PORT RICHEY — The two candidates seeking to succeed Mike Fasano in the state House of Representatives differ on their health care views, but both support the Second Amendment and both agree that alternatives need to be found for homeowners who have policies with Citizens Property Insurance.
“Citizens was the insurance of last resort,” Republican Bill Gunter said Friday morning as he and Democrat Amanda Murphy met in what was billed as an “informal debate.” “It’s become the only resort for most people.”
Gunter said legislation is needed that would help open up the free market for homeowners insurance, which would lower rates and spread risk.
Murphy also said that Florida needs to find ways to get major insurance companies competing in the state again. She said the state can’t continue to push Citizens policy holders into small startup insurance companies because those companies won’t have the money to cover the claims in a major catastrophe.
“We do have a huge, huge problem, and Citizens is in the center of this,” she said.
The Friday morning match-up between Gunter and Murphy was part of a breakfast hosted by the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce. The debate, moderated by Bruce Mills, past chairman of the chamber, featured a wide-ranging list of questions that covered such issues as tax cuts, affordable housing and business development.
Gunter and Murphy will meet in a special election Oct. 15 to determine who will take over for Fasano in the District 36 seat. Fasano left the post when Gov. Rick Scott appointed him Pasco County’s tax collector.
In opening remarks, Murphy said she has lived in west Pasco more than 30 years, and she worries that things aren’t as affordable for working families as once was the case.
“That’s an issue for me,” said Murphy, who is a vice president of investments for Raymond James Financial Services.
Gunter, an ordained pastor, grew up in Bradenton, played football at the University of Florida and has lived in Pasco for 11 years. He said through his ministry work and through his experiences growing up that he understands the economic troubles many families face.
“I know what it is to be poor,” he said. “I know what it is to see my parents struggle.”
Gunter said he supports providing health insurance to those who can’t insure themselves, but he said the issue is how to do that and “not destroy Florida’s economy” or turn over the state budget to the federal government.
He sided with state legislators who turned down federal dollars that would have expanded Medicaid and provided health coverage for about 1 million Floridians. Fasano, a Republican, had favored accepting the money for the Medicaid expansion, which is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.”
Gunter said he is too skeptical of the federal government to do that.
“With Medicaid expansion, you are asking everyone to trust the national government to come through,” Gunter said.
He said what is needed is to “put health care choices back in the hands of citizens.”
Murphy, though, said the state should accept the money to expand Medicaid, noting that while there may be issues with the Affordable Care Act, it is now “the plan we have.”
“These are our tax dollars we could be using them to help the working poor,” she said.
Both candidates declared themselves supporters of the Second Amendment to the Constitution and also supporters of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which says residents don’t have a duty to retreat and can use deadly force if they fear their lives are in danger.
“Every citizen has the right to protect themselves,” Gunter said. “I would never do anything to keep people from having that right.”
Murphy said she knows how to shoot and taught her children.
“I sleep with my gun,” she said. “If you try to break into my home, there will be problems.”
Asked what legislation she would propose to revitalize business in west Pasco, Murphy said problems with infrastructure and education loom as obstacles for Pasco in luring businesses. She said government needs to invest in improving both.
Gunter agreed that poor infrastructure is a problem and he added crime to the equation, saying that the next representative needs to bring state dollars to law enforcement agencies in Pasco so they can fight the pill epidemic, prostitution and other crimes.
“When we start cleaning up our streets, we can start drawing businesses here,” he said.