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District 66 candidates show little interaction, differing opinions at Tiger Bay



Candidates for Florida House District 66 were at odds over pretty much everything at a Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon Wednesday.

Audience members asked questions to Republican incumbent Larry Ahern and his Democrat opponent Lorena Grizzle about topics ranging from medical marijuana to guns to Medicaid expansion. District 66 includes parts of Seminole, Clearwater and Largo as well as beach communities from Indian Shores to Belleair Beach.

Chris Latvala, the District 67 incumbent running for re-election, and Kathleen Peters, a Republican running to reclaim her District 69 seat, were also in attendance. Their opponents, David Vogel and Jennifer Webb, respectively, were absent.

Grizzle is a special education teacher and the daughter of Mary Grizzle, the first Republican woman elected to the Florida Legislature. She ran unsuccessfully against Ahern in 2014.

She relied on personal examples to address several of her points, mentioning her sister’s death in her support for Medicaid expansion. She died of renal failure after urinary tract infection got out of hand because she was unemployed and didn’t have access to insurance.

In her support of Amendment 2 to legalize medical marijuana, she brought up the example of a student who had seizures and died who she believes could’ve been helped by marijuana treatment.

“Yes, I do (support it) because I think it’s the only way it’s going to get through,” she said of the amendment.

Ahern, however, said he is against it because amendments don’t provide definitions, leaving the language up to interpretation.

When it comes to Medicaid, Ahern said he would continue working for solutions with private insurance companies so Floridians can have “regular, real insurance like you and I have.”

On a question about how the candidates would address assault weapons in light of the Orlando shooting, Grizzle said she would support a ban. Ahern said he wasn’t sure banning weapons is the best option.

“We know it’s a Second Amendment right,” he said. “It’s not something that we will take lightly.”

He had an equally vague answer about open carry of guns, saying he would keep his options open. Grizzle said she’s against it.

Throughout the discussion, the candidates barely addressed each other, other than two instances when Grizzle called out her opponent over campaign contributions.

During a question about whether recent sewage spills or a sinkhole at the Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry pose a bigger risk to Florida’s environment, she pointed out that Ahern had accepted $500 from the Florida Phosphate Political Committee. Its website lists Mosaic as one of its member companies.

Another audience member asked whether the candidates had accepted money from the National Rifle Association or insurance companies. Both candidates initially said they didn’t, but Ahern changed his answer after Grizzle said he should check on his insurance contributions.

He said he had taken money from State Farm, referring to a $1,000 donation from Florida Agents for Insurance Reform, a Tallahassee-based political action committee. Ahern said he thought the questioner was referring to gun insurance.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 28, 2016 5:50pm]


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