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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 of Representatives District 59 Candidate Rena Frazier

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Rena Frazier

Democrat Rena Frazier’s father grew up in one of the poorest sections of Tampa. She says he worked and fought to overcome his situation and become the first member of his family to receive a college degree.

He is now the main driving force behind Frazier’s campaign for District 59 in the House of Representatives.

Age: 38 Education: University of South Florida Occupation: Lawyer, Quarles and Brady Political experience: None

She says education was a pillar of the family growing up and was stressed to Frazier by her father as the ticket to success.

“He always emphasized the importance of education to us,” Frazier said. “As a mother and an aunt, I want to make sure that we are giving all of our children the best opportunity to succeed.  Regardless of where our children happen to live, they should have access to quality education.”

Florida is 37th in the nation for per pupil spending and 41st in teacher pay — both issues Frazier says she wants to improve.

But being a first-time candidate running against incumbent Ross Spano, a Republican, Frazier acknowledges there is quite a learning curve.

“As a first time candidate, it takes some time to understand the process,” Frazier said. “But it has been a great experience talking with our neighbors about the issues and how we can start to tackle them.”

Frazier refuses to shy away from the challenge of trying to overtake Spano, who has held the seat since 2012.

“Being a state representative is a great responsibility and I respect Rep. Spano for stepping up to do so,” Frazier said. “However, his priorities in Tallahassee have not been the priorities of the community, which is what we have been hearing as we have been talking with our neighbors. 

“District 59 is ready for new leadership and to start addressing our local issues.”

And she says winning the district starts with getting out in the community.

“Rena knocks on doors every week, she goes out to meet as many voters as she can and really tries to understand their issues,” said Jackie Benitez, who interns for the campaign. “It shows in her work ethic, the amount of money she's fund-raised and the amount of support she's gotten. Her drive will get her far in this race.”

Frazier also supports Amendment 2, which would legalize medical marijuana in Florida.

In a Q&A with the Tampa Bay Times — which recently recommended her election her in District 59 — Frazier attributed the support of Amendment 2 to her mother’s fight with a seizure disorder.

“I support the legalization of medical marijuana because it would help improve the quality of life for those among us suffering from debilitating illnesses and medical conditions, including appetite issues associated with cancer, chronic pain and symptoms like my mom's,” Frazier told The Tampa Bay Times.

Jacob Hoag 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.