Florida House 65 candidates, including incumbent Peter Nehr, engage in lively forum
By Will Hobson, Times Staff Writer
PALM HARBOR — Steve Fiske asked a question about Florida's education system and how to improve it. Marg Baker, one of four candidates challenging state Rep. Peter Nehr, answered. The federal government is the problem, she said.
"Wake up people!" the 71-year-old retiree shouted during Monday night's candidate forum at the Palm Harbor Library. "That's why old people know how to do math on their feet, and people who have just graduated can't add one and one or give you a dollar's change."
The federal government needs to get out of Florida education, Baker said, without explaining specifics.
"Except the Legislature is so d--- weak they won't do anything about it!" Baker said, and then turned and glared at Nehr. He looked back at Baker, who also ran against him in 2010.
Fiske, the moderator, took the microphone from Baker and politely asked her not to curse anymore.
Nehr, 60, is seeking a fourth and final term representing District 65 (formerly District 48), which covers much of northern Pinellas County, including Tarpon Springs, Dunedin and Palm Harbor. He lobbied the audience of about 40 people Monday for votes, while taking attacks from his three challengers in the Aug. 14 Republican primary and from Carl Zimmermann, the Democrat who will face the primary winner in the Nov. 6 general election.
The forum was sponsored by Tampa Bay Woman Newspaper. Fiske, the paper's publisher and a Palm Harbor resident, had his work cut out for him keeping candidates, particularly Baker, on topic and under time limits
Nehr touted his experience as a Tarpon Springs city commissioner and in the state House. He said he would sponsor a bill barring schools from selling anything with high fructose corn syrup. "They're selling foods through our schools that are literally destroying our children," he said.
Candidate Philip Tropea, 74, a Palm Harbor retiree, touted his work as a conservative activist in New York in the 1960s. He said he would speak up against lobbyists, particularly those for Florida-only homeowner's insurance companies. "We need representatives who are going to stand by the people and not work for the lobbyists," said Tropea, who has never previously run for elected office.
Another first-time candidate, Oldsmar's Tory Perfetti, said he'd focus on getting rid of illegal immigrants and building Florida's manufacturing base through tax breaks. Perfetti, 30, a second lieutenant in the Army National Guard, wants to require businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of their workers. "All you have to do is cut off the jobs magnet," Perfetti said, and illegal immigrants would leave.
Zimmermann, 61, a journalism teacher at Countryside High School, is running again after losing to Nehr in 2006 and 2008. The Democrat said he has several ideas that would draw bipartisan support, like an unemployment program that would provide internships for the jobless.
"In the six years since Mr. Nehr's been elected, there haven't been many problems solved," Zimmermann said. "It's not Mr. Nehr's fault, he's just part of the system. … I come up with solutions."
None of the candidates generated as much reaction from the crowd as Baker, though, who won 20 percent of the primary vote in 2010.
Baker criticized Nehr for his two previous bankruptcies. She also berated the audience for laughing when she talked about Agenda 21, which she said is a United Nations-led conspiracy that leads doctors to overprescribe medication to senior citizens, and when she questioned President Barack Obama's citizenship.
Baker is running as a Republican, but said the party is not conservative enough for her. She told the crowd she nearly switched to no party affiliation this week. She decided not to, though.
"It would have completely upset my electability," she said.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.