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Dana Young vs. Janet Cruz race contentious now with more to come

Everyone knew Florida’s Senate District 18 battle between Democrat Janet Cruz and Republican incumbent Dana Young would be contentious. Both women are strong, smart, battle-tested, and play to win – just what we want from candidates.

There is no middle ground here. Voters have a clear choice, and that’s always good.

Democrats targeted the Hillsborough County district as a must-win if they want to take control of the Senate, and Republicans responded accordingly in what will be one of the most-watched races in the state.

So, here’s what we have so far: The Young camp said Cruz was “caught red-handed” cheating on unpaid property taxes, while the Cruz camp basically said Young hates public school children and teachers.

My guess is they’re just getting started.

Young was already scorched by Democrats for being absent from the Senate floor last spring for three votes on three amendments related to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre – including requiring armed security officers in every school.

Young later recorded her vote later in favor of the proposals. She explained that she had to step away from the floor during the eight-hour special Saturday session for quick meetings. She called it a non-issue.

I’m sure it won’t look that way if, or when, the ads roll out.

Cruz, the House Minority Leader, also released a Facebook video, then doubled down with a mailer, that slammed Young over the issue of air-conditioning breakdowns and lead problems in Hillsborough County public schools.

Republicans have been blamed for slashing the public budget in favor of funding charter schools and, well, Young did vote in favor of those budgets that cut $1.3 billion from state public schools – a charge PolitiFact rated “mostly true” in 2013.

Republicans say the money has since been more than restored, but Democrats say the original cuts put public schools in a hole they have been unable to escape.

In the video shot in front of Tampa’s Plant High School, Cruz points to the building where repairs are being made on the cooling units and shouts: “Dammit Dana, tell the truth. Stop telling lies.”

Young’s camp isn’t backing down.

The attack ad over Cruz’s tax issue has played relentlessly on local television. Cruz had unpaid property taxes from 2004 through 2008 for a home she owned in Tampa.

It misrepresents what really happened, of course, but isn’t that true of most attack ads, if not all of them?

Cruz has explained she self-reported a mix-up after she got married to a man who owned his own home and had a homestead exemption. Cruz had one as well on a house she owned.

Florida law allows only one. She paid a $32,000 penalty – or, as the ad says, “was caught red-handed.”

And then, the ad says ominously, she voted against a controversial increase in the homestead exemption because Democrats argued it would strip local municipalities of desperately needed cash. Or, as the ad says, after “cheating” on her taxes, “she voted to up yours.”

Interesting choice of those last two words in the previous paragraph.

Cruz said that Young’s step-out, combined with the massive march in Tallahassee by students and others demanding tighter gun laws, was what pushed her into the race.

That works both ways, of course. Young has an A-plus rating from the NRA, an organization that has been known for rallying support for candidates it likes.

That’s another way of saying people should stay tuned to what’s happening in SD-18.

They’re just getting started.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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