Political Hunger Games in Pinellas

Republicans fight Republicans in the race to hold on to Bill Young’s Congressional seat.

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Not true, counters Jolly, who says he’s been active in quiet but effective ways over the years. He says he “regrets” having to fact-check Latvala, but says the criticism would be valid if he had worked for, say, a California congressman over the past two decades, rather than a representative of Pinellas County.

Former County Commissioner and School Board member Nancy Bostock supports Jolly and says she doesn’t subscribe to the Latvala-Peters narrative on who’s the more grassroots candidate. She met Jolly 10 years ago while on the school board, and first encountered Peters in 2010 when she was working with the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce advocating against Amendment 4. “So the story is supposed to be she’s the hometown girl and he’s the DC lobbyist?” she questioned.

So where do these candidates stand on the issues? Both call themselves “Bill Young Republicans,” which can be translated into representing traditional mainstream conservative values — more Bob Dole than Ted Cruz. But Young was no moderate, as he annually scored high as a conservative in rankings from publications like Congressional Quarterly. “Bill Young was a pragmatic conservative who always saw that the big picture was winning,” says Paulson, who adds that the congressman wasn’t always a purist who followed ideological lines.

That was never more apparent than in September of 2012, when Young stunned many by saying in a Tampa Bay Times editorial board meeting that the time had come for the U.S. to pull its troops out of Afghanistan.

When asked if he agrees with Young’s awakening, Jolly defers. “The important thing is to stay on mission” and “if there are terror cells in Afghanistan and Iraq that provide a threat to the U.S., then we need to be there.”

But the U.S. pulled out of Iraq in 2011 and doesn’t appear to have any intentions of returning. What about getting out of Afghanistan now? “It’s easy to go back 10 years and reexamine the intelligence and we always have a responsibility to do that, but we can’t lose the fact that their sacrifice made us safer.” Still no response, so I move on.

Jolly admits that no one can replace Young’s experience on Capitol Hill, and in fact Republicans have now come to disdain “earmarks,” congressional funds designed for specific projects or districts, at which Young was considered a master. But while saying those days are gone, Jolly says he’s the next best thing for Pinellas County and the defense industry.

“The ability to know how to work the process in Washington to protect regularly funded programs that directly impact industry and jobs here in Pinellas County — we can’t lose that. So when people use the term ‘powerful’ with Mr. Young, I like to use the term ‘effective’ when it comes to talking about the next member of Congress.”

Jolly straddles the Republican hard line, trying to sound reasonable in a party that has gone far to the right. On immigration, an issue that the next Pinellas Representative could be voting on next spring, he talks tough. “If I break a law down the street, I expect to be penalized for it. Immigration is no different.” But he adds that we can do this without being inhumane. He doesn’t support the Senate’s bill passed this summer that would create a lengthy pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but says, “We’re a loving, caring nation. We can’t tear families apart.”

On immigration, Peters sounds a little less harsh, saying she supports a comprehensive solution.

The 52-year-old state Representative is intense in explaining to me why she opposed Medicaid expansion in Florida. Although the program covers low-income and financially needy people, including those over 65 who are also on Medicare, Peters chooses to focus on Medicaid as a benefit for children and the disabled, and thus called several pediatricians to get their opinions last spring. She said most of them told her they did not take Medicaid patients because of delays in payment and the degree of administrative burden involved in getting paid.

She segues from that discussion into why she disdains the Affordable Care Act, calling it “government overreach.” That’s the same term she uses in describing why she joined with Democrats in Tallahassee earlier this year in voting against two anti-abortion measures.

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