With less than 24 hours before polls open, Mark Danish feels that he can win.
Danish is running for the State House from District 63 and though his campaign is lacking the funds of his opponent, Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison, he feels that the tried and true method of going door to door and personal phone calls will help him win.
District 63 was recently redrawn and consists mainly of Lutz, parts of the USF area, Town N’ Country, Seminole Heights and Ybor, and leans more Democratic.
Danish attended college in New York and has lived and worked as a teacher in the Tampa area since 1977. As a middle school science teacher at Benito Middle School in New Tampa and after a long career in teaching, Danish’s first and main priority is education.
Funding for schools has been decreasing, and Danish says that restoring that is priority number one, along with a positive way of holding teachers accountable.
“The first thing we have to look at is the funding, I’m talking K through college. That keeps coming up as an issue that we want to improve, and we talk about how wonderful the education system is, and how we want to improve it...and how we want to have accountability but no one wants to put money into doing that.”
Without proper funding Danish is worried that the future for both Florida’s students and economic climate could be bleak.
“We’re going to have a generation in this state of students who are ill equipped to get jobs in the future. As of right now the state of Florida is 47th in the nation on funding (per capita) for education.”
There’s been a lot of discussion nationwide about the role of teacher’s unions, with growing talk that they’re not all about serving students. In the Hillsborough county area though, Danish feels that teachers are being unfairly depicted and that factors such as school testing and that increasing funding for charter schools while decreasing funds for “regular” schools are hurting our education system.
"(We) need to stop, and I think the legislature is leading on this, attacking the teachers and saying they're the big problem. Like every profession there are a couple that aren't good, but the large majority of teachers do an excellent job. The whole idea is that if you criticize the teachers you can then say "we need to change the whole system to get rid of them" and then claim the unions are the problem."
Mark believes that the union and it's members are working admirably with the Hillsborough school board to make necessary changes and that a better relationship between government and teachers is the best way to improve Florida's lacking education system.
Danish’s main approach for raising funds is less about cutting or increasing taxes but in closing what he feels are unfair breaks.
“We have so many tax loopholes going on and the legislature has to be willing to look at these things to see where we can bring revenue in that we’re not bringing in presently.”
Fundraising has been somewhat of a difficulty through out Danish’s campaign. His competition in the Democratic primary, Z.J. Hafeez outspent him drastically and had much more support from the Florida Democratic machine, but despite the money difference Danish nabbed the nomination.
Shawn Harrison presents a more formidable challenge, he has a much more solid foundation in Florida politics and has outraised Danish by almost $200,000. Harrison as also advertised more heavily and gained the endorsements of both of Tampa’s major newspapers.
On the flip-side Danish has taken a more old-school approach, making thousands of phone calls personally to voters walking the precincts.
The Danish campaign also counts the endorsement and support from almost all of Florida’s unions including the Florida Education Association, the S.E.I.U, two fire fighters unions, and former Florida CFO and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.
He feels his more “hands-on” style is the best way to achieve victory. Danish says he’s “lost count” in the recent flurry before the election, but at his last count he had contacted “over 5,000” people directly via phone or in person.
“We’re doing a lot of talking to people and walking the district...I do a lot of it personally. This campaign is very hands on by me.” Danish also attributes the unions for helping to help spread the word and that people are spreading the word. “Mine’s been more of a grass roots operation, a lot of word of mouth.”
In terms of the economy, the best way for Florida to move forward is with a renewed focus on fixing the state’s infrastructure as well as investing in green energy, especially solar. Danish also feels that projects such as improving our ports and implementing better transit will add jobs and improve Florida.
“One way to get out of a recession is to work on the infrastructure. (We need) new construction on roads, we’re way behind on roads.”
Danish also feels that by investing in roads and education, Florida will be more attractive to business investors, a counterpoint to the purveying idea of simply slashing spending and taxes.
“We need to make this place a state that businesses want to come to. You need good roads, you need good education so that you have the people available to work.”
Overall Danish is hopeful about his chances tomorrow.
“The campaign is going great. We’re very positive about this.”