CD 20 debate highlights broad agreement on the issues, contrasting experience
Eleven Democrats are seeking the CD 20 seat. It winnows down today.

Sharief hardy holness Cherfilus-McCormick thurston ART
Five candidates highlight experience on housing, health care.

With few divisions between candidates to represent Congressional District 20 on issues such as affordable housing, gun control and expanding Medicaid to more people, Wednesday’s debate among them became a contest of experience on each topic.

Trinity Health Care Services CEO Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Reps. Bobby DuBose and Omari HardyBroward County Commissioners Dale Holness and Barbara Sharief and Sen. Perry Thurston debated for the right to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings.

Broward County Presidents’ Council of Democratic Clubs & Caucuses hosted the online candidate forum and chose the candidates from a field of nearly a dozen Democrats who have qualified to compete in the Democratic Primary Election Nov. 2. They were chosen to appear based on fundraising prowess and other factors.

The candidates were asked whether they would support a federal move to expand Florida’s Medicaid through budget reconciliation, as U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch has proposed. It would require only a simple majority to work around what state Republican leaders have blocked. All the candidates agreed it should happen and some took it as an opportunity to highlight their own actions to make health care more affordable.

“The Florida House Democratic Caucus … sent a letter to the Senate and the House leadership (in Washington) urging efforts to do this, this exact thing,” DuBose said of expanding Florida’s Medicaid, as most states already have under the Affordable Care Act.

Sharief highlighted her nine years sitting on a national, bipartisan health care steering committee.

“I proffered an idea to create a Medicaid II that was federally run by the same people that run Palmetto GBA,” a South Carolina-based Medicare administrator, Sharief said. “I also proffered another idea where the FDA would go and negotiate prescription drug costs with other countries for drugs that affected diabetes, hypertension and cancer.”

Presented with statistics that show home ownership in Broward and Palm Beach counties has been slipping at the same time the gap between rent and pay has been widening, Hardy took the opportunity to highlight his experience working for a housing provider, a housing authority and serving on the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County.

He pointed out that housing assistance is a category of aid that few are eligible to ever get, unlike the 100% of eligible Medicare recipients.

“Over three quarters — 76% — who qualify for housing assistance never get housing assistance because the wait lists for a Section 8 voucher … are years long,” he said. Hardy said he thinks that the federal government should invest $2.5 trillion in affordable housing over the next 10 years to build more of it. “So, we have to make housing assistance an entitlement and make sure that everyone who qualifies for it gets it.”

Holness, a real estate agent and mortgage broker, said he would like Section 8 vouchers to be expanded and used for home ownership.

“That’s something we can do to expand home ownership,” Holness said. “Secondly … the federal government needs to reward communities that are doing what’s necessary to provide affording housing through funding the programs they have such as home funds (block grants) … that come down to the local communities.”

In closing, Cherfilus-McCormick highlighted her success in the health care business — and longtime dedication to the area. Her campaign for Congress is largely self-funded with her millions.

“I’ve been a CEO of a healthcare company that has been able to create over 1,200 jobs, and even at … more than $20 per hour for most,” she said. “I’ve been serving our district, with my heart and soul for more than 20 years, and I plan on bringing that kind of service and that kind of tenacity into Congress so I can fight and ensure that we actually can recover economically.”

Thurston, meanwhile, pointed to his lists of endorsements from local unions and his leadership experience.

“I’ve served as a leader in the House, the leader in the Senate, and the two-time leader on the Florida Legislative Black Caucus,” Thurston said. “Leadership is what this is about. I will lead … Last on the ballot, first in fighting for our community.”

CD 20 spans Broward and Palm Beach counties, crossing several majority-Black areas near major cities such as Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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