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Hillsborough Commission candidates talk Black Lives Matter, climate change

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Progressives call it one of the most exciting and dynamic new civil rights movements in years. Conservatives call it anti-police, racist – and worse.

We’re talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, and at a NAACP-sponsored candidates forum in East Tampa Thursday night, four of the six candidates on the ballot in the Hillsborough County District County Commissioners race were asked their thoughts about the group, and how they were part of the coalition to push for a citizens police review board in Tampa last year.

“Black Lives Matter,” declared Tampa attorney Brian Willis, at 33 by far the youngest candidate in the race. “It’s been a really vital movement, and I’ve been excited to watch it unfold.” He added that while there’s been tremendous growth in downtown Tampa, “we did not see the same investment in this part of the community.”

Willis came back to Black Lives Matter in his closing statement, saying that meant that “we need to pay attention to all of our communities, and if some of them need special attention, then they’re going to get it.”

Tom Scott, the only African-American candidate in the race and the oldest at 62, said the movement reminded him of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. “They have a constitutional right to be out on the street,” he said of the activists. A senior pastor at 34th Street Church of God, Scott talked about how members of the clergy have been key in working with other members of the community to attempt to find a peace between law enforcement and black youths in East Tampa.

“The Black Lives Matter did a wonderful job bringing forth issues that were really unknown to a lot of people,” said former Plant City Mayor John Dicks, who displayed a calming, folksy attitude during his time on the big stage. He said it was important to have more communication between different members of the community, and like Scott, grew nostalgic when he talked about being around the era when civil rights for blacks were flourishing in the country.

Tim Schock was the only Republican on the dais (Jim Norman was a no-show). He didn’t directly respond to the question.

“This office is about representing all people,”Schock said to the majority black audience. “What that means is…I believe it’s very important that we’re empowering our local communities,” he said.”It’s very important that we empower our small and midsize businesses to create jobs, to create career opportunities. I believe we really can create and empower those businesses, and all of our citizens to seize every opportunity that they have.”

Pat Kemp was late  to the panel event and did not have an opportunity to answer the question posed.

The candidates were also asked about climate change.

“I just started my collegiate career as a physics major,” said Schock, “So, I never discount science and the impact.”

“Step one is having leaders who are going to say that climate change exists,” said Willis.

Kemp called the issue of climate change one of the greatest issues facing Floridians today, and boasted about her platform to have the county becoming 100 percent renewable energy. “We can get our energy from the natural resources we have, and that’s good local jobs and really help our economy by going solar.”

Scott referred to the fact that the Board of County Commissioners acts as the Environmental Protection Commission. “That’s a tool that we can use and set policies to make sure that our climate is protected.”

Dicks said he was amazed that there are still people in 2016 who deny the existence of climate change. A farmer, Dicks said that he’s been using solar and wind power on his farm in Plant City for years. “It’s highly effective. We need to do more.”

During his concluding remarks, Scott emphasized his experience as a former county commissioner. “Send me back to the County Commission so I can continue to do what I’ve done in the past,” he said, using his name in the third person to describe what he’s done in the past on jobs, transportation and the issues.

Dicks said that there wasn’t a “dime’s worth of difference” on the issues between the candidates, but those in attendance thought otherwise, picking Scott as the winner of the race in the straw poll that was conducted. Kemp was second, Willis third, Schock fourth, Jim Norman fifth and Dicks came in sixth.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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