Pinellas County Republicans running for Congress try to earn support from beach residents
Pinellas County Republicans will decide next week who they want to pit against Democrat Alex Sink and others for a seat in Congress. During a debate today hosted by the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, three diverse conservatives assured members, many of whom have homes or businesses in flood zones, they would take steps to combat rising insurance premiums. Current State Representative Kathleen Peters says that includes delaying scheduled rate hikes as a result of the Biggert-Waters Act.
“My concern is, a lot of the solutions that have been proposed is that they’re not looking at business and we have to make sure that – because I believe some of the policies that are already being presented are not looking at small business – and we have to make sure that the small business is protected just like everyone else and we don’t start adopting plans years in advance that we don’t know what it looks like and that’s what Washington seems to be really good at.”
Peters’ opponents, Washington lobbyist David Jolly and retired Marine Corps Brigadier General Mark Bircher also would postpone the rate hikes in search for a free market solution. Pinellas is among three counties in Florida that will be affected the most by rate increases aimed at reducing the National Flood Insurance Program deficit. Some Washington lawmakers are pushing a resolution that would delay the increase four years. Bircher, the underdog in the three-way Republican Primary, says individual states should decide how to handle flood insurance instead of letting the federal government act as middle man. It’s a sentiment he echoed on most issues including beach renourishment projects that are largely funded by national grants.
“I’ve lost confidence in federal solutions. Whether they’re healthcare or mortgage insurance or anything else, I think the states and the collaboration of governors of like-minded, of like interest, would be a far greater, a more efficient mechanism to solve these issues. For example, every dollar you sent to Washington to come back to the state to help you, it doesn’t look like a dollar anymore. It looks like a lot less than a dollar.”
Peters and Jolly, the front-runner, both said they would continue to accept federal dollars for beach renourishment while moving toward a more sustainable approach.
And what Republican forum would be complete without taking jabs at the national debt and rampant government spending? Jolly is a former staff member for the late Bill Young who previously held the district 13 congressional seat. He says he’d focus on reducing entitlement spending.
“Around 1960 - and Adam, don’t Politifact me on this – it was about 35% of our federal budget, somewhere in that rage give or take 5%. Right now spending Medicare and Medicaid, social security, interest on the debt, sits around 65-70% of our federal budget. That growth curve will lead us to, in our lifetime, seeing mandatory spending consume every dollar that our federal treasury takes in annually.”
But that doesn’t mean Jolly wants to rob Americans who have paid into government programs.
“The individual should not suffer because Washington is bad at math. But part of being a fiscal conservative also says we’re going to take responsibility. And what that means is we are going to account for the out-year unfunded obligation of our entitlement programs –whatever that number is, some would say it’s $50 trillion, some would say it’s $100 trillion – we’re going to own that. We’re going to put that on our balance sheet. We’re going to say this is actually the amount of money that we have promised to individuals. We’re going to own that. If we have to debt that we debt that, but we’re going to own that and then we’re going to turn around to future participants of programs and say, now let’s talk about a new program that’s more actuarially sound upon which you can make with certainty a life financial plan for your own self.”
Jolly’s opponents also bashed government spending. Bircher echoed his Tea Party-driven commitment to smaller government saying he’d like to shift more programs to states to manage. Peters says there needs to be a balanced budget, but also cuts to regulations like Dodd-Frank that reeled in the financial market after the economy tanked in 2008.
“But Dodd-Frank first year of regulations cost one title company – we talked about the analysis and what it costs – 17% to their bottom line it cost just the title company who’s not even regulated by Dodd-Frank for training, for reporting and auditing. That gets passed on to you and me. The second year of Dodd-Frank regulations, 22% additional, 22% to their bottom line costs who isn’t even regulated by Dodd-Frank and who’s paying for it? You and I.”
Most of the questions were written by the chamber, but there were some audience questions from the small room full of about 30 people. One woman asked the candidates how they would tame illegal immigration she said was killing the U.S. economy. Each candidate said border control should be a priority. Jolly, the Republican primary front-runner, said any policy without that as a priority is no good and instead suggested enforcing laws already on the books.
“I would not have supported Sen. [Marco] Rubio’s current bill although I respect him immensely for putting so much of his political career on the line to try to solve a very hard problem. I think the first step we need to take – it’s a very simple step, let’s increase enforcement on businesses hiring undocumented workers.”
Candidates were also asked about the No Child Left Behind program that was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2001. That program requires states to develop basic skills assessments, but doesn’t set the standards. Even though states can adopt their own standards all three candidates agreed education works best when it’s planned as close to the student as possible. Bircher’s voice grew louder as he talked about the policy’s failures.
“It scares me as a student of history that when governments tell children what to think and what to say, it isn’t long until they tell them what to do and history is resplendent with government’s reach into the education of children to the peril of history in my view. I’d feel the same way if the UN came in and said, hey we have an idea. I wouldn’t want to get past the idea. It’s not in your lane. Stay in your enumerated powers. Do what you’re supposed to do.”
The race has become heated with Peters accusing Jolly of lobbying for the Affordable Care Act and giving money to Democratic Candidates. Jolly said he’s never lobbied for Obamacare and admitted he has given to Democrats because he’s willing to work across the aisle. Jolly has criticized Peters for a comment made last month in which she said she’d only support repealing the healthcare law if there were another plan in place. Asked for a simple yes or no, Peters said today she would repeal the law. The Republican Primary is on January 14th. The winner will face Democrat Alex Sink, Libertarian Lucas Overby and write-in candidate Michael Levinson in March.