With David Jolly holding a double-digit lead over both his Republican rivals in the special primary election in CD13 with just days to go, Kathleen Peters and Mark Bircher have little time to make up the distance.
So you might think that they would hit Jolly on what might the most vulnerable issue that has surfaced so far in the campaign, a report that surfaced in the Tampa Bay Times Thursday night by reporter Curtis Krueger that according to his own 2011 federal lobbying report, Jolly lobbied for federal legislation designed to expand oil drilling in the gulf and elsewhere.
But at debate taped at the WEDU-TV studios in Tampa Friday afternoon, both Peters and Bircher essentially skipped over attacking Jolly when given the chance by Times political editor Adam C. Smith, who along with host Rob Lorei asked questions of the candidates in the half-hour debate.
Jolly once again denied the allegation about lobbying for offshore drilling, saying that the Lobbying Disclosure Act doesn't require him to disclose whether he lobbied for or against a particular issue, or if he had even taken a position on it. "If I had opposed that bill, I would have had to fill out the same form," he insisted.
And he noted that the CEO of the particular client in question, Jim McDonald of Free Enterprise Nation, had issued a statement saying that Jolly was never employed never employed to advocate on the behalf of the Roadmap for America’s Energy Future, which explicitly supported offshore drilling.
Peters reaction? "Whether there was transparency issues or labor issues or a bill issue, what we need to do is make sure that we have confidence in our elected officials. "
Bircher neglected to respond at all to Smith's question.
The least scripted portion of the debate was when Lorei asked the candidates about projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that sea level change could rise by 1-2 feet in Florida by 2050.
Kathleen Peters was the first panelist to have to answer the question, and she paused for several seconds to gather her thoughts. "I'm not sure on all this sea level rise," she began, before segueing into more familiar territory about flood insurance, a subject that the candidates talk about on an almost daily basis with Pinellas residence flood insurance rates rising dramatically because of the Biggert-Waters Act.
"I would get a scientific, peer review, absolutely scientific study," said Bircher. "The function of the government is to provide protection. If that threat is there and reasonable, we would be electing local and state politicians to find out how we could address that," saying the federal government would be in support of that.
Jolly said there was no role for the federal government in addressing it, agreeing it would be up to state and local lawmakers to handle the issue.
There has been lots of talk in the early part of the new year on both the federal and state level to raise the minimum wage, currently $7.91 in florida, to $10.10 (a bill was introduced in the state Legislature this week that would do exactly that).
Jolly said the issue should be taken out of the hands of Congress, period. He said he supported studying the issue of indexing the minimum wage to the cost of living. "We can argue the merits of what formula is used for that goal," he said.
Bircher said he would support the idea that the federal government should have no role in deciding the minimum wage, "because a minimum wage in downtown Manhattan is going to be different than it is somewhere in Kansas." And he said only two percent of all working people make such a wage.
Peters agreed with her opponents, saying "the free market" is what should dictate the minimum wage.
In November the Obama administration announced that a preliminary deal had been made between the western powers and Iran freezing their nuclear program in exchange for relaxing economic sanctions. The move infuriated Israel leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
When asked about Iran during the forum, Jolly was most hawkish in his response, calling it "an insult to Israel," and said it gave legitimacy to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.
Peters said she was concerned about Iran, but was not in favor of attacking another country.
And Bircher used the question to bash the War Powers Act, saying it gives the president too much power to declare wars.
The debate will be rebroadcast Sunday afternoon on WEDU at 12:30 p.m.