But unlike several forums before, tensions rose as those seeking the most conservative seat in the area were allowed to question each other.
The Florida Family Policy Council, one of the most socially conservative groups in the region, hosted the event moderated by President John Stemberger.
It once again brought together health clinic executive Randy Glisson, businessperson Terri Seefeldt, Jennifer Sullivan, and fraud crimes investigator Joseph Stephens to talk about their vision for District 31.
All of the candidates agreed with the conservative platform of the Council, so the first portion of the debate went by quickly. They were all pro-life, anti-gambling, anti-non Charlottes’ Web medicinal marijuana, and anti-Common Core legislation. Each delivered polished answers to the questions, ones they’ve answered so many times before.
It was during the cross-examination portion of the debate, when candidates could to ask each other questions, when the audience saw the first jabs in one of the most competitive House races in the state.
Randy Glisson’s question was to Jennifer Sullivan. “Jennifer, I believe that experience will matter and I would like for you to explain to us, your education, your work experience, and your current work experience please”
Sullivan was happy Glisson asked that question, saying it was one she often heard. She then explained that she was home educated, half way to a college degree and happy she was debt free through taking that path.
Sullivan said she has been working since she was 8 years old, in the hospitality, agriculture, and non-profit fields. Sullivan boasted of her experience in leadership school, traveling the nation and teaching students an understanding on the role of government as well as how to defend the Christian faith. Last year she created her own business. Sullivan stressed sending someone to Tallahassee who knew the role of government and was a fighter for his or her constituents, and “not bought out by special interest groups.”
Seefeldt followed up with another question for Sullivan: “The only constitutional duty of the legislature is to pass a budget,” she said. “It’s a $77 billion budget and when you have your own business and you haven’t been on your own, and you show that you made one thousand dollars last year in your business, to be responsible for $77 billion, that’s a quantum leap to be responsible for the lives of 19 million people.
“To Randy’s point, experience does come into play. What about your background qualifies you to make those business decisions?”
Sullivan replied that she had just started her business before jumping into the election; she had turned down a higher paying job, deciding instead to stay in the community. She added that many people are behind the scenes in writing a budget, and that she would surround herself with subject matter experts.
Sullivan’s first question was aimed at Glisson.
“You claim that you will go to Tallahassee to be the voice of the district,” she asked. “But you have taken thousands of dollars from lobbyist, trial lawyers and special interests to fund your campaign, and your campaign is being headed by a lobbyist.
“How can we trust that you have the people’s best interests at heart, when you’re already the candidate of Tallahassee insiders?”
“OK, thank you for that question, Jennifer” Glisson responded jokingly, challenging anyone examine his finances. He said that he had a day job and had been running since 2013 and that he’s motivated to help constituents and vowed that no one will buy his vote.
Stephens asked Seefeldt about school safety and arming teachers. Seefeldt responded that she would support the measure.
“Sometimes just the threat of someone carrying a gun can be a deterrent to an attacker,” she said.
A fifth candidate in the race, B. Grassel was not present at the event.
Tuesday’s forum brought out a side of the HD 31 race substantially different from the past nine months. Last night, each candidate tipped their hands over potential avenues of attack, if (or when) they decide to go negative.