One of the most notable ads of the local political season in the Tampa Bay area has been the Republican Party of Florida's "Pop Quiz" attack spot on Judithanne McLauchlan, the USFSP political science professor who is trying to knock off Jeff Brandes in the State Senate District 22 race that encompasses much of the Pinellas coastline and parts of South Tampa. The ad has been rated as "mostly false" by PoliFact Florida, for inferring that the Democrat supports creating a state income tax by saying she's a member of a group (the League of Women Voters) who at one time did support the idea.
But while that income tax claim has been the focus of the ad, it also states that she filed for personal bankruptcy, which McLauchlan has admitted is true. But she's still bitter that such a personal attack was aired in the first place.
"As an attempt to attack a woman personally, it really gets to the heart of why I’m running," she told CL on Monday morning. "I’m running because I don’t think it should be so hard to send your kids to college," she says, noting how Senator Brandes voted to cut funding for Bright Future scholarships, which she says makes it harder for middle-class families to send their kids to college.
"It is a part of who I am and why I’m running," she says. When the ad first ran last month, McLauchlan released a statement explaining that as a graduate student she was experiencing "significant health issues," which led to her accumulating debt to contend with those issues. Ultimately everything worked out, but she said that even though she got a job, "the debt from years of living on the margins was too much," leading her to declare bankruptcy in the late 90s.
"What happened to me as a young woman 20 years ago does not mean that I can't budget," she says saying. "It's a mean-spirited personal attack." She says people ask her why Brandes is attacking her so hard, and responds that he doesn't have anything positive to say about his tenure in Tallahassee. She's also dismissive of his "taking Tallahassee to the woodshed" ads that the Republican originally aired during his 2010 victory over Democrat Bill Heller for a House seat, saying that the only people he's been taking to the woodshed are "middle-class families."
McLauchlan hasn't been shy in going after Brandes in direct mail ads, but she insists that those attacks are substantive in nature, not personal. She's been particularly aggressive on Medicaid expansion, noting that the St. Pete Republican was the only member of the Senate in 2013 who could not support Senator Joe Negron's hybrid model that would use the federal funds to ultimately bring over 800,000 uninsured Floridians into a state-run program operated by Healthy Kids Florida, which currently offers low-cost health insurance for children who are not eligible for Medicaid. That plan was rejected by the House.
CL contacted Chris Spencer, who is working on Senator Brandes' campaign. for a response. He did not respond by the time we posted this report.