The two candidates in the race for Florida’s U.S. Congressional District 13 entered the Tiger’s Den at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon Thursday and walked away agreeing that the other party is a liar.
The forum began peacefully enough with Republican incumbent David Jolly portraying himself as he has throughout the campaign — as a maverick Republican who bravely stands against his party on certain principles and works to create collaboration between the parties in Congress.
Jolly also assured the audience he is focused on serving his constituents, whether it’s by promoting legislation in their favor or providing individual help when he’s asked.
“We are doing the legwork a member of Congress needs to do,” Jolly said. He added he is also trying to change the political scene by building consensus between parties.
Democrat Charlie Crist, a former governor, portrayed himself as a man who has devoted his life to public service. He first ran for a political office at age nine while a student at Bay Point Junior High School in southern St. Pete. He’s been running ever since.
“I am dedicated to public service. … It’s in my heart,” Crist said. “Yes, I run for a lot of offices because I have a service heart.”
He added, “We deserve to have someone in the U.S. Congress who understands you, who will fight for you.”
The differences and antipathy between the candidates then became immediately apparent.
School Board member Linda Lerner was the first audience member to ask a question, which she directed at Jolly. Lerner noted that Jolly “fosters an image” of a pleasant, nice person, but attended Crist’s announcement of his candidacy and called him “bad names.”
Jolly acknowledged he had done so, saying, “I don’t believe Charlie Crist. I don’t trust Charlie Crist.”
Crist, he said, makes aspirational promises on the campaign trail, but rather than governing aspirationally, he “governs hypocritically.” Jolly added that he believes in speaking up, “so I did.”
One person asked a question about Jolly’s lobbying to privatize Social Security and for offshore drilling. Another asked about his voting against Planned Parenthood. Jolly denied all three, saying he was the victim of a “false narrative” and false statements put forth in part by an attack ad.
The truth, Jolly said, is that he has worked to strengthen the ban on offshore drilling and voted against his own party’s plan for Social Security. As for Planned Parenthood, Jolly said he voted against investigating the group. But, he conceded, he voted to suspend tax money paid to Planned Parenthood although he worked to restore the funding for women’s care in other ways.
Both were asked about Congress’ role in environmental disasters such as the recent sewage dumps by the county and some Pinellas municipalities, and the Mosaic sinkhole.
Crist responded that government has a role. He said Jolly had failed to step in and offer help to St. Petersburg until the two last debated and “I had to remind him of it.”
Jolly replied that the problem was city mismanagement of the sewer system. He said he had offered help to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who ignored the offer. Jolly added he had called in the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the city — an action that could possibly result in criminal charges. The city is facing a very significant investigation, Jolly said, as a result of Crist’s asking for his involvement.
After the debate, Crist released a statement titled “Tiger Bay fact checks on David Jolly” that accused Jolly of making “some statements that disregarded a few inconvenient truths” when the Congressman commented about Social Security, oil drilling and women’s health issues.
Congressional District 13 covers the southern portion of Pinellas County. Although Jolly started the race in the lead, a poll commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and released hours before Thursday’s debate showed Crist in the lead, 50 percent to 39 percent with 11 percent undecided.