St. Pete LWV forum with legislative candidates concentrates on healthcare

A League of Women Voters/Florida Nurses Association candidates forum was a bit of a disappointment Wednesday night at the Sunshine Center in St. Pete.

Not only did it not get started until nearly 20 minutes after its scheduled 7 p.m. start, but no Republicans invited to the forum opted to appear. That eliminated any provocative policy disagreements with the four Democratic candidates and one non-party-affiliate candidate for the state legislature this fall, as they discussed healthcare issues, some more esoteric than others. 

"Let me apologize on behalf of my opponent who chose not to attend this event," said HD 67 Democrat Steve Sarnoff. "The LWV deserves the respect in showing up to appear," he said, referring to Republican Chris Latvala. 

Joining Sarnoff on the dais were fellow Democrats Judithanne McLauchlan, running against Jeff Brandes in the SD22 race, Scott Orsini running in HD69 against Kathleen Peters, Lorena Grizzle running against Larry Ahern in HD 66, and independent Phillip Garrett, opposing Democrat Darryl Rouson.  

The candidates sat together at a table and were given the opportunity to answer questions by a moderator who frankly didn't have it together, calling a couple of the candidates by their last names to start the program.

"I'm a proud member of the League of Women Voters," proclaimed McLauchlan when asked her first question. She said that the event would have been a "good opportunity for my opponent to apologize for lying about me and attacking the League of Women Voters," to scattered applause. That was in reference to a televised ad produced by the Republican Party of Florida that accused McLauchlan of being part of a group that supports a state income tax (an issue that this blog revisited yesterday). 

All of the candidates said that if elected, they would push to have the Legislature support Medicaid expansion, a core issue that virtually every Democrat running for office in Tallahassee has espoused, including gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist. 

HD 66 candidate Lorena Grizzle, a Largo-based special education teacher, said that her sister would have been one Floridian who personally would have benefitted if the Legislature had approved the plan offered by the Obama administration, saying that she was afraid of going to the hospital and ultimately passed away. "My opponent (Larry Ahern) voted against it. Anyone who voted against it is almost criminal."

All of the candidates said they support Amendment Two, the medical marijuana initiative. Steve Sarnoff called the legal use of cannabis for those with pain an alternative to prescription drugs, adding that Florida is "not California — we will be able to regulate it effectively."

McLauchlan said she feared how the Legislature will handle the issue "on the back end," saying that she hopes this would not fall into the category of the "pay to play culture" in Tallahassee. By that she said she meant that she hoped the licenses and facilities dealing with medical pot would not be awarded to those who give the biggest campaign contributions.

Phillip Garrett said that his mother passed away in 2005 because of breast cancer, while also suffering from emphysema. "She needed pain relief. I'm sure that THC could have helped her." 

When asked if they supported the reduction in state funding for public health centers, St. Pete attorney Scott Orsini said that "the other side sees healthcare as a product that needs to be paid for. It's part of their social Darwinism."

The Florida Legislature and Governor Rick Scott failed to fund the $500,000 to keep a prescription drug database monitoring program earlier this year. Attorney General Pam Bondi then intervened and pledged a four-year, $2 million allocation to fund that program.

Lorena Grizzle said that former Pasco County legislator Mike Fasano was "one of my heroes" for being an activist on this issue. "Having seen a lot of my peers I grew up with having addiction problems, I hate to see our Attorney General [Bondi] taking credit for something when some senators did the work on this in 2009."

When the issue of a woman's right to have an abortion arose, MacLauchlan once again indirectly referred to her GOP opponent, Jeff Brandes. "Despite my opponent's phone calls on this issue, I believe abortion should be safe, legal and rare," echoing the phrase that a former boss of hers, President Bill Clinton, made back during the 1990s.

There will be another candidates' forum scheduled tonight at St. Pete College in Seminole that will feature Pinellas County legislative and local candidates, but hopefully you've got nothing else going on tonight — the forum is scheduled to run from 5:30-9:00 p.m. That's at 9200 113th Street N Seminole.


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