PBCTP and SF912 Jointly Host State Senate Forum

Full Video
by Boris Balaban

On July 10, the Palm Beach County Tea Party and South Florida 912 jointly sponsored a candidate forum for the State Senate Republican primary candidates in district 25 and 34. (click for district description.) Moderated by local radio personality Joyce Kaufman, the three candidates were asked ten questions of state-wide interest. Unlike our similar forum for the County Commission, the candidates were not given the questions to ponder in advance. The result was answers with less depth, but it did differentiate the candidates on their familiarity and grasp of the issues. Below you will find a summary of the event, with the questions, their answers, and a link to a video of that section of the forum.

Melanie Peterson
District 25

Geoff Sommers
District 25

Mike Lameyer
District 34
Click on the candidate’s picture for a short Bio

With three candidates participating, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that Melanie Peterson and Geoff Sommers are direct competitors and Mike Lameyer is in a different race against incumbent Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff who was unable to attend the event because of scheduling conflicts. So let’s first stipulate that Mike did a solid job. His answers were on point and he demonstrated a good grasp of the issues. Senator Bogdanoff is an excellent debater and a policy insider, but one could imagine Mike holding his own in a one-on-one if she had been able to attend. He had many facts and figures at his fingertips, and showed his passion for hot-button issues like e-Verify. The experience he gained in his 2010 run for S27 was evident in his confidence and command of the facts. Some notable answers were in prison privatization (“send them back to road patrol”) and FRS reform (“state workers should pay their own way”).

In the S25 contest, it will be an uphill battle for either of the contenders to best Joe Abruzzo in this D+12 district. Joe is an experienced legislator, with support on both sides of the aisle. It will take polish and depth to compete effectively.

On that basis, this was Melanie Peterson’s night to shine. She answered the questions directly with no attempt at deflection, and drew from her experience to add depth and real context to the answers. On the gambling question, she related her time managing Indian gaming as part of a family business to the more subtle aspects of the issue like crime and security. On the Energy bill question, she jumped from crony capitalism to a discussion of incentives for all businesses, not just those favored by certain legislators. And then she hit a home run by deflecting what was a zinger by Geoff Sommers on her support for a wind farm in the Glades (“where there is no wind”), by pointing out that it was a private sector project, with private funding and she would always be in favor of businesses coming to the Glades to spend money, even if the project was a risk to the private investors.

Geoff Sommers did a credible job. On most of the issues he had similar positions to the other two – supporting the Governor on fighting Obamacare, against crony capitalism, and supporting school choice. One interesting answer was that gambling should be expanded within the framework of existing licenses. Geoff, who has less campaigning experience than the other two, came across earnest and sincere, and he held his own. He gave conservative answers to the questions, which pleased the audience, and would likely represent us well if elected.

The event at Boca Greens Country Club was well attended, and quite a few other candidates joined us, including: Cesar Henao (Congressional district 21 Independent), Joe Talley (County Sheriff), Fran Hancock and Cindy Tindell (State Committeewoman), and James O’Hara (State House district 81).

Question 1: Governor Scott has reacted to the loopholes introduced by the Supreme Court decision to announce that the state will not participate in the Medicaid expansion estimated to cost the state close to $2B a year, or implement the exchanges. He will need the Legislature behind him to win this fight – how will you approach this issue if you are elected, and how should the Governor counter the drumbeat to accept the “free” federal funding associated with Obamacare?
Melanie Peterson: I stand with the Governor, willing to go door to door to convince other legislators why it is the best for Florida, it is an egregious attack on our civil liberties

Geoff Sommers: Of course I stand with the Governor, medicaid expansion would go from $3M in 2012 to $5M in 2016, support free market in insurance.

Mike Lameyer: Agree with the Governor – taxpayer would be on the hook for over $1B just in the first year, need to educate the public on just how expensive this legislation is.
Question 2: In the 2011 session, the Governor proposed raising the amount that participants in the state pension system pay to 5% from 0, ending cost of living adjustments of 3% / year, raising the retirement age, and reducing the rate that benefits accumulate. Under great pressure from the unions, the legislature passed a watered-down bill which only requires 3% contributions and minimizes other changes. The system is still not 100% funded, and is a long term problem for the state, and union lawsuits may rollback even these modest changes. What would you propose to put the Florida Retirement System on a sustainable path?
Melanie Peterson: $300M was added this year to the pension fund, $120M for actuarial funding, disappointed that 3% contribution was rejected by the Supreme Court, would like to resurface that in some way, appreciates public service of employees but they should not get better benefits than private sector. (Editors Note – Actually, only a circuit court invalidated the 3% contribution, the Supreme court will take it up in September)

Geoff Sommers: Supports private accounts, state workers should not be paid more than private sector, retirements should not be paid by taxpayers, private accounts only way consistent with free markets.

Mike Lameyer: State workers should pay for their own pensions like in the private sector, we were misled, state pension system is broke, taxpayers should not have the responsiblity to pay for 100% of someone elses retirement.
Question 3: The Governor and Senate Leaders proposed a major privatization of the Florida prison system this year, expecting long term savings, but the bill was defeated in the Senate 21-17 as several Republicans voted against it. The concept is likely to return in the next session – how will you approach the issue?
Melanie Peterson: Crime is now at an all time low, no excuse not to defund our prisons and privatize what we can – behind this issue 100%

Geoff Sommers: State should privatize anything the private sector can do better than government.

Mike Lameyer: Support the Governor, those working in the prisons can go back to road patrol where many came from, also should privatize anything that can be done cheaper and more efficiently by private industry.
Question 4: HB7117 became law earlier this year, giving state tax credits to green energy companies. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam pushed the bill, saying it was a step toward “smart, long-term energy policy”, but the Heartland Institute and Americans for Prosperity called it a “crony energy bill”, which has the government picking winners and losers. The entire Palm Beach delegation except for Joe Negron voted for this bill. What would you have done?
Melanie Peterson: We should be promoting energy independence here in Florida, but shouldn’t single out single industry for tax incentives – have them for all industries

Geoff Sommers: My opponent supported a wind turbine project in the Glades (where there is no wind) -that’s crony capitalism.Melanie responds: Proud of that resolution – its private land, private enterprise, company investing $350M in the western county where we have 40% poverty levels, don’t care if they lose their money because there is no wind, they are making the investment.

Mike Lameyer: Studies say if we fully exploited our natural resources in Florida it wold create 250K high paying jobs in the first 24 months, should not pick winners and losers like Obama did with Solyndra.
Question 5: SB1550, the “vouchers for all” plan for education savings accounts sponsored by Senator Joe Negron, would provide a pot of public school money that parents could use to pay for private schools, homeschooling, or pre-paid college plans. It died in committee this year but may return in a future session. Would you support this or a similar bill?
Melanie Peterson: Education system is broken, keep trying the same ideas, supports vouchers, charter schools are successful because they are privately administered – should we privatize our department of education? Try localizing our school systems because like politics, education is local.

Geoff Sommers: Parents should have the choice of how to educate their children, supports charter schools, we should not change the bar when schools are failing but fix the schools.

Mike Lameyer: Only way to correct education in the state is with a voucher program – let every parent send a child to the school of their choice, better than passing or failing teachers and students based on once a year test.
Question 6: In the last session, a bill to expand casino gambling in the state was defeated in committee. Some would say it would have been the “largest gambling expansion in Florida history” and bring in the wrong kind of tourism. Others saw it as a way to expand convention business in South Florida and elsewhere, competing with Orlando, whose legislators strongly opposed the move. How did you view the proposal and how would you approach it if it comes back in a future session?
Melanie Peterson: Managed casino operation for family business, providing equipment to Indian casinos, they do it well and pay taxes on their operations even though they don’t have to, they handle crime better on reservation land because they have different laws, would support if constituents want it.

Geoff Sommers: Opposed to gambling personally, but don’t like the way current law favors one group over another – not good for business, could expand gambling in a moderate way through existing licenses.

Mike Lameyer: Against gambling personally, but should be local issue. Nationwide, gambling is also associated with higher levels of all types of crime, every job a casino creates, loses 1.8 in the surounding community, make sure constituents educated on all aspects before voting on gambling.
Question 7: Do you support e-Verify? Yes or No.
Melanie Peterson: Against illegal immigration, but we can’t put Florida at a disadvantage compared to other states, rather have guest worker program after closing our borders, push federal government to do its job, stop providing state benefits to illegals

Geoff Sommers: If e-Verify is the option given to us by the federal government, then we must use it.

Mike Lameyer: Federal immigration code allows local law enforcement to ask for status, e-Verify works, without it will spend $5M to support illegals each year, need proof of citizenship for food stamps, housing or medicare.
Question 8: American’s for Prosperity, in their “Five for Florida” program, proposes eliminating the corporate income tax and all targeted tax credits and exemptions to get government out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace. Is this a workable approach? Would you make any exceptions to the plan?
Melanie Peterson: Agree, and need to hold down spending, support amendment 4 (Smart cap), need to eliminate waste

Geoff Sommers: It is a workable approach, have signed the pledge, corporate tax is about $2B out of $70B budget – can make up by attracting new businesses,

Mike Lameyer: Auto companies have come to US states with favorable tax climates and Florida wasn’t in the discussion, would change that
Question 9: The Governor vetoed $143M in this year’s $70M budget of projects that he said did not benefit the state as a whole or weren’t worth the money. They included a Bay of Pigs museum in Miami, the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and other projects favored by local legislators. Was this appropriate? Shouldn’t a legislator be able to spend state money on favored projects in their district?
Melanie Peterson: Some of these projects are ridiculous, shouldn’t be asking the legislature for that kind of money when people are suffering,

Geoff Sommers: Cut fraud waste and abuse, not the time for “bringing home the bacon”, lower taxes and send back to the people

Mike Lameyer: Government shouldn’t be taking your or my tax dollars and giving it to others for any reason, no more government financing of private industry – they can stand on their own.
Question 10: Citizens Insurance, once the insurer of last resort for those in coastal communities, has greatly expanded inland and is now the largest home insurer in the state, crowding out private insurance. Since Citizen’s liabilities fall back on the taxpayer in a catastrophic claim event like a major hurricane, the Governor would like to reduce its size and exposure. What is the proper role for Citizen’s in the state and what should be its future?
Melanie Peterson: Last year Citizens paid $2.4B in litigation alone, main problem is our risk mitigation model, rate modeling is ridiculous – most of claims are in the north part of state but highest premiums are in south, companies are undercapitalized, need tort reform to reduce litigation.

Geoff Sommers: Support the de-population of Citizens, bring back private insurance by encouraging them to write policies, get the state off the hook for a catastrophic event.

Mike Lameyer: Citizens was bad idea when began, now and in the future, companies should be made to provide full range of insurance to operate, Citizens is example of what happens when government takes over industry

Some pictures from the event.

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