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00000174-121d-d47e-a1f7-523d2c950000 WUSF News regularly collaborates with University of South Florida journalism classes in Tampa and St. Petersburg, providing students an opportunity to share their work with the greater Tampa Bay area.Some of the projects have included:“Past Plates” - a podcast and written stories produced in Spring 2017 that look into people’s memories and traditions related to food, food culture and food business in south St. Petersburg. In fall 2016, students profiled candidates running for Tampa Bay area elected offices. They were produced as part of the USF Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications' Advanced Reporting or Public Affairs classes; and as part of the Media and Elections class at USF St. Petersburg’s Journalism and Mass Communications Department.In 2015, WUSF journalists joined the USFSP Neighborhood News Bureau in creating oral histories of residents of St. Petersburg's historic Midtown neighborhood. That work was featured on WUSF's Florida Matters public affairs show.

Elections 2016: Florida House District 74 Candidate Manny Lopez

Manny Lopez

Democrat Manny Lopez says he is frustrated with what is going on in politics these days. That’s a big reason he is running for the District 74 seat in the state House of Representatives.

Lopez says his diverse background and years of political experience enable him to relate to voters.

Age: 65 Education:Baylor University Occupation:  Retired. Formerly a Realtor and teacher Political Experience:Elected School Board Member in Texas; held various local Democratic Party positions

Growing up in Key West, the island was his back yard. Due to his parents’ divorce and being the oldest of five children, Lopez says he spent the majority of his time outside.

“We’d check in at 5 in the afternoon on a Friday, and we’d be gone all weekend and then come back on Sunday afternoon,” Lopez says.

However, he says his life wasn’t always that simple. He chose to be homeless for a six-month experiment that turned into two years, lost a scholarship to Florida State University for speaking up for a teacher and decided to join the military, where he was later injured.

Rather than giving up, Lopez decided to go back to college and get his degree.

After graduating from Baylor University, he started working as a real estate agent, became an executive director of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce in Texas and was elected to the school board in Whitney, Texas.

He has been active in local Democratic Party politics in Florida and Texas since the 1970s. Lopez says he believes he can relate to all voters.

“I had a very diverse background, by choice, because I wanted to experience everything,” he says.

In the Nov. 8 election, Lopez faces Republican incumbent Rep. Julio Gonzalez, an orthopedic surgeon from Venice. Lopez says he knows the odds are against him, running in a district that is heavily Republican. 

“I see Julio as a person that is very weak, based on his activities and inactivity as a representative,” Lopez says. “He can be beat, but it will be an uphill battle.”

Other factors Lopez says he considered for entering the race include Gonzalez’s sponsorship of House Bill 401, which Lopez says would have allowed businesses and others to deny services to people who violate the providers’ personal religious or moral principles.

Education and health care also are priority issues for Lopez. He says he believes that vocational training should be included in the high school curriculum to prepare students to enter the workforce after they graduate, and that Florida needs to expand Medicaid and provide quality health care for all.

Lopez had collected $8,445 in donations as of Oct. 21, according to state campaign finance reports. But he said money is not the biggest issue.

“There’s no sense raising $50,000 or $100,000 because whatever I raise and spent, (Gonzalez) is going to double and triple it in a heartbeat,” Lopez says. “I have to cover the basic minimums of the operation. It’s a heavy ground campaign with volunteers, using the internet and I’m really starting to use social media.”

Lopez says it is important for people and parties to set aside differences and work together.

“We don’t draw battle lines, we try to make friends,” he says. “By developing relationships, we might get things done.”

Brittany Rossow is a student journalist attending the University of South Florida Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications. This story was produced as part of the school’s Advanced Reporting or Public Affairs class this semester, under the leadership of instructors Wayne Garcia and Wendy Whitt.