For many reasons, conventional wisdom is that—in effect—Republican Lawrence McClure has won the House District 58 special election.
But there are four candidates on the Dec. 19 ballot, not just two. And they all appeared at a candidates’ forum Thursday night at the Bruton Memorial Library in Plant City.
The eastern Hillsborough County seat is considered prime GOP territory, one held by Republicans for a long time, most recently by Dan Raulerson, a Plant City Republican who stepped down this summer for health reasons.
Last month, McClure defeated Yvonne Fry by 10 points in a heated GOP primary.
Then there’s the issue of McClure’s Democratic opponent, Jose Vazquez, who has a troubled past that surfaced in a previously unsuccessful run for office.
Two men at Thursday’s forum — Libertarian Party candidate Bryan Zemina and non-party-affiliated Ahmad Saadaldin — were by far the most dynamic speakers.
“You’re going to hear this a lot from me tonight, so you might as well just get used to it,” warned Zemina as the forum began. “The government is the problem here.”
And throughout the two-hour affair, Zemina lived up to his word, offering a libertarian-type response to some issues, with only a couple of exceptions, such as advocating for increased funding for public education.
“Monopolies are wrong,” he declared, criticizing the investor-owned utilities for fighting against Florida solar power initiatives.
As the most progressive candidate running in HD 58, Saadaldin espouses the philosophy of the Green Party, of which he is a member.
But because the 26-year-old University of South Florida mass communications graduate didn’t change his party registration soon enough, he’s running as a non-party-affiliated candidate (“NPA”).
Saadaldin supports the “Fight for $15” movement but says that each community can (and should) decide for themselves how much to increase the minimum wage. But first, it can only happen by overturning a state law that prevents communities from doing just that, he said. (Outgoing Miami Beach Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is challenging the law.)
On campaign finance reform, Saadaldin called out U.S. Sen. Cory Booker for voting against a proposal to reduce drug prices, saying the New Jersey Democrat did so because of financial support from pharmaceutical companies. He vowed not to take any PAC money in the race and supports public financing on political campaigns.
As McClure sees it, increasing the living wage would kill Plant City agricultural interests already struggling against international competitors.
“Increasing labor and wages puts a lot of these folks out of business,” he said.
The government is giving out handouts “left and right,” Zemina said, but they have no right to force companies to pay higher wages.
With public education and charter schools, McClure was “in support of anything that is going to afford our children in District 58 and the state a world-class education,” which definitely meant supporting charter schools.
Vazquez called charters a failed experiment; he said one hundred percent of state funding should go to the public schools.
Zemina would like to divert money from the Florida lottery, so individuals with Bright Future scholarships can get into private schools.
The 42-year-old Vazquez is a Puerto Rican native who worked as the field and campaign manager for the New Progressive Party there throughout the 1990s. But his time in the states makes his candidacy challenging, where previously support for him splintered in the Hillsborough Democratic Party.
Imprisoned while running for the House District 48 race in 2008, Vazquez spent some time in prison for a felony conviction in May 2007 of driving with a revoked or suspended license. Hillsborough County records also show past convictions for criminal mischief and reckless driving, both misdemeanors, and carrying a concealed firearm without the appropriate permit.
State legislators make only $29,000 for what is considered a part-time gig. But Vazquez said if elected, he would work it 24/7, saying he knows how to survive on that government salary.
On the issue of campaign finance reform, Zemina called out McClure for his primary race against Fry, but not before apologizing in advance.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars in mailers against his opponent in the primaries,” he said. “That’s a problem, and we know it.”