Four of the five Republicans in the primary race in House District 12 — Terrance Freeman, Mark MacLean, Stan Jordan, and Clay Yarborough — were on hand at a forum at the University of North Florida Tuesday evening.
The fifth, Don Redman, broke his arm in an accident recently, and under medication, was not to attend.
The debate began as a low-key affair, and in terms of policy differences, there weren’t many at all. Tone varied from the retro folksiness of Jordan to the lawyerly, mediative tone of MacLean.
The opening statements from the four candidates seemed like they might have been under medication themselves, with MacLean and Freeman delivering positive introductions, bereft of specifics. Jordan, meanwhile, congratulated the other candidates for, talking about the “selfless act” of running. And Yarborough talked of being an HR director.
The first question had to do with gun laws in the wake of the Pulse massacre, and Democrats calling for a special session to address laxity in gun laws.
The answers were NRA-approved.
Freeman described himself as a “strong proponent of the Second Amendment” and an NRA member, before saying some ammunition, such as dum dums, should be illegal. He would “lean on the experts” to formulate a position.
“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people …. If you want to make a law, take the crazy people off the streets,” Jordan said, pointing out the failure of gun control laws in Chicago.
“I cannot see any law that we could pass that could improve the laws we already have. And regarding automatic weapons, it’s not the weapon that kills anybody,” Jordan said.
Yarborough, likewise, is a “strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” adding that “we do have to be careful” not to change laws in a “heartfelt moment.”
MacLean? A “strong supporter of our Second Amendment rights,” who believes people are attempting “to pass legislation in a time of emotion.”
MacLean did add “the federal government needs to have these people on their radar screens,” but “restricting an American citizen’s rights,” such as Omar Mateen, is a bridge too far.
From there, they tackled Lake Ray‘s failed bill to ban refugees from terroristic countries.
Jordan got first crack.
“When I run against anybody who says let everybody in, I ask a simple question: When you go to bed at night, do you lock the front door?”
Jordan is a proponent of “building a fence” and a “tight filter for anybody who comes into this country,” saying that “if you don’t know what you’re getting, don’t be surprised” by incidents such as those in Orlando and San Bernardino.
Yarborough kept his answer much less quotable, while MacLean talked with specificity about the impact of the “Syrian civil war” on the immigrants coming to the country.
“There are many people who want to escape hellholes and deservedly so,” MacLean said, but a concern is “do we trust the competency of the United States government to vet these individuals?”
The states should be consulted, MacLean added.
Freeman somehow came up with “Florida is known as the family state and we have to protect our brand,” adding that if the feds are “letting bad guys in,” policy doesn’t go far enough; the Feds, he added, must be held accountable.
The next question had to do with economic incentive money in Jacksonville, and how to drive it into HD 12.
Yarborough, a former council president, noted that projects bringing jobs have come to the district.
“The great thing about these programs,” said Yarborough, is “the companies have to materialize these jobs.”
That said, “we need a vibrant downtown,” Yarborough added, offering a tone of moderation that likely will accord with a business community that has been reluctant to back him up until now.
MacLean sidestepped the question, saying the best approach to bringing in businesses is to lower taxes and regulations.
“Most of the incentives,” MacLean said, “are coming from the city level.”
That was less than precise; QTI grants, for example, are shouldered 80 percent by the state.
MacLean believes that “growth comes from small businesses, micro-businesses.”
Freeman shilled for the dredging of the port to “drive jobs to our region,” adding that “favorable legislation” creates a “business-friendly environment.”
When pressed to demonstrate ROI, a condition of the governor’s, Freeman said it’s “going to take a team effort” and he’s that “guy who will lead that team.”
Jordan, meanwhile, called “HD 12 a blessed district,” without “some of the blight that other districts have,” such as HD 13, where he currently lives.
On to the HRO expansion effort. Will a lack of expansion hurt businesses?
MacLean: “I tend to doubt that … I don’t believe in creating additional protected classes … I think our society is past that point.”
Freeman, whose boss was a co-sponsor of HRO expansion just months back in Jacksonville’s City Council, noted that his “faith is something with which he leads,” adding he has “experienced the pains of discrimination” and he’ll “never be a part of creating legislation that discriminates against anyone.”
When asked if he would support legislation, he said “it’s about jobs to me,” ducking the question when asked directly.
Jordan: “You keep hearing this bathroom thing … you start messing around in bathrooms and you get absolute havoc.”
At his business, he said, there are three bathrooms.
“I am against discrimination of any type,” Jordan added, “but I’m not sure we have more discrimination than social agendas.”
Yarborough, meanwhile, noted that when hiring at UPS, the question is not sexual orientation, but “can they move boxes?”
On the HRO, he wants to avoid “added costs” and “egregious burdens,” which is to say he doesn’t back expansion, and is unconvinced of the need for change.
The question went to tax cuts, specifically the package of cuts the governor wanted to get through last year.
Freeman talked about the back-to-school tax holiday.
Jordan noted that “a lot of our questions go back to the same premise,” avoiding the specific question by talking about the need to create jobs.
“Without free enterprise, the whole system collapses,” Jordan said.
Yarborough got asked about the need for reserves, noting that “you have to, on the local level, have a certain amount in emergency reserves,” of which he’s a proponent.
MacLean talked with wonkish specificity about the budget stabilization fund, noting that if “we’d accounted for volatility [in the last decade] we would have $4.6 billion more.”
The next question dealt with UF Health, and Jordan got first crack on how to keep it open.
Jordan said “that’s why you need a strong representation in Tallahassee … that knows how to leverage the power they have.”
“You’ve got to have leverage, you’ve got to have respect, because the competition is Olympic style.”
Yarborough noted “the city owns the hospital, and it’s incumbent on the city to take care of it … we have an obligation to take care of our citizenry. That’s our hospital and I do support adequate funding.”
MacLean opined that “the best approach is for the state government to fund that hospital individually,” advocating for “pooled funds like LIP” instead of “expanding Medicaid entitlement.”
Freeman was energized, saying that “when you think about Obamacare, we have to repeal it,” blaming it on “career politicians” and bemoaning the possibility of the burden falling on his four daughters.
Freeman noted Northwest Jacksonville is “struggling,” as the “result of career politicians.”
“We’re not the only regional trauma center in the state. There are seven others,” Freeman said, apparently unaware (as were the other candidates) of the lack of an indigent care tax in Jacksonville such as in other metropolitan areas.
Still, “there’s going to be a triage in the streets if we close this.”
Onward to education questions: specifically, school choice legislation that allows students to cross county lines for school.
Yarborough supports the concept so “students can get the best education they can receive.”
MacLean mentioned a “concern about this process,” adding that he wants Duval County schools “properly funded and maintained.”
“We have to proceed cautiously with this,” MacLean said, noting that “star athletes” could transfer from one school to the next.
Freeman wants to “get government out of our education,” as a “strong proponent of school choice.”
“It’s the parent’s responsibility to find the best learning environment or the best social environment for your child,” Freeman added.
And “Common Core’s got to go,” as “government’s trying to take over education.”
Jordan, a former school board member, noted that the real problem is a “lack of educated society,” adding that “many schools aren’t properly run.”
Mercifully, the final question: one about the HD 12 race being a closed primary, thanks to the write-in candidacy of Jerry Steckloff, who last surfaced a few months back in opposition to HRO expansion.
Steckloff said he “wanted Democrats to be able to vote for someone,” and he “didn’t know” the primary would be closed.
“The way the process is set up, it’s become abused,” MacLean said, but “you don’t really know what the intent of the write-in is “as it “provides ballot access.”
Freeman sidestepped the answer, saying he’s “knocked on 2,500 doors,” and that he’s a “conservative Republican.”
“There are ploys and tricks that take place. Does it benefit a candidate in particular? He said he didn’t understand it? We live and we learn,” Freeman said, noting that the entry of Steckloff would “negatively impact” him.
Jordan described it as “political strategy,” saying “this works against participatory democracy.”
“I don’t think it’s right. It shuts down the premise of what this free republic stands for,” Jordan said.
Yarborough, meanwhile, danced around the question, noting “you cannot strike down someone’s intent.”
He doesn’t like it, but alas! “The Supreme Court has already ruled on it.”
Then, the closing statements.
Yarborough noted that “it’s easy to take potshots” at those who might be described as “career politicians.”
Jordan talked about BRAC, noting his desire to “protect our bases.”
BRAC, of course, is determined on a federal level.
Freeman noted that “servanthood is a part of [his] DNA,” and that he is running for the future of his kids.
And MacLean, meanwhile, painted himself as an outsider, with “life experience” rather than “political experience.”
He also would refuse to participate in the state pension system, to be a “citizen servant.”
And that’s a wrap.