Fl. Senate Candidates give more depth to their positions
About 200 folks attended the town-hall debate for Florida Senate Districts 25 and 27 GOP Primary candidates jointly hosted by SouthFlorida 912 and the Republican Club of the Palm Beaches (RCPB) at the First Baptist Church (FBC) in WPB. There were a lot of new faces in attendance and we hope that we’ll see many of them in future events by both groups! The FBC crew did a fantastic job in setting up the venue for us and many thanks go to them.
Joy Stone (past president of RCPB, 912 member and a parishioner at FBC) kept the agenda flowing. Assistant Pastor Brandon Shields led us in the Invocation and the Pledge. He was followed by Lou Galterio singing our national anthem. Shannon Armstrong (founder South Florida 912) laid out the debate rules and spoke a little bit about the founding of the organization and the importance of getting involved. Joy introduced the panelists: John Jamason – RCPB First VP, Ed Fulop – South Florida 912 organizer, Fred Scheibl – RCPB leadership and South Florida 912 leader and David DiCrescenzo -SouthFlorida912 leader, as our timekeeper. Melissa Andrews (president RCPB) spoke briefly about the club and reiterated the importance of getting involved, and then introduced each of the candidates with candidate biographies. After the debate, Joy turned the microphone over to Shannon, who introduced other candidates who each got a minute to introduce themselves: Sherry Lee for County Commissioner District 2, Tami Donnally for FL District 85, Joe Budd for Congressional District 19, Francisco Rodriguez and Pat Rooney for FL District 83, Michael E. Arth for Governor, and Steven Rosenblum for FL District 89. Jason Shields (SouthFlorida912 leader) concluded with the 50/50 drawing – won by Dean Taffell. The candidates and many in the audience mingled afterwards and it was a good opportunity for people to question the candidates directly.
The debate questions were intended to try and draw out differences between the candidates: Lizbeth Benaquisto, Mike Lamayer and Sharon Merchant for FL Senate 27; Ellyn Bogdanoff and Carl Domino for FL Senate 25. Each candidate was given 2 minutes for introductions, 2 minutes to respond to each question, and 2 minutes to wrap up. Each candidate answered the same questions. The audience was given an opportunity to score the candidates and then turn in their scoring sheets at the conclusion of the meeting. About 1/4 of the folks turned in their sheets and we’ll compile the responses in a future post, recognizing that it’s not statistically significant nor scientific nor an endorsement. People rated candidates for whom they can’t vote. But it should be useful to candidates to see which topics resonated (or not) with the mostly conservative or GOP audience.
The following summaries of responses to questions are mine alone – and I didn’t take detailed notes. So attendees – feel free to post comments with additions/your perspective :
Immigration – Arizona has passed a law effectively giving state law enforcement the authority to enforce federal immigration law incidental to other criminal investigation. Have you read this law and would you support such a statute in Florida?
– Domino – hadn’t read either bill but supported the immigration bill in the FL House that did not get voted on in the FL Senate
– Benacquisto – supports dealing with immigration and concerned about all residents – no direct response
– Merchant – absolutely believes in strict enforcement and would back a similar law.
– Lamayer – has read both bills and very strongly supports enforcement and 10th amendment rights
– Bogdanoff – expressed concern about the impact of illegal immigration on the state
States’ Rights: Do you support the lawsuit against the Affordable Health Care for America Act brought by AG Bill McCollum? What are the strongest / weakest arguments being made?
– Lamayer – yes – since federal government forcing mandate on individuals and states unconstitutional
– Benacquisto– supports the lawsuit – the healthcare bill poses potential impacts from a fiscal and social perspective
– Merchant– strongly opposed Obamacare and is in support of McCollums bill
– Bogdanoff– concerned about the cost of healthcare bill to FL (and other states) – with great expansion of Medicaid
– Domino – will impact FL by $2 billion
Transportation: Two of you were in the legislature last year and voted for the “Sunrail” bill. Many think that this is not a good thing because high speed rail projects rarely pay for themselves and end up with endless subsidies. Others argue that it will bring “federal dollars” into the state that would have gone elsewhere. How do you defend your vote or how would you have voted on Sunrail? Why?
– Bogdanoff (voted for bill) – while she was reluctant to vote for the 3 part bill, and in general, opposes taking federal stimulus $$, she felt that using federal dollars to build infrastructure while creating a lot of new jobs was worth it.
– Domino (voted for bill) – would rather have the money spent in FL. He also mentioned the 3 parts to the bill and felt that getting funds for the south Florida trans. authority would give it some breathing room
– Merchant – strongly against. Mentioned that in the bill CSX got total immunity from any liability.
– Lamayer – quoted from a CNN article on how mass transit NEVER pays for itself and is a black hole
– Benacquisto – while it’s troubling to put so much cost to FL in the future, we need to find a way to create jobs while reducing our dependence on oil
State Amendments: There are 9 constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, involving redistricting, “home town democracy”, class size, health care and other matters. Which of these do you think are the most significant, and what outcome would you like to see for them?
–Benacquisto – against Amendment 4 – Hometown Democracy – because it will shut down growth and incentives for people and businesses to move to our communities. We need growth now.
– Lamayer – against Amendment 4. For Amendment 7 redistricting – using FL Senate 27 as an example of geographic and unemployment having so many differences in a single district
– Merchant – for redistricting (although she didn’t mention which of the 3 amendments) and against Amendment 4
– Bogdanoff – concerned about the way FL constitution has so many amendments and people generally vote for them without knowing the issues. But she is for the class size Amendment 8 because the consequences of the class size bill was to force children to be bussed to another school when class size got to 19. This gives parents and schools more flexibility.
– Domino– sponsor of Amendment 3 – Additional homestead exemption for first time homebuyershould help with the glut of houses. Also caps property tax increases to 5% instead of 10% year. He is against Amendment 4 as anti-growth and anti-business. For Amendment 8 for the flexibility.
Education: Since its inception, the FCAT has been controversial. This year several thousand students in the state failed their second try at the test and could not graduate. Does this suggest there is a problem with the test or the instruction, or is it working as advertised? What action (if any) should be taken by the Legislature?
– Domino– HS students get 6 chances to pass the FCAT from 10th grade on. HS graduation rate has gone from 54% to 74% and Florida schools have improved greatly. If you don’t test, you don’t care. We must have standards.
– Bogdanoff – For accountability, but when FCAT passed, people started teaching to the test. Teachers needs to be trained now to teach, not just teach the test. She prefers end of course exams.
– Merchant – Parents have a major role in making sure their children are learning. Teachers should also be accountable. She would have voted no on SB6. She believes in merit pay but not having everything decided by Tallahassee.
– Lamayer – SB 6 is a bad bill. Quoted that only 40% of juniors passed FCAT. Education isn’t matching testing.
– Benacquisto – doesn’t like FCAT. Puts too much stress on the students. Too much emphasis on one test.. Testing should be done at the beginning of the year so that student’s weakness can be addressed over the school year to focus on helping the students succeed.
Spending/Taxes: The budget for last year and this was balanced with considerable help from federal stimulus funds for which the governor and the legislature has been criticized, since the stimulus comes with future mandates and other entanglements. Should the budget have been balanced without the stimulus? If so, what would you cut or what additional revenue would you have gone after?
– Merchant – the budget, instead of being over $70 billion, should be around $64-65 billion with significant cuts instead of relying on Uncle Sam. Need to entirely rethink the budget and against using various trust funds to balance the state budget.
– Lamayer – enforcing illegal immigration would save $$ right away. Stop moving money from one fund to another. Reduce government. Lawsuit reform like in TX generated lots of jobs. Also oil and gas reserves in FL equal those in Alaska.
– Benacquisto – government is spending too much of our money. Streamline process using infrastructure technology. Create jobs by incentives to corporations. Clean energy and information technology is the answer
– Bogdanoff– the budget is driven by Education, Medicaid and the prison system. Only about $1billion left that can be addressed. She would give tax credits to businesses that create jobs. Saved $3.8 billion with the Gov’t Efficiency Act of 2010 – this will be repeated every year to address spending.
– Domino– Every department has to justify spending. Our growing elderly population is increasing costs.
Each of the candidates made closing statements. District 25 candidates Carl and Ellyn focused on their attributes, although Ellyn specifically asked the audience for their vote. The District 27 candidates, however, did direct criticism against each other – and I could hear the crowd reacting.
Although the number of questions was limited and we didn’t have time for all topics and time for audience questions, we hope that this event gave the public an opportunity to learn more about the candidates and the issues. Thanks to all of the folks from the South Florida 912 and Republican Club of the Palm Beaches and First Baptist Church for all of their hard work!