Non-party affiliated candidates take a stand in Tampa listen10/28/10 Kate Bradshaw
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This year, Governor Charlie Crist has added a little star power to no-party-affiliation candidacy. Several state-level candidates running without a party are campaigning in ways that do anything but pander to centrists.
For a brief moment, things get pretty tense at a South Tampa Chamber of Commerce candidate forum this afternoon.
"Your organization is spreading lies."
Joe Redner, who is running for the State House’s District 58 seat,has enjoyed a degree of notoriety as the owner of a well-known Tampa strip club, but here he wears his political hat. He says the chamber is falsely accusing him of supporting Amendment 4, also known as Hometown Democracy, because it would somehow create a more favorable development code for adult businesses. Prove it, he tells them.
"I defy anyone here to tell me how Hometown Democracy would give any kind of advantage to adult businesses."
The famously sharp-tongued Redner doesn’t spend too much time on his own candidacy, or his opponent, Democrat Janet Cruz, who was invited but wasn’t there. Instead, Redner says pro-business groups like the chamber are mischaracterizing Amendment 4.
"There's enough areas to build to double the population of the state of Florida without changing the comprehensive plan. Why do developers want to change the comprehensive plan? You can have your own opinion but when you stoop to lying, your position can't be strong. Has your organization no pride?"
He says there are some disturbing examples of why electing representatives who can be swayed with developer dollars can bring on an environmental nightmare for the state.
"Because it is so easy to change the comprehensive plan we now have a new crisis. As reported by the St. Pete Times this morning, orange groves are abandoned and causing disease because they were bought by speculators to flip for profit, because it is so easy to change the comp plan by bribing county commissioners with campaign contributions. That's another reason we need Amendment 4 to control sprawl and development."
April Schiff, is a Republican activist and head of the South Tampa Chamber’s political activities. She defends her group’s stance on Amendment 4, which would require a referendum on every proposed change to a community’s comprehensive land use plan.
"Amendment 4 will be bad for business, bad for the economy, and bad for the State of Florida because it will impose greater restrictions. If you look at where it's been in place before it's not been a successful economy at all."
Schiff also defends the chamber’s claims about Redner and Amendment 4.
"I mean everybody has the right to express their own opinion, and if that's how he feels it is unfortunate that I think he did it in this setting but I won't hold it against him. I think that this organization has been forthright and honest in all their dealings on the amendments and the candidates that they've done."
Redner isn’t the only independent candidate at today’s forum. Two people aiming for the state cabinet also show up to state their case. One is Thad Hamilton, who is running for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs. He faces Republican Adam Putnam, Democrat Scott Maddox, and tea partier Ira Chester. He says he brings far more experience to the table than anyone else on the ballot.
"I was born and raised on a farm in Arkansas. I have a degree in agriculture and I retired from the United States Department of Agriculture. I was working at the local, state, and national level for 36 years. I am the only candidate with 40 years experience in agriculture and environment."
A recent story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel highlights Hamilton as one of the few no-party candidates on this year’s ballot that deserve more than a cursory glance. He says the office shouldn’t serve as a crash course in agriculture for whoever gets elected.
So why is Hamilton running without affiliation, and why in a year like this?
"The parties are dividing the country and we cannot move forward. We cannot afford to have the parties and the party bickering. We must have someone that's going to represent each and every citizen in the State of Florida."
Tom Stearns is one of four people running for state Chief Financial Officer, the post that Democratic candidate for governor Alex Sink now holds. He faces Republican state senator Jeff Atwater, Democratic former state legislator Loranne Ausley, and independent candidate Ken Mazzie. Stearns says he’s been putting a lot of miles on his car.
"I have been driving around Florida, driven about 15 thousand miles. I've been to approximately 110 events and I have yet to meet anybody running for this office. I think that says a lot."
Asked how the discovery of rampant errors on foreclosure forms might affect Florida’s housing recovery, and what the state can do about it, he says a slowdown is inevitable. But while the CFO can’t do anything about the current issue, he or she can help prevent future crises.
"We're going to need more oversight of the, and again the federal government has attempted to do that. How successful they're going to be, I don't know but we've got to look for gaffes and make sure that mortgages are clearly identified as to what property they belong to and that they're filed appropriately and keep our eye on the ball. Otherwise we're going to be back in the same boat again."
All three unaffiliated candidates decried party politics as bad for public policy. The polls show most non-party candidates having little chance of actually winning the offices for which they’re running – save, maybe, for Charlie Crist. But if nothing else, their campaigns – if not their presence on this year’s ballot – might make more voters question the two-party system.