Gualtieri Vs. Rice Takes Center Stage at Sheriff Candidates' Debate
Interim Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and challengers Everett Rice, Scott Swope and Greg Pound squared off in Tuesday night's debate. But it was Rice and Gualtieri, who stole the show as they vie for the Republican nomination.
While there were four candidates participating at Tuesday night's Pinellas County Sheriff debate in Clearwater, much of the event centered on the two men vying for the Republican nomination for sheriff.
Interim Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and former Sheriff Everett Rice traded barbs throughout much of the evening on each other's record, campaign fliers and future issues.
Democratic nominee Scott Swope was involved in most of the major policy discussions, while write-in candidate Greg Pound was largely ignored after responding to most questions with nearly the same answer.
Candidates were asked about immigration, open-carry laws, combating pill mills, homelessness, the budget and special interest groups.
Gualtieri, appointed to his current position by Gov. Rick Scott last year, said during his tenure he has worked to cut the budget while continuing to decrease the crime rate.
"I've proven that we can [cut the budget] and not affect public safety," Gualtieri said. Facing a significant budget shortfall in 2013, Gualtieri said the department needs to continue to "outsource and look at functional consolidations."
Swope, a former judge, said at the start of the debate that he was the only one at the podium whom people in the room knew for sure would be on the Nov. 6 ballot for Pinellas County Sheriff.
After either Rice or Gualtieri loses the August primary, Swope asked that the loser's supporters consider him.
"Think about supporting me in the event that your fella doesn’t [win]," he said. "It's not [about being] a Republican or Democrat, it's about choosing the right man for the job."
Former Sheriff Rice said had he not promised to leave office two terms ago due to term limits, he would still be Pinellas County Sheriff today.
"Every year, I was the Sheriff, except one, the crime rate went down," he said. "And ever year, I think, I returned money to the county. When I left office, I was totally unblemished and undefeated."
The four candidates touched on myriad issues:
"I don’t think it’s the sheriff's responsibility to get the federal government to do their job," Swope said. "Now if those people are committing crimes, then at that point, the sheriff ought to be the one to do something about it. The kind of immigration that has been overlooked is the immigration in the form of human trafficking."
Rice said the sheriff does not have the authority to deport illegal immigrants. He said he would "bring pressure on the federal government to do their job and that’s what I would do as a sheriff," Rice said. "I don’t think it is as big of a problem in Pinellas County as it is in other areas ... Use whatever political pressure to get the federal government to do its job. "
That comment, however, stirred Gualtieri, who said that contradicts what Rice's mailed fliers said, which is that he would deport illegal immigrants who are in jail.
"Everett has sent out four direct mail pieces that said 'I will deport illegal aliens from the jail.' Why is he pandering saying, 'I will deport illegal aliens from the jail'? “ Gualtieri said. "[Rice] has no authority to put them on a raft from Tampa Bay and push them south.”
Write-in candidate Pound said corruption and failing to follow the constitution is the biggest issue with the budget shortfall.
"I don’t believe we have a budget problem," Pound said. “The root of the problem is the people running the government. It’s out of control.”
Swope said the sheriff's office could save a considerable amount of money if refocused its prioritizing on marijuana policies.
By decriminalizing and issuing citations for marijuana, as opposed to sending people to jail, Swope said the county would save on housing, feeding and processing these individuals while collecting money on the citation.
"Save the money by not putting them in jail while at the same time generating revenue," Swope said. "This is not a novel idea."
Swope added that he would enact a policy that would keep those arrested for non-violent misdemeanor offenses out of jail and put them through the system with a notice to appear.
Gualtieri said he would look at ways to outsource services to the private sector and look at functional consolidations. “Outsource where we can,” he said.
Open Carry Laws
The Florida Legislature is considering a law that would permit more leniencies with open carry laws, which would allow more people to carry weapons openly in public places.
Three candidates, Pound, Rice and Swope, said they were in favor of such a measure.
Swope, who described himself as an NRA card-carrying Democrat, said studies have shown that states with open carry laws have less crime.
"I am definitely in favor of the responsible ownership of firearms and protecting the Second Amendment," Swope said. "If people show, prove that they have gun control, if they know how to use the weapon, understand the laws, show a proficient use, then I think they should be allowed to carry it."
Rice said Florida has had an open carry law for nearly 100 years and, "We didn’t have any of the horrible things" that people against the policy said will happen.
The only candidate who did not support open carry policies is Gualtieri. He said that when he is walking through a grocery store or sitting down to dinner at a restaurant he does not want to have to see guns out in public.
"I’m not in favor of it," he said. "I don’t want to be in Publix and see three guys walk through the aisle and seeing guns strapped to their hips. We are a civilized society."
Rice and Gualtieri took each other to task over what each candidate perceived as inaccuracies with the fliers.
Gualtieri said Rice's flier says one thing about immigration, and now he's saying another.
Rice said Gualtieri’s campaign has been misleading Pinellas residents by saying he has "come up through the ranks."
"He was never promoted to any rank," Rice said. "He never even got promoted ... and for him to put in this flier, 'up through the ranks,' that’s just a falsehood."
Gualtieri responded by saying he has been a police officer, patrol deputy, general counsel, deputy sheriff and now interim sheriff.
"That is 'up through the ranks' as far as I am concerned," Gualtieri said.
Tuesday night's debate was sponsored by Patch, the National Armed Services & Law Enforcement Memorial Museum and Bay News 9. It was held at the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater Octagon Arts Center.