From Julio Gonzalez’s “death panels” to Richard DeNapoli’s residency issues, the rhetoric surrounding the GOP primary in Florida House District 74 reached another high-water mark as both conservative candidates fought it out on a Venice stage Wednesday afternoon.
Gonzalez, a Venice orthopedic surgeon, and attorney DeNapoli faced off in front of about 200 GOP faithful at a candidate forum at the Republican Club of South Sarasota County in Venice Garden Civic Center. Each gave his best pitch for who will be the best person to represent Osprey, Venice and parts of North Port and Englewood.
In what started off as a simple question-and-answer session quickly spiraled into a heated exchange.
The audience, mostly older voters with a few high school students sporting campaign T-shirts, was filled with staunch conservatives, many voicing support for both former U.S. Rep. Allen West and Dr. Ben Carson.
One example of just how conservative was the crowd; club president John Harrison brought the room to cheers by mentioning former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who he called an example of a “good Democrat.”
Nagin had been sentenced that morning to 10 years in prison for money laundering, bribery and other corruption.
During the 45-minute debate, both HD 74 candidates began somewhat harmlessly, each lightly touching on now-familiar talking points. Gonzalez once again attacked his opponent on his residency, while DeNapoli brought up the doctor’s seeming inconsistencies over suggested improvements to America’s health-care system.
As the debate wore on, the forum turned to who was the best conservative flagbearer for HD 74. Both candidates oppose Common Core, and if elected, each man would introduce legislation repealing the mandated educational standards.
Gonzalez added that one of the greatest threats to the 10th Amendment of the Constitution is how it is being taught in schools, something he referred to as an “upside down” assessment of the relationship between the federal government and the people. The 10th Amendment says that powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the states or the people.
He said that federalism is not being properly taught in schools, blaming the supremacy of the federal government on the “innocuous way it is introduced” to school children.
“They do it by manipulation,” said Gonzalez.
Each man was (somewhat) on the same page over opposition to high-speed rail, although Gonzalez was for anything that “will improve the economic efficiency of the state,” just not the type of system proposed by the federal government.
When the question was health care and end-of-life issues, the debate really began to light up.
Armed with a copy of Gonzalez’s Health Care Reform: The Truth, DeNapoli tried to pin down his opponent on the difference between the doctor’s reviews of “appropriate modes of resource allocation” and the much-feared “death panels.”
When pressed, Gonzalez doubled down by saying that those who actually read the book will see that the “death panel” comparison is part of a “smear campaign” by his opponents.
However, in an attempt to clarify his position, Gonzalez continued to go a little further, saying that in some “futile” cases, it would be “unethical” for loved ones to keep a family member alive on life support.
He continued to insist that the government should not be in the business of health care.
“I don’t want anybody telling me a health index,” DeNapoli shot back, “that would tell me whether or not my grandfather or grandmother would be able to get care.”
“We have to make decisions about that, and I’m proud of it,” he added.
Once again Gonzalez defended his $500 contribution to Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2008 — just the mention of her name brought rounds of boos from the crowd. He stood firm on his assertion that it was for a meeting to do battle over health care, saying the donation to Wasserman Schultz was “obnoxious, but I had to do it anyway.”
Gonzalez also repeated his claim that he was against Obamacare “even when it was known as the Baucus plan.”
DeNapoli offered the room one question: “Has anyone else here given to Debbie Wasserman Schultz?”
Encroachment of the federal government on individual freedom was also a hot topic, with both men claiming they deserved the title of “ardent federalists.”
Gonzalez called himself a “straight interpreter of the constitution” and supporter of a federalist system, going as far as to bring up Article 6, which he said one swears to uphold in a military oath.
He again went one step further.
As an “ardent” defender of the 10th Amendment, Gonzalez called on all elected officials — be it a “school board member or commissioner” – to rise up, because “there cannot be enough lawsuits” to stop a “runaway president from breaking the Constitution.”
The forum ended with each candidate making a play to differentiate themselves from their opponent. A major complaint during the campaign is that DeNapoli and Gonzalez are just two sides of the same coin.
DeNapoli pointed out that he knocked on “8,000 doors” during the campaign and that he will represent the community.
“I’m here to listen,” he said, “I’m here to work for you.”
Gonzalez — taking one last jab at his opponent’s recent move to the district — remarked that the founding fathers didn’t have to move around to serve the people, or that he “didn’t move to Fort Lauderdale to run against Debbie Wasserman Schultz.”
“I want to do God’s work in Tallahassee,” he added.