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Northeast Florida candidate forum a sparring exhibition without knockout blows

There are relatively few multi-candidate forums in Northeast Florida’s general election season, so the evocatively titled Jacksonville Candidate Forum had a disproportionate importance for candidates seeking to introduce themselves to a general election audience.

One Congressional candidate, Democrat Ges Selmont, running in Florida’s 4th Congressional District, was on hand. Also present: state Sen. Aaron Bean and his general election opponent, Billee Bussard, along with a host of state House candidates.

Between gerrymandering and fundraising, there hasn’t been a lot of drama in most Northeast Florida campaigns. An exception: the high-priced HD 15 swing district battle between Democrat Tracye Polson and Republican Wyman Duggan. However, for these candidates, the forum theoretically offered the even playing field the donor class could do without.

However, as a forum (and not a debate) no knockout blows were on offer. Rather, it was a sparring exhibition: Candidates got 30 seconds to answer two questions, followed by a one-minute closing statement.

Despite the antiseptic format, candidates were able to make some points of note.

HD 12 Republican incumbent Clay Yarborough was put on the spot regarding potential Medicaid expansion. He noted that he would be open to a discussion of expansion that involved work requirements.

Yarborough’s Democratic challenger Tim Yost, when asked about raising the minimum wage, said it should be tied to an average rent in a market.

“$8.25 an hour is not going to get you there,” Yost said, when the median rent is $900 as it is in Jacksonville.

Moving on to HD 15’s donnybrook, Duggan got a build up in the introduction that described what a lobbyist does (a repeated Polson campaign critique of him) without using the word.

Duggan got questions that sidestepped the controversy of the campaign: one addressed veterans’ programs; the other regarded challenges in Florida’ K-12 system.

Duggan did not mention charters, but did describe a desire to bring back vocational education, so that graduates could get a “skilled trade certificate.”

Polson was asked her thoughts on Andrew Gillum‘s proposed corporate tax hike to 7.75 percent.

“97 percent of businesses do not pay corporate income tax,” Polson noted, adding that the tax hike would fund schools.

“That I am in favor of,” Polson said, offering up a quote for a future Duggan mailer.

HD 16’s incumbent Republican Rep. Jason Fischer got an interesting question in which he was asked why he retweeted Jeff Brandes‘ calls for medical marijuana distribution reform.

Fischer noted that cannabis is Schedule 1 and that he voted against the implementation bill “because it created a cartel.”

“We need to look at how government doesn’t create a monopoly,” Fischer said, describing a system where a few operators get wealthy overtly, but at the same time hinting at a reform debate that will animate Tallahassee no matter who is elected Governor.

What chippiness there was, meanwhile, came from a surprising place.

Ges Selmont, running for Congress in CD 4, lamented that Republican incumbent John Rutherford is ducking a debate.

“Why would I give him a platform for his ideas,” Selmont quoted Rutherford, who has a 100-1 cash on hand advantage, as saying.

Rutherford was not present to respond.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at

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