Senate District 19 candidates struggle to distinguish themselves at forum
Florida Senate District 19 candidates struggled to distinguish themselves at a Suncoast Tiger Bay forum Friday afternoon.
State Reps. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, touted their records and long lists of endorsements while political newcomer Augie Ribeiro cast himself as an outsider not tied down by political interests and campaign donations.
Former State Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, was not present, though a placard and meal were waiting for her at the head table.
It was hard to draw distinctions among the three men during the 75-minute panel, especially as the time was split with candidates running for House District 70. They all expressed similar stances on restoring rights for felons, instituting a complete ban on assault weapons, and concerns they have if Republican candidate Donald Trump is elected president.
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch asked each candidate to explain the pressing issue in the district, which crosses the bay and covers both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Narain highlighted Medicaid expansion as the most pressing issue while Ribeiro focused on education and Rouson said the district must find a way to build trust amongst such a diverse population.
Not only would Medicaid expansion help people afford health care, Narain said, but it would create jobs, as well.
“They can’t afford healthcare coverage on their own but they make too much to be subsidized,” Narain said. “We can cover people and we can get people working again.”
Ribeiro pointed to a continuous and systematic racial and social injustice that he said has lead to an achievement gap in education that must be addressed.
“We have to recognize the solutions being presented have fallen short,” Ribeiro said. “We will throw money at it, but we will not properly address it.”
Rouson took a more philosophical approach, saying the district first needed to build trust and collaboration amongst its diverse population.
“Education is important, jobs is important,” Rouson said. “But what will get us there is communication and trust between us.”