Florida House incumbent Larry Ahern on the defensive during event with opponent, Mary Louise Ambrose
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.
âThereâs too many on there. I agree. Thatâs a big number for one election.â
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.
âWhy 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?â
Opponents see them as overreaching into areas that should be controlled by localities. Ahernâs defense,
âBut 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.â
Critics of the proposed constitutional amendments also argue they are written to purposefully confuse voters. The Republican-backed Amendment 8 is titled âReligious Freedomâ. 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.
âWhat I think theyâre trying to do is slide it in. Not really making sure the people understand what theyâre voting on. I really feel several of them are like that and thatâs one of them I truly believe is. Itâs like, âoh look, religious freedom â vote for it.â Itâs exactly the opposite of what the intent is.â
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. Ahernâs opponent, Mary Louise Ambrose said thatâs not going to happen. But sheâs more concerned with Governor Rick Scottâs push to privatize the stateâs largest property insurance provider.
âThe legislature needs to do something to curb the political whims of the Governor in his move to make Citizens a private company because itâs not working. The private companies here just do not come up to par.â
Ahern argued just the opposite.
âCitizens is a government-run operation so naturally, they donât get it right and unfortunately, itâs costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.â
As a Republican, Ahern also found himself answering to a conservative campaign to unseat three Florida Supreme Court Judges.
âThe people will decide and thatâs the important part about this. Itâs on the ballot and they get the opportunity to do just that.â
The groans came from about half of the 75 or so people in the room. Ahernâs opponent, Ambrose said retaining the justices shouldnât be a political issue.
âthey donât like the way a particular judge votes so they want to get rid of them. Theyâre not a bad judge, theyâre 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 â itâs 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 donât like and packing the court by choice of our Governor.â
The issue of womenâs rights didnât 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, sheâs surprised it isnât coming up more.
âTheyâre embarrassing them, theyâre intimidating them, they are doing everything they can to hurt â not hurt Roe V Wade because itâs still there, but what theyâre doing is hurting the women who have to make this type of choice.â
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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