Pointed questions highlight Tiger Bay debate between Pinellas’ legislative candidates

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Yesterday’s Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting pitted six Florida House candidates against one another as the audience, members and guests of the Tiger’s Den, provided a handful of pointed questions to determine where the candidates stood.

These candidates represented Pinellas County Florida Legislative District Races with District 65 candidates: Peter Nehr and Carl Zimmerman; District 66 candidates: Larry Ahern and Mary Louise Ambrose; and District 67 candidates: Ed Hooper and Ben Farrell.

The problem with education In Florida

And yet again, education was a hot topic of the day, beginning with Zimmerman making a bold accusation that there is “a concerted effort to destroy public education in this state.”

Immediately following this claim, Zimmerman, a high school teacher, backs this up by insisting that a base problem has to do with how teachers are evaluated in the classroom, citing a 46 page booklet that is currently used in teacher evaluations.

Zimmerman proposes a solution that would include pre and post tests to test student knowledge gain, asserting that measuring how much student’s knowledge increases on a subject will thereby demonstrate the effectiveness of the teacher.

Perhaps this plan will help deter the “concerted effort to destroy public education” in Florida.

Ambrose chimes in stating that the state needs to fund schools and education over for profit corporations and special interests, while Nehr agrees that education deserves more funding but reminding everyone that teachers and education are special interest groups, too.

Hooper makes a point to address low teachers’ salaries within the State saying, “It is disgraceful that some of the people sitting at this table here can move to Georgia and make $8,000/year more teaching our children than they can in Florida.” He continues, “We have to put more money into education so that our kids have a fair chance not just here in Pinellas County—they have to compete in the world.”

Farrell adds to the topic, saying, “We need a good public education system, and that includes vocational and higher education. I agree with my opponent that it is disgraceful that teachers in this State make on average $10,000 less than the national average.” Farrell backs Zimmerman’s proposal regarding teacher evaluation reform. He said that after talking with teachers and principals, many agree with this strategy.

Mandating prescription drug monitoring database usage

Another hot topic came to surface surrounding Florida’s prescription drug overdose epidemic. The State did pass a prescription drug monitoring bill, but it appears that many doctors and pharmacists are not keen on using the database established as part of this legislation. The panel was asked whether they would support legislation that would mandate doctors and pharmacists use the database. Unanimously, the panel stated that they would support this.

Not coincidentally, seated in the audience as a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club guest was Dianne Clarke, chief operating officer and executive director of Operation PAR, Inc., Pinellas County’s largest and most comprehensive substance abuse treatment provider. Clarke mentioned that she was pleased to see this stance change through the election cycle, stating that when campaigning began, candidates did not voice their support of mandatory usage of the prescription drug program as strongly. “If used, this will save lives. But only if it is used,” said Clarke.

Nehr commented, “I support everything we can do, working with our Sheriff and working with our County to stop people from dying from prescription overdoses. You can’t believe how hard it was to get that initial bill passed. It’s there. We are going to build on that every year. Seven people a day died this years from illegal prescription overdoses [and this number does not include the many deaths attributed to legally prescribed prescription medications].”

How Florida should retain Supreme Court justices

Another very significant concern had to do with how we retain Supreme Court Justices in Florida, and Nehr quickly answered saying, “There are three branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial, and our executive branch should not interfere with the judicial branch—I would not support that.”

Zimmerman said, “But, he [Nehr] voted for it. Then continued by saying that we need to bring these judges back. “We do not take judges out for political reasons,” said Zimmerman.

Yet, Ahern said simply, “The people will decide, and that’s why we have [the legislation] on the ballot.”

Ambrose took a strong stand stating, “The Supreme Court is what keeps us under control. The legislature has brought this idea that they don’t like the way a particular judge votes, so they are going to get rid of them.” Ambrose stated, “These judges understand the law, which is not true of most of the legislators.” Ambrose was clear that she does not support this being on the ballot with the intent to remove these certain judges because legislators didn’t like certain rulings.

“My personal opinion is that I would rather my party stay out of this,” added Hooper. “I worry that whoever the governor is can appoint maybe up to half of the Supreme Court justices. That’s scary. I don’t care what your political leanings are.”

Farrell answered this question by recommending a movie, “I would ask everybody to write this down, it’s a film called ‘Hot Coffee.’ This isn’t a Florida issue, it’s a national issue where they are trying to politicize the Supreme Court, and it is the insurance companies.”

November 6th, we all decide who the true winners are in these debate s — we choose through our votes.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.