With just over a week left until the Aug. 28 election in Senate District 38, incumbent state Sen. Daphne Campbell and challenger Jason Pizzo appeared on Facing South Florida Sunday morning for a televised back-and-forth between the two candidates.
While the general election is not until Nov. 6, next week’s primary day will decide the future state Senator from this district, as no Republicans filed to run. That leaves the contest for the Democratic nomination between Campbell and Pizzo as the only election in the area.
Jim DeFede, host of the CBS Miami program, moderated the discussion between the two. And it was apparent throughout that Campbell struggled to answer DeFede’s questions.
This was most evident during a discussion on LGBTQ rights. DeFede appeared to trip up Campbell on the issue of same-sex marriage and gay adoptions, eliciting a confusing set of answers on the topic.
DeFede pressed Campbell on her 2015 vote to maintain a ban on gay adoptions.
“The gay people have their rights, I have my rights,” Campbell responded as justification for her vote, which again, would have denied those rights to gay couples.
“I took an oath to serve everyone. I don’t discriminate. I have gay people working in my office. I have gay friends. But they have their rights, I have my rights.”
“But again, in 2015, you voted on House Bill 7013, which would’ve kept the ban [on gay adoptions] in place,” DeFede responded. “So that’s you voting to say your beliefs are more important than their rights.”
“No, that’s not true,” replied Campbell.
“This is Constitutional rights and this is freedom of speech, freedom of religion,” she said of her ability to express her views.
DeFede also brought up her cosponsorship of a “bathroom bill” in 2015, which would have barred transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice.
On this topic, Campbell was much more clear on her position.
“Everywhere you go, they say, ‘woman’s bathroom, men’s bathroom.’ If you’re a woman in the bathroom, do you want somebody else to be in the bathroom?”
DeFede replied, “Was this a problem, though, that needed to be legislated?”
“Again, that’s their right,” Campbell responded once again, despite seconds earlier arguing for why she pushed for those rights to be denied via legislation.
She resorted to similar tactics after DeFede posed a question regarding her record on abortion.
“In 2011, you voted to require a woman to have an ultrasound and to listen to a description of the fetus,” DeFede began.
“In 2015, you voted for a 24-hour waiting period for a woman before she could receive an abortion. In 2016, you voted for a bill that would restrict Planned Parenthood from receiving money, even for non-abortion-related items.”
Again, Campbell said of her vote, “Let me make it clear. Yes, women have the choice and they have the right to choose. That’s their body. But I have my choice.”
Pizzo argued that Campbell’s “choice” was in direct conflict with a woman’s right to choose.
“Her votes on particular parts of legislation would seek to abridge and curtail the ability of a woman to have that choice,” Pizzo said.
Pizzo also faced fire from DeFede on Pizzo’s relatively new status as a Democrat.
“Like many judges and many prosecutors, I was nonparty affiliated while I was prosecuting crimes involving the life and liberty of other individuals,” Pizzo said. He previously served as a state prosecutor in Miami-Dade.
“In 2016, I registered as a Democrat to run for this race.” Pizzo lost that primary challenge to Campbell in a crowded Democratic field, but elected to mount another challenge in 2018.
“I have purely Democratic values,” he argued.
To close the debate, DeFede pivoted to multiple ethical issues Campbell has faced during her time in the state legislature.
There was the time Campbell called a Florida Power & Light lobbyist after Hurricane Irma to help get power back at her house for her “sick mom.” Campbell’s mother had been dead for more than 20 years. Campbell argued she used the term “mother” colloquially, referring to an elderly woman who was living with Campbell.
Reports also show Campbell moved multiple times over the years, at times outside the boundaries of her district.
Then, there is the video showing Campbell receiving a Kate Spade purse during her 60th birthday party from a man who then shoved a wad of cash inside. Campbell did not report the money.
“Who edited it?,” Campbell asked as CBS Miami aired the footage, uninterrupted.
She then surprisingly claimed, “The guy didn’t put no money in the purse.” That’s right after the video clearly showed the man placing cash directly into the purse.
Campbell immediately pivoted to another explanation, saying it was just a joke. “The purse belonged to his wife. That’s his wife’s purse. He came that night, and it’s a joke.”
She then hit Pizzo for referencing these stories throughout the campaign.
“He’s a liar. He makes up a lot of false stories, of false allegations. And a lot of things he’s saying is not true and for his own benefit.”
“Everything that we send out, that we disseminate, are reprints and reproduction of [news] stories,” Pizzo responded.
“I think the voters need to decide whether they want somebody who’s going to go up to Tallahassee to actually legislate and not be distracted by personal gain and graft and what I believe are unethical practices.”