GOP congressional candidates Jolly and Bircher split on some positions

01/03/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: David Jolly, Mark Bircher, Kathleen Peters, Bill Young, District 13 Congress, Republicans, Alex Sink


Republican David Jolly hopes to replace the late Bill Young for his seat in Congress.

photo by Janelle Irwin

The Republican primary for Pinellas County’s congressional seat is heating up as the January 14th election creeps closer. Two candidates answered policy questions during a forum in Pinellas Park in front of more than 150 members of the party.

Washington lobbyist David Jolly is the frontrunner in the Republican primary for the District 13 seat. Jolly has repeatedly said that he would vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act even though that’s already been tried more than 40 times. Republicans opposed to the healthcare law have been criticized for not having their own plan. Jolly compared a free market solution to affordable health coverage to life insurance.

“The private insurance company and the free market can price it at an affordable rate for a young person to be sure with certainty they have that insurance for the next twenty years or thirty years or whatever the term is that they are purchasing. I think we can create a statutory framework by allowing affordability across state lines; by eliminating the involvement of the employer as appropriate in a private health insurance plan. To the extent that we can create a statutory framework that allows insurance companies to offer that product on the free market, we will begin to address healthcare costs for everybody starting with the youngest.”

Trailing him is State Representative Kathleen Peters who did not attend the forum. Peters has accused Jolly of lobbying for Democrats while he slammed her for supporting Obamacare. Polling dead last in the three-way Republican primary is retired Marine Corps General Mark Bircher. He also supports repealing the law, but said an alternative is something he’d want to discuss with healthcare professionals. One of the moderators, St. Pete blogger Peter Schorsch, pushed Bircher for a more specific response to a later question. An editorial in the New York Times suggested offering clemency to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden in return for the remaining classified documents that haven’t been released.

“I can tell you beyond doubt, we’re missing chapters in this and that’s probably the way it should be, but I believe that before I could make the decision, I would want to know the totality of the evidence and go through that process of deciding and then weigh it against the best decision for policy.”

“You only get one of those per night to the question. I’m going to press one more time. If you had to choose right now, and I understand it’s A or B and that’s not how the world works, if you were President Obama, would you entertain the idea of clemency or would you continue down the path of prosecution for treason?”

“I would entertain the idea of clemency because of the national interest.”

Bircher’s response was met by a mix of cheers and boos from the crowd. So too did Jolly’s.

The two candidates also fielded questions from Tea Party blogger and anti-drone activist David McKalip. He asked whether they supported a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that allows the president sole discretion of military force toward people suspected of terrorism. Jolly supported the use of drones on some level, saying they were useful in saving American lives by keeping pilots out of dangerous situations.

“Drones by themselves are simply an instrument or a tool of war. The question is, who is ordering that drone and based on what information? And so based on the question you’d asked, I’d say no.”

“Do you think it’s enough due process all in the executive branch or are the courts required…

“No, I think due process is the responsibility of the courts at some level.”

Bircher took a much more firm stance against the president’s sweeping authority to execute suspected terrorists. He called the question a softball.

“Every one of the terrorists that our federal government has prosecuted under arraignment and first appearance and trial and appeal, they’re all in federal prison right now. I’m going to point to that process as being better…whenever any man – and what is the rule of law – to bind down in chains the discretion of the arbitrary and capricious decisions which I can’t imagine anything more arbitrary and capricious than to wake up one day with imperfect knowledge and say, ‘so and so has to die.’ That is so far off the scale for me, I can’t believe this country’s even allowing it.”

The candidate forum was in a small, old auditorium used by the city of Pinellas Park. The Pinellas County Young Republicans who hosted the forum brought in cookies and fried chicken from Chick fil’A creating a lingering smell of fried food and ketchup. As the mixed group of elderly and young Republicans enjoyed the refreshments, Jolly took several jabs at the Democratic challenger vying for the late Bill Young’s seat on the Hill. According to the Federal Elections Commission, as of December 25, Sink has raised more than a million dollars and hasn’t had to spend money on a primary campaign. Jolly has only raised $388,000 so far and has spent most of it. Asked how he’d win against an opponent who is grossly out raising him, Jolly said he’s not concerned.

“Because this race has always been about how much money the national Democrats and the DCCC and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz can pump into Pinellas County to make sure she takes this seat from Pinellas County. We’re not going to let that happen. At the end of the day, we are going to win this race because Alex Sink and the national Democratic party are wrong on the issues and they do not reflect the values of the people here in Pinellas County … They will spend $4 million to convince us that Alex Sink can represent Pinellas County. But I’m telling you this, we can spend one dollar and as long as people understand our message and where we stand on issues, we are going to beat Alex Sink on substance and on issues. We’re going to do that on March 11th.”

Candidates will square off again on Monday morning at the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Tradewinds Island Resort on St. Pete Beach. Kathleen Peters has confirmed her attendance at that forum.

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