EAST TAMPA — The 2014 primary election for District 61 is about a year away but four Democratic candidates already have entered the competition to replace State Rep. Betty Reed, who must leave the seat because of term limit provisions.
On Tuesday two of the candidates — Sharon Carter and Sean Shaw — spoke to about 30 people at the monthly meeting of the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership. The volunteer group advises city officials on strategies to end blight in the East Tampa special tax district bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, Interstates 275 and 4, and the city limit.
Their opponents, Tatiana M. Denson and Edwin Narain, previously have spoken to the group. The primary election is scheduled Aug. 26, 2014. So far no Republicans have entered the race. The general election is Nov. 4, 2014.
Carter touted her life-long ties to East Tampa; her community volunteer work; and her service as former vice-chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee. She works in construction project management. As a college student in 1991 she served as a legislative aide in Tallahassee. This is her first run for elected office.
“I have accountability in this room,” she said. “There’s no place like home, no place like home.”
Shaw highlighted his experience in Tallahassee as former state insurance consumer advocate and the knowledge he gained about the legislative process. Shaw previously ran and lost in 2008 in a crowded Democratic primary race for District 8 in Tallahassee.
“You need someone who knows their way around Tallahassee,” Shaw said. “On both sides of the aisle, I have those relationships.”
Carter is a graduate of Hillsborough High School and Florida State University. Her father, the late Rev. Frank L. Carter, was a local pastor in Highland Pines and worked for HART; her mother Earnestine Carter, is a retired school bus driver.
If elected, Carter said she would make education a top priority.
“I want to create a reading initiative to get our children on the proper reading level,” said Carter, who would seek state funds for such a program.
Too many children are failing the reading portion of the standardized FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), she said. Studies have shown that poor reading skills are linked to high school drop outs, juvenile delinquents and prisoners.
Carter also said she would bring jobs to the district and would support creating a business incubator program. She said she would consider pursuing a jobs bill initially promoted by Reed. “I want to bridge some of her programs,” Carter said.
Shaw grew up in Tallahassee. His father is retired State Supreme Court Chief Justice Leander Shaw Jr., the first black justice to serve in that position.
Sean Shaw is a graduate of Princeton University and has a law degree from the University of Florida. He moved to Tampa about a year and a half ago, and is a lawyer with the Merlin Law Group.
As insurance consumer advocate, Shaw said, “All we did was stick up for consumers.” Shaw said he helped draft bills and amendments, and lobbied to block bills that would harm consumers.
Now in private practice, Shaw said he continues his consumer advocacy. “I sue insurance companies,” he said.
If elected, Shaw said he would focus on jobs and health care, and initiatives to reduce the prison population and cut high school dropout rates.
He would like to see the legislature create incentives to help small businesses, and not focus on “huge incentives to big corporations.”
He would like to find resources to support local education initiatives, particularly mentoring programs: “Mentoring is something that is the answer to a lot of this,” he said. “It doesn’t cost a lot of money. It’s just something we can do.”
Shaw said he would support legislation to restore, automatically, voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. And he would like to see more people who are arrested on drug charges enroll in diversion programs rather than be sentenced to prison.
“I’d work on that as soon as I got there (Tallahassee),” Shaw said. “Too many people are going to prison who are not prison level.”