Democrats are chomping at their bits to get the District 22 state House seat back, having seen it swept from their grasp two years ago by a quirky Republican physician who pulled one of the most remarkable upsets in local election history.
Former representative David Flagg held the seat until Dr. Bob Casey -- on the strength of damning letter written by Flagg to the University of Florida -- won the district despite the large majority of Democrats.
Now it's the job of Gainesville trial lawyer Rob Denson to get it back for Democrats and no doubt he'll have the backing of the party's Victory '94 war chest. On his own, Denson has gathered well in excess of $100,000 and the party could chip in as much $50,000.
Imagine then that Casey was even heard to say recently, "I love Democrats." Well, he loves at least three of them -- those being his three grown children, all Democrats.
Why then, asked one Casey supporter at a recent forum, have the Democrats put this race at the top of its hit list? Casey said that apparently they are still smarting from Flagg's defeat and, he said, the Democrats are not alone in wanting him out. Casey said the Academy of Trial Lawyers, for whom Denson has lobbied, and the tobacco industry are targeting him.
The fact that Casey is a doctor and Denson a lawyer may be the reason it has attracted statewide attention. It is that and the fact that Democrats far outnumber Republicans in District 22, which covers much of northern and western Alachua County and much of western Marion County.
Denson, a native Iowan whose education began in a one-room schoolhouse, often finds himself fending off criticism of his profession as far as this race is concerned. He has said many times over he won't go to Tallahassee "to carry anybody's water" most assuredly not the Academy of Trial Lawyers', even though he served on the organization's board for 10 years and lobbied for it.
He likes to tell a story about lawyers and doctors. "What's the real difference between the practice of law and the practice of medicine? Law is dog eat dog and medicine is just the reverse."
Denson said he wants to change the status quo in Tallahassee.
"I am convinced the Legislature never hears the truth . . . if it does it will do the right thing," he said. Denson said the lawmakers are often misinformed through the committee process where people give testimony that isn't always on the mark.
Casey has been a general practitioner since 1967 and has attracted contributions from doctors all over the state. It is probably the fact that he is a doctor that makes this a close race, since a large portion of Gainesville's population is connected to the medical profession. District 22 does not encompass the University of Florida, but many of the institution's health care professionals go home each day to the district.
He recently told some some of those doctors at UF that "government has intruded more and more," including into the "sacred patient/physician relationship."
But while professing less government interference, Casey says health care reform is needed. Indeed, he is announcing his own plan in time for the election. Inherent in it is a 25-cent tax on cigarettes.
"It's interesting," said Denson. "He's (Casey) been in the Legislature two years and a doctor forever, and comes out with a plan just before the election."
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