said he wants to reduce class sizes, implement programs for recruiting and retaining more caring teachers, make prescription drugs more affordable, protect environmentally sensitive areas such as Clam Bayou and prevent the state from selling public records. He does not support vouchers, the system that allows public money to be used to send children to private schools.
Kersteen, 63, also had touted his experience as an elected official.
Kersteen had said he wanted to make health care affordable and find better ways to pay for programs such as child protective services. He supports vouchers.