Youth vs. experience, and likely lots of money vs. not so much, appears to be the scenario already forming in two Pinellas County House races taking place his fall between the Republican and Democratic Party candidates in House Districts 65 and 67. On Wednesday afternoon, the four candidates involved in those two races met at the Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg.
HD 65 encompasses Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and East Lake, fertile territory for conservatives that longtime Pinellas school teacher Carl Zimmermann was able to steal from the GOP in 2012. Now he's facing an intense challenge from 30-year-old Pasco/Pinellas prosecutor Chris Sprowls, who seems to already being groomed for leadership in the GOP House, months before he's been even been elected.
But the up-and-coming Republican made a stunning statement at today's forum, when asked if he would support expanding Medicaid if elected in November.
Citing a 2010 University of Virginia study that reported that
surgical patients on Medicaid are 13% more likely to die than those with no insurance at all, Sprowls said that women with Stage 3 breast cancer end up having higher mortality rates on Medicaid than on regular health insurance, leading him to say, "You might be physically better off not to have insurance than Medicaid," before quickly adding, "I don't know if I believe that."
(The study got currency in conservative circles after former Mitt Romney adviser Avik Roy wrote about it in the National Review, but as Media Matters reported in 2011, the authors of the study themselves have acknowledged that the study was flawed).
Moments later Zimmermann pounced, asking "How could no insurance be better than Medicaid?" adding that some people he knows who don't have insurance ultimately die for lack of care.
It's obvious that Democrats running for the Legislature (and Charlie Crist) will make the rejection of Medicaid expansion an issue this fall, and surely Sprowls will have a better argument for why he doesn't support its expansion the next time he's asked.
Perhaps like his friend, fellow young Pinellas Republican Chris Latvala.
House District 67 encompasses mostly Clearwater and Largo, and has been represented for the past eight years by Republican Ed Hooper. But with his term expiring, the 32-year-old Latvala, one of the "dynasty" candidates trying to make it into the GOP House this fall (he's the son of Jack Latvala) is the candidate. He said he's against Medicaid expansion but would be willing listen to the will of the people of his district. "If that's something that they want I'll definitely support that — or at least listen to them."
Latvala is running against Democrat Steve Sarnoff, fresh off the latter's vanquishing of his much better financed Democratic opponent Shawna Vercher on Tuesday night. Sarnoff is a Bronx native and union leader who is an unabashed liberal and believes that the district is ripe for a Democrat to win. He's a decided underdog in terms of how the financial arms race will play out, as well as gunning up against the Latvala name, but he didn't appear to be backing down from the challenge on Wednesday.
"It's important that we are a product of our life experiences and trial and tribulations we've dealt with," he said. "That gives me the ability to relate to people of our district."
Regarding the issue of charter schools and the expansion of vouchers, Latvala said he supports them, as long as they have the standardized testing that public schools must undergo. Sprowls said he felt that school choice was important and believed in accountability. He said "when we go to the supermarket we have 40 choices for milk — strawberry, chocolate, fake milk — the fact of the matter is to give parents an opportunity that suits them. Allowing them the choice is a positive thing."
On the issue of Common Core standards, Sarnoff was the most enthusiastic supporter, saying that it wasn't mandated from the feds but from the National Governors Association (and was strongly backed by Jeb Bush).
All of the candidates were asked what type of race they intend to run. The 63-year-old Zimmermann said that while he respected his much younger GOP opponent, in his opinion to adequately represent the people of the district you needed a wealth of experiences in life. "I plan on pointing out the differences between my opponent [and himself]. I have 48 years of experience ... and he has a little over four years' experience.."
For his part, Sprowls said he had plenty of experience as a prosecutor, and said people want less talk and more action from their representatives.
Latvala said he believed Sarnoff was an honorable man and didn't intend to say anything different during the campaign. Zimmerman said he feared he was going to "get hit by a baseball bat" in terms of the Republican Party of Florida tearing him apart over certain votes.
In his closing remarks, Latvala also noted how he was recently lauded by Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper for refusing to debate on the same stage as recently vanquished HD68 Republican candidate Joshua Black, who earlier this year tweeted that President Obama should be hung. Latvala then compared that gesture to one he claims his opponent Steve Sarnoff did not make, referring to how a number of Democrats wrote to protest Pinellas Democratic Party chairman Mark Hanisee's treatment of Manuel Sykes when Hanisee told him he should not run for the Democratic nomination for Congress this year.
Latvala noted that one Democrat whose name wasn't on that letter protesting Sykes' treatment was Sarnoff. But afterwards Sarnoff said that only elected officials were asked to sign the letter — and Largo Mayor Pat Gerard, standing by Sarnoff, nodded her head in agreement.