TRINITY – In the waning days of the campaign, two Republican candidates seeking to succeed House Speaker Richard Corcoran representing District 37 made a rare joint appearance before the West Pasco Republican Club Tuesday evening.
In doing so, businessman Ardian Zika and prosecutor Elle Rudisill publicly differentiated themselves on a key issue – economic incentives for industrial recruitment.
Rudisill supports them, saying they aid in the effort to bring jobs to the area. Zika, parroting Corcoran, called incentives "corporate welfare" that puts government in the business of picking winners and losers.
Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott spent much of the 2017 legislative session battling over financing for the state's economic development and tourism agencies.
Zika, despite his stance, has the personal endorsement of Bill Cronin, president and CEO of Pasco's Economic Development Council.
"Incentives sometimes are considered a necessary evil," Cronin said Wednesday. "If we didn't offer incentives, we would be at a disadvantage. It would be like nuclear disarmament. We wouldn't have them, but everybody else still would."
Under the rules Tuesday, candidates were allowed to give three-minute presentations and answer up to five questions from audience members. Nobody threw any sharp elbows.
"Keep it positive. Stay in your own lane," cautioned Anne Carona, club president.
Zika said he would not vote to repeal the controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law, while Rudisill said she could not comment publicly because of her role as an assistant state attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit.
Rudisill said she believed the state budget could be trimmed of waste to help increase funding for education and a tax increase would only be a last resort. Zika countered, "No raising taxes, period." He said education funding would increase as the state's economy grew to produce higher-paying jobs and additional sales tax revenues.
Club member Alan Berberich, pointing to Rudisill's focus on public safety and her work as a prosecutor, lobbed the easiest question of the night.
"Why would (anybody) not vote for you?" he asked.
The event at the Heritage Springs Country Club was just the second time Rudisill and Zika had appeared at the same forum. Zika did not attend similar functions scheduled by the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, the Pasco Republican Executive Committee and the Central Pasco Republican Club.
Ryan Patrick Boney, the third Republican in the race, did not attend Tuesday. House District 37 includes portions of central and west Pasco and is bordered approximately by Ehren Cutoff in Land O' Lakes and Little Road in west Pasco.
Early voting continues through Saturday. Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 28.