Republican former Rep. Jason Brodeur and his Democratic challenger Patricia Sigman in Senate District 9 may disagree about how, but both agree the coronavirus crisis requires a new approach to governing and the economy.
Unleash innovation, much as business, education, and families are doing on the fly right now, to adapt to the new reality of the crisis, advocates Brodeur, president of the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“We should demand and expect that our government does the same thing,” Brodeur said. “This is an unprecedented time. And while the priority should always be protecting the most vulnerable, I think what we’ve seen during this time is we can do that and leverage some of the technology that is available to us to perhaps reduce some of the expenses we had in previously delivering those services.”
Sigman said the state should reset its priorities to first provide services to people.
“It’s all about priorities,” Sigman said. “What do we value as a state? What do we prioritize? I believe we have to represent the people: health care, education, clean water, unemployment benefits, all of the priorities that I’ve laid out. That’s what we have to do.”
Their contest for the seat opening up in SD 9 covering Seminole County and parts of southern Volusia County is likely to be one of the most expensive and hard-fought in Florida.
The suburban district has trended from red toward purple in the past decade. It has a growing minority population and high levels of educational backgrounds that tend to poll more liberally on social issues, while still more conservative on fiscal ones. The electorate is close, with voter registration favoring Republicans by just 1 point. Seminole County, which accounts for nearly 90% of the electorate, voted to support Democrats in the 2018 U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections, yet for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
In Brodeur, Republicans have a three-term lawmaker and veteran campaigner who has shown he can raise tons of money, and who has widespread support from the business community.
In Sigman, Democrats have an accomplished labor and employment lawyer who talks about having decades of experience fighting for the middle class and working people.
In this race, neither candidate is willing to throw much read meat toward the SD 9 electorate. They don’t automatically bring up President Donald Trump, or Black Lives Matter. They like to talk about support for mainstream issues including some that traditionally have been been associated with the other party.
Though Brodeur also has had bills, particularly early in his legislative career, that were aimed at the base (such as a bill that made it illegal for pediatricians to talk to parents about gun safety,) he emphasizes moderation and bipartisan efforts on many issues, from social issues to the environment.
Brodeur offered as an example his sponsorship of HB 7013, approved in 2015 which included the legalization of adoptions by same-sex couples in Florida. Brodeur, an adoptee himself, said the law addressed the needs of both hundreds of orphans in Florida’s system and same-sex couples eager and ready to create families with them. He also sponsored a bill that year that riled the LGBTQ community: HB 7111, which essentially allowed private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples, which he said was a clarification of the 1st Amendment rights of religious organizations such as Catholic Charities. However, that bill died.
“Voters are desiring somebody who isn’t so extreme, one side or the other,” Brodeur said. “So if you look at my record, you see almost every bill that I’ve ever passed had bipartisan support. And I’ve had things in my record that folks could really gravitate to … in addition to the Republican or conservative bills that I have run that have garnered bipartisan support as well.”
But he does have a record. And Sigman knows it.
She advocates for an expansion of Medicaid in Florida as “a financial and health care and moral win” in a state that entered the coronavirus crisis with 850,000 uninsured people who could qualify for health care coverage under an expanded Medicaid, and a state that could use the estimated $14 billion in federal money to bring jobs to a recessed economy.
“Unfortunately, Jason Brodeur voted against Medicaid expansion in 2015,” she reminded.
She also dismisses recent Republican-led efforts to put more money into public education to pay for raising the starting salary of teachers. She noted that Brodeur voted for budget cuts during the last recession that resulted in a $1.3 billion reduction in statewide education funding.
“We’re still recovering from that,” she said.
Meanwhile, the candidates are trying to convince voters who they are, and how they’ll respond to the coronavirus crisis.
“A lot of what I’m encountering with folks has to do with the current COVID-19 pandemic as well as the business community,” Brodeur said. “I’ve spent almost the entire summer talking to businesses, holding their hands through this time as best as we can, helping educate them as best we can on the programs that are available and what might help them get through what is an unprecedented time in all of our lives.”
Sigman’s day job positions her to see the intense frustration unemployed workers have. dealing with the state’s unemployment compensation system, which she said has to be overhauled, while noting that Brodeur voted to install the current system. And the state must do more to address the health and science concerns before the economy can fully recover, she said.
“We have to have this pandemic response led by science and fact and not politics. We have to protect health and safety in leading to economic recovery. We have to prioritize health and safety as we rebuild toward economic recovery,” she said.
Brodeur, who first started campaigning for the seat in 2017, has raised more than $3 million in his campaign and his independent political committee, Friends of Jason Brodeur. However, he has spent most of it, much of it supporting other Republicans and thereby earning the kinds of future support that could make hime powerful if elected.
Sigman was recruited by state Democratic leaders when they saw a chance to take SD 9, but didn’t see the necessary winning qualities in the other four Democrats already in the race. She easily won a five-way primary Aug. 18. In about eight months she has raised more than a half-million dollars for her campaign and independent political committee, United For Change.
As of Aug. 21 Brodeur had about $504,000 in the bank in his two funds, and Sigman about $313,000.
Both parties have been weighing in heavily. The Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee already is running pro-Brodeur ads, and Sigman attack ads, on Orlando TV. More are likely to follow from both parties’ allies.