Campaign funding, flood insurance and Obamacare take center stage in Pinellas County Congressional debate

02/04/14 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: Alex Sink, David Jolly, Lucas Overby, CD 13, Bill Young, Pinellas County, Congress, Michael Levinson


Democrat Alex Sink joined homeowners in a St. Petersburg neighborhood prone to flooding to talk about rising flood insurance costs.

photo by Janelle Irwin, WMNF file photo 2014

The race to replace Republican Bill Young in Congress has become centered on big Washington money. During the first televised debate Monday night in Seminole, Republican David Jolly was accused of lobbying for offshore drilling, which he now opposes. Jolly denied the claim, but his Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, continues to criticize Jolly’s lobbying career.

"We all know what Washington lobbyists do. Mr. Jolly made the decision after he left the employment of Representative Young to go through the Washington revolving door, go across the street, go to work on K street which is where all the lobbyists hang out and hire himself out to clients so that he could curry favor back and take advantage of his relationships in Congress."

According to the Tampa Bay Times more than $2.5 million has been spent by Democratic groups, including the national party, on television ads attacking Jolly. Jolly has repeatedly criticized Sink of being a carpetbagger because she moved from Hillsborough County to Clearwater in order to run in this race. He defended his own lobbying and Sink’s criticism that he represents special interests, not voters, by going on the offensive.

"Would you pledge tonight to return every dollar that you have received from the federal lobbyists for special interests? You have bankrolled your political career raising money from lobbyists, are you prepared to give that back? And are you prepared to have our debate on Wednesday as scheduled as opposed to going to Washington DC fundraising?

Jolly and Sink were joined by Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby at the St. Petersburg College Seminole campus where several buildings are named after Bill Young – Jolly’s former boss. Young passed away in October after more than 40-years in office.

The Affordable Care Act has been a driving force in all three campaigns. Jolly has said he wants the law repealed immediately, replacing it with a private-industry driven market. Sink supports keeping it with some changes. Overby, however, said they’re both wrong.

"To be honest, neither of your suggested solutions will actually fix anything. You guys are going back 30 years and having the same argument that we've been having since before Clinton. Let's actually fix the problem. Why are we going after insurance still? Let's get the government out of the way and let's get costs down. Both of you guys are arguing over the same problem we've had, let's actually do something and fix it."

According to the Florida Department of State, as of December there were about 12,000 more registered Republicans in Congressional District 13 than Democrats and the healthcare law could be a key component of who earns the Republican vote. Sink, who has been slammed by pro-Jolly TV ads for ignoring constituents who are being hurt by implementation of the president’s signature law, took to criticizing parts of it.

"I also believe that there's a tax in the Affordable Care Act that's called the medical device tax. We have a lot of medical device manufacturers in this area and they believe that if that tax is actually implemented it will certainly hurt their profits and it will result in job losses for people in our district."

Candidates are also focused on halting rising flood insurance premiums for Pinellas County residents in low-lying areas. Some homeowners face thousands of dollars in increases to their premiums under provisions of a law that removes government subsidies. The law was passed to bring FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program out of a $20 billion hole. Jolly, the Republican candidate, supports delaying the law, but continues to add that’s not enough. He favors a national catastrophe fund that would spread risk among states and include other natural disasters. He also is pushing for more private companies to get into the market.

"Homeowners choices are already beginning to sell policies at the pre Bigert Waters rate because they found it is actually profitable."

Delaying rate hikes would rescue homeowners facing 20% a year increases to their policies for now, but some worry the uncertainty over what will happen could cripple the real estate market in flood zones. Homeowners who are paying for policies on their primary residence have the rate increases spread over five years, but if they sell, the new owners have to pay the full premium. That can soar near $10,000 a year – a price tag that is make or break for many would-be buyers. Sink, the Democrat, is calling for answers from FEMA about why prices are so high, but she’s also taking digs at Jolly’s assertion that a private market would be better.

"I just wanted to add that the reason we have a national flood insurance program in the first place was that the private market was not working at all after a series of hurricanes and floods. So to suggest that the private market is going to be able to come right back in, I think, is a little disingenuous and not realistic."

Libertarian Lucas Overby said he also supports a private approach to flood insurance as well as charging states with implementing their own plans.

Another issue the winner of this race will have to face is immigration reform. A bill in the Senate would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Jolly said he doesn’t support it – stopping short at describing the pathway as amnesty.

"Listen, there's a florist down on Park Boulevard by the name of Diane. She has come here, she has created a business, she employs people. And yet she doesn't have a pathway to citizenship. She has to return to the U.K. before she can come back to continue to operate her business. Those are the folks we need to encourage. We can't insult the folks who do it legally by giving a pathway to citizenship to people who have broken the law."

Both of his opponents, however, support the Senate bill. Overby implied that Jolly’s stance was ironic.

"I enjoy the concept that Obamacare's a broken law so we have to get rid of it but immigration is a broken law and we have to keep that. That's outright silly. I am in full favor of the Senate bill aside from several of the pieces that are extraordinarily way too expensive. We have been developing plans to help states work with the federal government to utilize their own military resources in order to secure their borders and do it at a decreased cost to the nation."

President Barrack Obama is also calling on Congress to consider raising the federal minimum wage. He’s already used his pen to secure a 2015 increase to $10.10 for federal contractors. Asked whether they support raising the minimum wage, Sink said yes and Overby, no. But Jolly’s answer wasn’t quite so clear.

"I support indexing the minimum wage to some type of cost of living adjustment."

Mr. Overby?


Ms. Sink?

"Yes, I support increasing the minimum wage. I really don't understand Mr. Jolly's answer, though."

"Certainly, listen, we index a number of federal benefits programs to a cost of living adjustment or inflation adjustment. Some states do that. Barack Obama is not an economist and neither are most members of Congress. I think it's silly that we let Congress arbitrarily choose a wage rate. Let's decide on what the wage should be and index it for inflation. Take it out of the hands of politicians once and for all."


"So you think it's $7.25, is that what you're saying?" (Jolly) "I think we have to determine what is the appropriate wage rate today..." (Sink) "What is it?" (Jolly) "I think we have to take all of the information from the economists and arrive at what the rate is. But my point is once we arrive at what the rate is let's index it. Every year going forward. Some years it will go up, some years it will stay static. It's a fairly progressive notion, Alex."

The special general election is March 11.

There’s also a write-in candidate, Michael Levinson. He was not invited to the debate.

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It's not my district but the last thing we need is another politician who's willing to shut down the government in order to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Move on. We should have already increased the minimum wage, should have never cut food stamps or veteran's benefits, we should already have a jobs bill. Stop wasting our time and do your job GOP.