Some of the closest General Election campaigns will take place in Central Florida this year. But in three of four races with debates scheduled at Tiger Bay this week, only Democrats showed up. Democrats Joy Goff-Marcil, Carlos Guillermo Smith and Rishi Bagga ended up instead doing a panel together.
Smith, the incumbent Representative running in House District 37, took issue with his Republican opponent, Susan Plasencia, refusing to attend. “Just finished a Tiger Bay debate where my GOP opponent, again did not show up to defend her extreme anti-abortion agenda,” he tweeted. “Susan Plasencia NEVER shows up. Not to a single public forum. Not to hurricane relief efforts. Not to anything.”
Goff-Marcil similarly suggested her opponent has avoided debate. She’s challenging Sen. Jason Brodeur in Senate District 10, and said he’s avoided public discourse as those close to him face criminal convictions for their role in a “ghost candidate” scandal around his 2020 election.
The situation was distinctly different with Bagga. He’s challenging GOP Rep. Fred Hawkins, who canceled because parts of House District 35 have been flooded after Hurricane Ian.
“I’ve been very busy helping constituents with unprecedented flooding and interfacing with agencies like the water management districts — I think people expect public officials to put politics aside when life and property are on the line and that’s what we’ve had to do as a campaign recently,” Hawkins told Florida Politics in an email.
At the forum, the Democrats openly criticized the Republican-controlled Legislature for failures on a number of fronts. The most pressing issue in the wake of the storm may be insurance.
Smith, an Orlando Democrat, said the Legislature should make access to a catastrophe fund easier for citizens to navigate. But he said leadership in Tallahassee has failed to pursue serious improvements to the insurance market.
“The Legislature just decided not to prioritize the issue,” he said. I don’t think that the 400,000 Floridians who were kicked off their property insurance while Gov. (Ron) DeSantis was Governor are going to sleep any better knowing that instead, we have ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ we banned more abortions, and we have stopped wokeism.”
Goff-Marcil said the insurance crisis remains tied to a number of other social problems for the state. Premiums add to an affordable housing crisis especially hurting Central Florida.
“These insurance companies aren’t properly insured to handle the risk here in Florida because of climate change, more storms — with frequency and bigger storms,” she said.
Bagga said as a lawyer, he’s represented individuals on all sides of claims and would be well suited to bring parties to the table and seek solutions. He also heavily criticized the Legislature, particularly for ignoring the insurance crisis while raiding an affordable housing fund for 20 years.
“This was not a problem that started yesterday,” he said. “It’s a problem that has been years in the making. That’s one of the reasons we don’t have money for it that we should have had all along. And there’s a lot of patting on the back that seemed to happen last Legislative Session for fully funding Sadowski. It’s important to know it was fully funded but at a cut level.”
Plasencia defended her absense from the forum.
“There’s not a stage or a camera Smith doesn’t love to use for bullying, name calling or picking a fight about some woke, extreme hypothetical issue that doesn’t improve the lives of the families who live in his district,” she said. “That’s not my style. Instead, I was doing what I enjoy, knocking on doors and talking with voters who live and work in the district. Those are whose opinions I care about.”