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Political newcomers face off in District 57

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 04:25 PM

Age: 49

Education: Bachelor's degree in economics, University of New York, 1995; master's degree in business administration, University of Phoenix, 1999

Family: married; one daughter

Home: Valrico

Professional experience: linguist, Army intelligence; terminal manager, vice president of logistics and regional manager in trucking and logistics industry

Political experience: none

Campaign website: www.brucebarnett.org

Age: 27

Education: Bachelor's degree in agricultural communication from University of Florida, 2007

Family: married, one son

Home: Lithia

Professional experience: marketing, agriculture

Political experience: none

Campaign website: www.jakeraburn.com

Jake Raburn and his Republican opponent in the party's primary in August had similar ideologies.

Raburn, who won that contest, now faces Democrat Bruce Barnett in the general election, and the contrast between them couldn't be sharper. Both want to represent voters in the newly formed state House District 57, which includes Sun City Center, Wimauma, Lithia and parts of Bloomingdale and Riverview. The Legislature created the district this year based on the 2010 census.

The differences between the candidates begin with financing and endorsements.

Barnett, 48, who served four years in Army intelligence and has 20 years of experience in trucking and logistics, raised $6,725 during this election cycle compared with Raburn's $137,101, much of which came from agricultural interests in Hillsborough County and throughout the state. Born and raised in Plant City, Raburn, a 27-year-old marketing manager, has worked in agriculture since graduating from college in 2007.

Raburn's endorsements include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Tampa Bay Builders Association, Hillsborough County Farm Bureau, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and The Tampa Tribune. Barnett said he hasn't sought endorsements.

Neither candidate has previous political experience, but each maintains he is the right person for the job.

"I'm running for office to stand up for the citizens of my district," Barnett said. "While my opponent supports the agribusiness interests, developers and large landholders of Plant City and Polk County, I believe our quality of life should not be determined by outside interests in their quests for profits."

Barnett said the district representative should have military experience because of its large number of active-duty and former service members and many civilian contractors. His educational background also is relevant to the position, he said, along with his longtime residency in the district.

"I don't see how a young man from Plant City, recently out of college with no real work experience, can represent the citizens of my district," Barnett said. "We don't need another "yes" vote in the Florida Legislature. We need a representative who will make a difference and stand up for citizens."

Raburn said his public and private sector experience, education, and professional experience in agriculture make him ideal for representing a rural district. He said voters are more interested in the character and ethics of the person seeking office rather than a hefty résumé.

"I believe we're looking for someone who is guided by a strong moral compass, common sense and the will to fight for what is right," he said. "I bring those things to the table.

"Every day I see how my business is affected by government regulation," Raburn said. "I'm running to be part of the solution — to ensure economic growth, a positive business climate and a future for small, family-owned-and-operated businesses in our state. I want my son to have the opportunity to take over the family business one day if he chooses."

The candidates are far apart on issues.

Raburn favors a limited, more cost-efficient government and reducing regulations on small businesses. He wants a highly educated and trained workforce to address the needs of employers and says the state needs to strengthen public schools, provide more options for parents and renew its focus on career and technical education.

Barnett wants to stop the transfer of public tax dollars to big business and corporate lobbyists. "The Florida Legislature is taking money from education, transportation and other vital needs and giving it to large corporations — all the while calling it job creation," he said. "This is just a way to divert our tax dollars to private companies."

He also favors reviving the state's economy though investments in "infrastructure, communities and citizens" to attract business and high-quality workers.

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