Oct. 25, 2012

By Matt Mauney | Associate Editor

The Plant City Observer has profiled candidates for the several local and state elections. Here, we spotlight Elizabeth Belcher and Tom Lee,  candidates for Florida Senate District 24.

Elizabeth Belcher

Democrat Elizabeth Belcher is devoted to serving her community, learning at a young age that isn’t something that people should do, but rather must do.

Belcher spent 27 years as a criminal investigator with the Internal Revenue Service. Her cases included tax fraud and money laundering.

As a government employee, she could not become involved in politics but has been active on community issues, such as zoning and the weigh-in-motion station. Some of her accomplishments through those efforts include drafting and helping implement the Seffner/Mango Library, and becoming the treasurer of the special tax district in her subdivision, as well as the president of Friends of Seffner/Mango Library.

“The more I became involved in community issues, the more disgusted I became with local politics,” she said. “After I retired, I joined the Democratic Party.”

Belcher’s political plan is based on the “Four Es” — ethics, economy, education and environment.

Belcher said Florida has been running on poor ethics, with the state being in control by the Republican Party for the past 14 years.

“Without ethics, it is like building a house on a sink hole,” she said. “At some time, the house is going to collapse. That is what is happening in Florida.”

Belcher noted the “only list Florida has managed to be ranked No. 1 on is public corruption.”

Belcher wants legislation requiring lawmakers who introduce budget items to list them on the state website, as well as requiring legislators to put their names beside line items they introduce.

“It is past time that ethics returned to our public offices,” she said.

Belcher pointed to several examples of ill spending in the area, including the Polytechnic University in Lakeland and The Regent Center. A study showed that 40% of firms that received taxpayer money failed to fulfill their agreements.

“If you are a business person, would you continue to pursue a business model that failed 40% of the time?” she asked.

Regarding the economy, Belcher believes it is in the state’s best interest to support small businesses.

“Studies have shown that two out of three real, new jobs created within the last decade were from small business,” she said.

When it comes to education and the environment, Belcher said “teachers are the solution, not the problem” and that we must protect our farmers.

“If you think that we are in trouble by being dependent on foreign oil, what is going to happen if we became dependent on foreign food?” she questioned.

Belcher also stated when she was hired as a special agent, her first supervisor told her she had to be three times as good and do twice the work to receive half the recognition of a male agent.

“I took the challenge and succeeded,” she said.

If elected, Belcher plans to take up her new challenge and succeed in Tallahassee.

Tom Lee

Republican Tom Lee is a longtime resident of Hillsborough County, living and working in the Brandon area for more than 40 years.

He is the son of a family working in construction and has been a leader at his family’s business, Sabal Homes, for nearly 25 years. He currently serves as the vice president of the company. Through this experience, Lee has developed a deep connection with his community.

Lee previously served as a state senator from 1996 to 2006, before taking a break from politics. Now, he’s back, running for the newly drawn Senate District 24, comprising mostly suburbs, farmland and small businesses in Eastern Hillsborough County.

“I think the most important qualification you can have is to look at the time a candidate has spent living in the district,” Lee said. “I’ve been involved with the community here and active in business and philanthropic outreach since I graduated from college.”

During his decade in Tallahassee, Lee worked to protect taxpayers, cutting taxes in each of the 10 years he served in the Senate. In 2004, Lee was selected as the Senate president.

“I learned a lot during that time,” Lee said, adding that he had no ambitions of getting involved in politics before he was convinced to run in 1995. “I didn’t really have an appreciation for politicians before that, but during my time in Senate, I developed a respect for public service and saw that statesmen can help make people believe in our government.”

Lee said there were many challenges during that time to fulfill his duties in Tallahassee by representing his community while maintaining his professional and personal life.

“You test yourself in a lot of different ways, and I walked out with a tremendous respect for government and a real sense of humility,” he said.

Lee admitted that, at first, he had no desire to get back into politics, but after some time of giving advice to other candidates — and after Ronda Storms decided to not run for re-election and instead run for Hillsborough County property appraiser — Lee was persuaded to make another run.

“This process was more of a 75-day sprint and not a two-year marathon,” he said of his candidacy.

While in the Senate, Lee built a reputation for being tough on lobbyists, insisting they disclose how much money they make and for banning them from buying meals and gifts for legislators.

“I came into Senate with no political experience and a fresh set of eyes,” he said. “I don’t believe democracy can flourish if people don’t trust the government. I saw things I thought were eroding public trust and allowing special-interest groups to get between legislatures and their constituents. I decided I was going to change that.”

Lee noted the most pressing issue in this election is the economy. He said this area has plenty of economic assets, but improving education is key.

“We need to continue to invest and reform education,” he said. “There is more we can do in ethics reform, as well. There are many problems that have arose in the six years since I’ve been gone. A lot of things need to be addressed, and I’d like to think 10 years in the Senate and a long time spent in the private sector and working with small business makes me qualified to represent this district."Seo