Alan Cohn, Laurel Lee spar on abortion, immigration as accusations fly
Alan Cohn is lagging behind Laurel Lee in CD 15, one of the most competitive seats in 2022.

laurel lee ALAN COHN
CD 15 candidates pressed each other on whether they supported the most extreme proposals in Congress.

Republican Laurel Lee swatted off attacks on her family portfolio as “nonsense” while defending her record as Secretary of State.

Democrat Alan Cohn said he represents voters’ mainstream values, whether it’s about abortion rights, environmental protection, or gun control.

A 30-minute debate between the candidates in Florida’s 15th Congressional District turned at times personal as the two candidates staked out their respective agendas.

“I am running for Congress because this is my community,” Lee declared.

Cohn, meanwhile, asked voters to consider: “Who reflects your values, who reflects your hopes, your concerns, and the environment? That’s me.”

Moderators Holly Gregory of Bay News 9 and Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times touched on hot-button topics to suss out areas of disagreement (and even some common ground) between the candidates.

Cohn arrived at the debate clearly intent to nail down Lee on specific statements on multiple topics, including the integrity of the 2020 Presidential Election and whether she would support restrictions on abortion at the federal level.

The topic of elections is integral to Lee’s political background. As Secretary of State, she oversaw administration at the state level for the 2020 Election in Florida and defended the process here as among the best in the country. Notably, Republican Donald Trump won in Florida.

“I have never disputed that Joe Biden today is the duly elected President of the United States,” Lee said. She did say part of the need to restore public trust in election outcomes lies with states strictly following their own election laws, comments made in the wake of many members of Congress objecting to certification of electors from multiple states where Biden won.

Cohn attacked conspiracy-mongering about 2020 and questioned the smoothness of Florida’s operations. He attacked recently criticized actions by Florida’s new elections police force created while Lee served as the state’s top elections official.

“We just had a scandal here where ex-felons were arrested for trying to vote,” Cohn said. “They received voter registration cards mistakenly from Laurel Lee’s office, and then the state turns around and arrests them.”

The two agreed on the need for greater border security, though Lee suggested Cohn may have problems as Democrats are the ones causing problems on the Southern border.

“It’s Democrats in Congress and Joe Biden (who) have created the current immigration crisis we face where we have millions of people crossing our border illegally and come into our community,” Lee said.

Cohn said some Republican solutions are impractical, and part of the problem with border security is a need for more access checkpoints for legal immigration.

“There’s one in Texas and one in California and that is ridiculous,” he said, “and it then makes it more difficult for Border Patrol to distinguish between those people who are entering the country illegally or not. If you want to spend money, that’s where the money has to go.”

The sharpest point of disagreement between the two was abortion.

Lee said she supports the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and tossing decisions on regulating abortion to the states.

“The original Roe decision was the court engaging in policymaking and it goes back to a basic question of separation of powers,” she said. “The Legislature is the place where policy should be created, and laws should be passed.”

Lee called herself pro-life but supports exceptions for cases of rape and incest. But Cohn called that hypocritical, as Lee also voiced support for a 15-week ban in Florida with no such exceptions.

“She is not telling you the truth,” Cohn said. “This is a country right now where my 26-year-old daughter does not have the same rights that Laurel Lee did when she was 26.”

But Cohn’s most personal attacks on Lee centered on her family business interests. He accused Lee’s family of profiting from investments in Chinese businesses. That referred to an investment in Alibaba Group Holding listed in Lee’s candidate financial disclosures.

“Do you want to send someone to Congress with the same challenges in terms of supporting their family, or someone who doesn’t have a plan to attack inflation, but rather, has hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments in a Chinese company and a family foundation who doesn’t live the same kind of reality that we do when it comes to the cost of things,” Cohn asked.

Lee dismissed the accusations without addressing any specifics and stressed she has dedicated her life to public service including as a judge, prosecutor and Secretary of State.

“We’ve heard a lot out of Alan Cohen tonight that was utter nonsense and false allegations against me,” Lee said. “Something that we really need in politics today is leaders who are able to communicate not just with people they agree with, (but also with) people they don’t.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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