Busansky-Bilirakis Debate by Mitch E. Perry


One of the most closely watched Congressional races in the Tampa Bay Area has been the race to replace retiring longtime GOP Representative Mike Bilirakis in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Democrat Phyllis Busansky is making her first run for office in a decade, against Bilirakis’ son, 43 year old state legislator Gus Bilirakis. For much of the campaign, Busansky has complained that her Republican opponent has ducked out of debating her.

So Saturday morning’s debate at the studios of Public Television WEDU in Tampa could be the only time voters in the District will see the candidates against each other. WMNF’s Mitch Perry reports:

In a debate taped for television broadcast later this week, & moderated by WMNF’s Rob Lorei, Busansky & Bilirakis went at it on property insurance, Iraq, health care, and immigration.

Gus Bilirakis is doing what many Republicans are doing this election season. Opposing their president on the issue of immigration – (roll tape#1 o.q.� security purposes�)

Busansky objected to the idea of a mass deportation for illegal immigrants (roll tape#2 o.q.� that’s an incredible ambition �) Busansky did say she was against granting amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and said they should learn to speak English.

The 9th District encompasses parts of Eastern Hillsborough, northern Pinellas, and the Gulf Coast of Pasco County, home to some of the highest home insurance rates in the state, due to problems with sinkholes. Bilirakis said he had sponsored a bill in the legislature that would address the sinkhole issue, but said that as just 1 member of the state House, he wasn’t able to get enough other legislators to support the bill.

Busansky then attacked him as not being a leader (roll tape#3 o.q.�can you mobilize people�)

At one point during the 30 minute debate, the candidates were allowed to question each other. Bilirakis kept up the issue of insurance, bringing up a 10 year old newspaper quote by Busansky on the issue (roll tape#4 o.q.�it wasn’t happening then�)

The 69 year old Busansky then took on Bilirakis on the issue of priorities. Both candidates have been running television ads criticizing each other – a recent Bilirakis ad blasts Busanksy for raising taxes, on, of all things, dog leashes.

Busansky emphasized the exchange by unveiling an actual dog leash (roll tape#4 o.q. “ an’t afford to live in Florida anymore “)

Busansky went back at it (roll tape#5 o.q.�.a tax on dog leashes�)

The two squared off on Iraq as well..Busansky is for dumping Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and is supporting an idea floated by Delaware Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of dividing Iraq into 3 separate enclaves, as a means of ending sectarian violence between Shiites, Sunni’s and Kurds.

Bilirakis , also sounding like the President, said he looked forward to hearing from former Secretary of State James Baker’s report on what to do in Iraq (roll tape#6 o.q.� come up with solutions�)

Neither candidate called for setting a time table on withdrawing troops there, although Busansky wants to redeploy them out of Iraq.

On the issue of taxes, Bilirakis’ campaign manger, Rob Whitney, defended the strategy of painting Busansky as a classic tax and spend liberal (roll tape## 7 o.q.� over the last 2 years’)

When questioned about that afterwards, Busansky questioned those numbers. She also said she couldn’t fathom Bilirakis response about his lack of getting support on insurance property legislation (roll tape#8 o.q.�I was much more�)

The debate will be shown this Tuesday night at 8PM on WEDU public television.

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