Candidates in two local races hash out local, national policies

10/26/10 Kate Bradshaw
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With all the excitement over the Senate and Governor’s race, it might be easy to forget that voters will be weighing in on a host of other, smaller, races. Today candidates in two key Pinellas state legislature seats plead their cases before a packed room at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting. And while CNN wasn’t there to catch the show, the theme one can see across the country this election year quickly emerged.

"I'm running for the Florida House because I believe we need long term solutions. A sustainable plan to keep Florida competitive, not only with the forty-nine other states, but today, with the rest of the world."

That’s Jeff Brandes, a Republican running for Florida House’s District fifty-second seat, which includes south and east Pinellas County. This is his first run. Prior to this he ran his family’s lumber yard and managed real estate. One of his ads threatens to take crooked legislators to the “woodshed.” His opponent, Democrat Bill Heller, is an incumbent seeking a third term.

"Running against a woodshed owner, or at least a former woodshed owner. Now, your family sold that though, I think, Jeff, isn't that right? That's some of the money, I suspect, some of the proceeds from that you're spending against me right now. So, when you say you want to take people behind the woodshed, I suspect you'll need to borrow one."

Heller chastises Brandes for being short on specifics.

"You point to your party's registration as the reason to vote for you, but all the problems you point to in Tallahassee, when you say you want to put Tallahassee on the clock, you understand it is the Republicans that have been in control for more than a decade. They are the tick and the tock in your clock."

One Tiger Bay Club member asks all of the candidates how each differs from his or her opposition. Brandes:

"The role of government is to be small. And that we should not be raising taxes on individuals. Right now, people are struggling in this economy. I mean, we've knocked on thirty thousand doors, we know families are struggling. And to say that we can raise taxes and that we need more government now is exactly the opposite thing. And that's what I believe my opponent believes."

According to a recent GOP poll, Brandes leads Heller by three percentage points. Heller responds that his opponent is way off base.

"Most of the time he doesn't know where he does differ with me.(crowd laughter) Because I'm not for more regualations and I'm not for more taxes and if you recall in my presentation I said I actually worked to reduce fees on individuals in this state. So, I differ with Jeff because sometimes he just doesn't really understand what I stand for."

The other two candidates are vying for the State Senate’s District 16 seat. Their exchanges are much more cordial.

"I don't know about you but all this talk about woodsheds makes my butt hurt."

That’s Republican Jack Latvala, who served in the state senate from 1994 to 2002 before terming out. He does bring up the differences between himself and Democrat Nina Hayden, but doesn’t focus on the local level.

"I have understood Nina to say on numerous times her support for the current administration, a lot of the policies of the current administration in Washington. Whether it be the health care program or some of the other things that have happened up there the last year or two."

Hayden explains why she supports the Obama administration.

"We do differ, we do differ on that. And the reason why I support President Obama's policy, especially the TARP fund and the money for bailing out the three big companies. First of all, most Americans don't even know the TARP fund is being paid back by eight per an eight per cent interest to the taxpayer. Also the money is, that was assisted for the bailout has saved over a million jobs."

Hayden was appointed to the Pinellas County Board of Education two years ago, but the Pinellas County Classroom Teachers’ Association endorsed her opponent. Kim Black, that union’s president, explains why.

"Senator Latvala has the qualifications and the drive that we need in Tallahassee right now to break through some of those walls that they spoke about and we're looking forward to him returning his experience to the State Capitol where we need him most."

Hayden says it’s more a matter of who you know, which is one thing that needs to change in Tallahassee.

"My opponent is very well connected to Tallahassee. And he's had the opportunity to build on those connections and that's where the endorsement comes out of. You know running as an outsider to Tallahassee, from Tallahassee, not being well connected to the Tallahassee machine, I look at it as an advantage.

Hayden adds that her stance on environment and education set her apart from her opponent and Tallahassee’s GOP leadership. Today’s event was the last in a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club series of pre-election forums featuring local and statewide candidates for office. After the election, they plan on hosting an event to look back on the unusual election cycle that, as of today, has just one week to go.

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