TAMPA — In the final scheduled debate among Mark Bircher, David Jolly and State Rep. Kathleen Peters, the three Republicans in the District 13 Congressional primary faced a few curve balls Friday night on the WEDU program “Florida Today.
Debate host Rob Lorei asked about issues that haven’t been explored much during prior campaign events but will likely come up for the primary winner before the March 11 general election against Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby.
The Pinellas County district sits on a peninsula where flood insurance and coastal erosion are major issues. While the three have expressed concern about insurance hikes imposed by the National Flood Insurance Program, none has discussed their skepticism toward sea-level rise until Friday.
Peters and Bircher brushed off Lorei’s question about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s sea-level rise calculations. Peters said she wasn’t sure about it, and Bircher said he would like to see more sound science beyond the research that already exists.
“The first thing I would do is get a scientific, peer-reviewed, absolutely scientific study. I think that’s a little hard to do right now,” he said. “If that threat is there and reasonable, we would be electing our local, state politicians to find out how we’re going to address that.”
Jolly agreed that state and local governments should deal with it.
“I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government to address it,” he said.
The three each had conservative perspectives on Medicaid expansion — none of them would have supported it — and a federal minimum wage, which they also wouldn’t support.
“I believe the free market needs to determine that,” Peters said.
Jolly also got an opportunity to defend himself against a week’s worth of accusations that he lobbied in support of a bill that pushed for offshore drilling, something none of the candidates say they support. Co-moderator Adam Smith of The Tampa Bay Times asked Jolly about paperwork suggesting he lobbied for it, a charge Jolly flatly denied.
“I did not fill out paperwork saying I lobbied for offshore drilling,” he said. “The disclosure (form) doesn’t say I lobbied for it, or against it, or if I took a position on it. If I had opposed that bill, I would have had to fill out the same form.”
Peters, despite being engaged in a fierce campaign message war with Jolly, did not attack his claim, instead pointing to her own record.
The candidates have three days more to reach out to potential voters. The primary is Tuesday, but thousands have already voted by absentee ballot or at early voting polling places. The winner will move on to the general election to fill a seat that has been held by Republicans for six decades and is being closely watched nationally.