State and County Candidates Focus on the Economy at Largo Forum

All state and county candidates in contested central Pinellas races were invited to a breakfast candidate forum on Thursday, according to the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce.

Fourteen candidates in contested state, county and one federal race came and shared their message in four minutes with a packed room on Oct. 11 in Largo.

The Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce hosted the candidate forum at Largo Medical Center's Bilgore Conference Center. Candidates for Largo City Commission spoke at the last chamber forum on Sept. 26.

Many of the candidates focused on the effect of the economy on Pinellas County and the need for job creation.

  • Pinellas County Sheriff

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (incumbent) shared the challenges of cutting his department's budget due to the current economy. Despite the cuts the focus remains on public safety and crime is down 12 percent, Gualtieri said. 

"We have had to make a lot of hard decisions that are sometimes unpopular. We just can't do it the same way, we don't have the same funds. We are a much leaner agency," Gualtieri said.

Scott Swope (challenger) said crime was down overall in Florida and he would do a better job getting the arrested off of the streets.

He said he would add several programs back to the sheriff's budget including the fugitive task force, which serves arrest warrants, the DUI enforcement squad, the human trafficking task force detective and the cold case homicide detective.

Neil Brickfield (incumbent) said he would continue to save money in the county through consolidation and greater efficiency.

Brickfield said he would focus on core services the county does best, if the county can't do the service best then he would hire someone else to do the service. He would collaborate with cities in the county and work on job creation.

Janet Long (challenger) said she would leverage her experiences on Seminole City Council, the state legislature and assisting Hurricane Andrew victims to make decisions and understand the county budget.

She said "the big elephant in the room" was how to manage county fire and emergency management services. She emphasized the need to cut out duplicative services and stressed the importance of leadership and common sense.

Nancy Bostock (incumbent) said the county faces some economic challenges. She has focused on high quality essential services and greater efficiencies.

Bostock said its important for citizens to check her voting record as she has voted against some controversial legislation the board has passed. She said its important to prioritize services that effect quality of life like law enforcement and sewers.

Charlie Justice (challenger) said strong neighborhoods and smart, effective government is important. He said fluoride should be returned to the drinking water and said the county commission went "backwards" with that decision. He said creative thinking is needed to provide EMS, transportation and senior services.

Justice said he would make "decisions that are right for all of us, not just the loudest voice in the room." 

Janet Clark (incumbent) stressed the importance of "creating a culture of success and an excellent education for every student."

Clark shared gains in improving individual classrooms by spending more money in the school's budget on each classroom. She also said more school decisions are now "site-based" instead of from top down.

Clark also reminded people to vote on the school referendum, which is at the bottom of the ballot. 

Elliott Stern (challenger) is a retired Raymond James executive and volunteer at an underperforming school, which he helped turn around. He said he is running because he is passionate about improving opportunities for children. He said he already has a legacy and is not running as a stepping stone for higher office.

"Every child should have the opportunity to be a life long learner. Every child should have the ability to be a life long earner," he said.

  • State Representative, District 66: Larry Ahern (Republican), Mary Louise Ambrose (Democrat)

Ahern (incumbent) focused his remarks on business, balancing the budget without raising taxes, lowering taxes for small businesses and taking the burden of unemployment compsentation off of small business owners.

"Its tough telling people no, we don't have  money for that. The consequences are hard. ... Our state is on the right path to come out of this. We will be bigger better and stronger than we have ever been," Ahern said.

Ambrose (challenger) focused on quality jobs, creating a successful work force for the 21st Century, repairing the tax system, stopping unfunded mandates and lessening the tax burden on the middle class.

"I am running because I think the government (in Tallahassee) is broken. Special interests are winning, the people of Florida are losing," Ambrose said.

  • State Representative, District 67: Ed Hooper (Republican), Ben Farrell (Democrat)

Only Farrell spoke at the forum, and the Clearwater resident shared his experience of owning manufacturing companies. He  focused on education and job creation. 

"My idea is to go to small business owners, find out what its going to take hire one, two people ... middle class jobs provide money for spending," Farrell said.

  • State Representative, District 68: Frank Farkas (Republican), Dwight Dudley (Democrat), Matthew D. Weidner (no party affiliation)

Only Dudley spoke at the forum and shared the need for education for students to get jobs in growing fields such as science, technology, and medicine. The St. Petersburg resident attacked his opponent's vote to allow a utility to charge consumers for nuclear power plant construction regardless if the plants are complete. He focused on the needs of regular Floridians over special interests.

"Why are citizens paying for that?" Dudley asked. "This is emblamatic of special interests at the table."

  • State Senate, District 20: Jack Latvala (Republican), Ashley M. Rhodes-Courter (Democrat)

Only Latvala (incumbent) attended the forum. He focused on economic development, government consolidation and job creation targeted at "industry specific needs."

"All of us politicians talk about jobs. I (would work) with specific industries in Pinellas County to add new employees," he said.

  • : C.W. Bill Young (Republican), Jessica Ehrlich (Democrat)

Only Ehrlich (challenger) spoke at the forum. She also focused on investing in the middle class and research and development to foster job creation.

"Its simply time for a change. We need a fresh approach. This is the most unproductive Congress ... (we need to be) focused on our future. How do we see the future of Pinellas County and Florida? We need a balanced approach, cutting waste, investing in the middle class, investing in research and development to make America a new economic leader," Ehrlich said.

For more information check the Largo Election Guide.

Tina Marie October 15, 2012 at 07:38 PM
I found the forum to be very informational and a great idea. It was surprising however that some of the incumbents chose not to be present. Nonetheless overall I personally am now a more informed voter on local candidates and was happy to share flyers and my notes with my neighbors who could not attend. I can honestly say the most disturbing item mentioned was the prior removal of the Fugitive Task Force in Pill-nellas County. It sure explains a lot as Candidate Swope put eloquently : (not verbatim) "Convicted felons with warrants (to the number of 15K in Pinellas Co.) are unemployable due to felony status, what do you think they're doing out there on the streets? (55K total open warrants in Pinellas County) AND... no task force to pursue them. " While I understand budgetary constraints; bring back the task force and get these idiots off the street!


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