Florida House incumbent Larry Ahern on the defensive during event with opponent, Mary Louise Ambrose

10/16/12 Janelle Irwin
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Two candidates for the Florida House butt heads on key issues like education reform and the long list of ballot initiatives this November. Republican State Representative Larry Ahern is up for re-election against retired Democratic attorney Mary Louise Ambrose. Ahern found himself defending the 11 amendments that most Democrats oppose during a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg Tuesday afternoon.

“There’s too many on there. I agree. That’s a big number for one election.”

Most of the amendments deal with taxes including property tax breaks for military members and a controversial property tax cap. Tiger Bay member Betty Morganstein asked Ahern and two other incumbent Representatives why they put those items on the ballot.

“Why would you put things on the amendments that are really tax items and have nothing to do really, where they should be on the state constitution?”

Opponents see them as overreaching into areas that should be controlled by localities. Ahern’s defense,

“But some issues are bigger than the legislature and taxes are an important way to determine that. So, giving the people a chance to vote on these issues is an important aspect of it.”

Critics of the proposed constitutional amendments also argue they are written to purposefully confuse voters. The Republican-backed Amendment 8 is titled “Religious Freedom”. But what it would do is allow religious groups to receive public funding. Stuart Berger said the confusing language might deter voters from completing their ballot.

“What I think they’re trying to do is slide it in. Not really making sure the people understand what they’re voting on. I really feel several of them are like that and that’s one of them I truly believe is. It’s like, ‘oh look, religious freedom – vote for it.” It’s exactly the opposite of what the intent is.”

Some voters are also worried about the rising cost of property insurance even though state-backed Citizens is sitting on millions of dollars in reserves. The company is keeping a financial buffer in case the state is ever hit by a catastrophic hurricane. Ahern’s opponent, Mary Louise Ambrose said that’s not going to happen. But she’s more concerned with Governor Rick Scott’s push to privatize the state’s largest property insurance provider.

“The legislature needs to do something to curb the political whims of the Governor in his move to make Citizens a private company because it’s not working. The private companies here just do not come up to par.”

Ahern argued just the opposite.

“Citizens is a government-run operation so naturally, they don’t get it right and unfortunately, it’s costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.”

As a Republican, Ahern also found himself answering to a conservative campaign to unseat three Florida Supreme Court Judges.

“The people will decide and that’s the important part about this. It’s on the ballot and they get the opportunity to do just that.”

The groans came from about half of the 75 or so people in the room. Ahern’s opponent, Ambrose said retaining the justices shouldn’t be a political issue.

“they don’t like the way a particular judge votes so they want to get rid of them. They’re not a bad judge, they’re voting their conscience and they understand the law which is not true of most of the Representatives in Tallahassee. So, I am very much against that. It should not be on the ballot the way – it’s on the ballot because of retention, but it should not be pushed by the Republicans with the idea of getting rid of the people they don’t like and packing the court by choice of our Governor.”

The issue of women’s rights didn’t come up even though one of the 11 proposed constitutional amendments in the state deals with abortion rights. Amendment 6 would ban any state funding of abortion even though federal law already does that. It would also limit privacy rights for women seeking an abortion procedure. Ambrose said with all of the recent reproductive rights attacks introduced in the Republican super-majority legislature, she’s surprised it isn’t coming up more.

“They’re embarrassing them, they’re intimidating them, they are doing everything they can to hurt – not hurt Roe V Wade because it’s still there, but what they’re doing is hurting the women who have to make this type of choice.”

Candidates from two other Tampa Bay House districts were also at the Tiger Bay luncheon. Republican incumbents Ed Hooper and Peter Nehr squared off against their opponents Ben Farrell and Carl Zimmerman. WMNF will bring you coverage of those races in the coming weeks.

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