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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

We invited both Hillsborough County District 6 commission candidates to debate. One declined.



TAMPA — It has been tougher than expected to get the candidates for Hillsborough County’s open District 6 commission seat to get together for a debate or one-on-one forum.

The Bay Buzz learned that first hand this week.

We asked both Democrat Pat Kemp and Republican Tim Schock on Oct. 13, if they would sit down for a Facebook Live debate at our Tampa office. The plan was for our Hillsborough County reporter (the author of this post) to ask them both questions about issues facing Hillsborough and each would have an opportunity to respond to the questions and each other. Our large Facebook audience of 210,000 followers could watch the conversation live or catch an archived version at their convenience.

It was a relatively simple proposition. This being a very local race, we hoped we could pull it off without complicated negotiations. Both had come in to meet with the Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board without any issues. They answer phone calls directly when Times’ reporters have questions about their stances on various topics. It’s not as though they have large campaigns with many levels of bureaucracy — most of their campaign workers are volunteers — to make something happen.

And initially both candidates tentatively agreed to participate in a forum on Oct. 26.

However, while Schock confirmed the date and time, Kemp ultimately decided Tuesday she did not want to participate.

Kemp said she had never seen a Facebook Live debate before and wasn’t confident it could be executed properly.

“I’ll answer any questions but I’m not sure I feel comfortable in that format,” Kemp said.

She also said the timing would be too late in the election process — “Right now, 50,000 people have already voted,” she said — and that previous candidate forums have been sparsely attended. And Kemp noted that she agreed to participate in two other forums that Schock did not attend, last week’s Tiger Bay Club forum that included Kemp as well as candidates from other races and a League of Women Voters debate that didn’t materialize.

(The latter was cancelled in part because organizers thought both candidates would already be appearing at the Tiger Bay Club event. Schock has said that he told Tiger Bay from the start that their proposed date would not work for him and he asked for it be to rescheduled.)

When he learned the debate would not take place, Schock accused Kemp of ducking him.

“I can’t say I’m surprised but I really think the voters of Hillsborough County have a right to hear from the candidates,” Schock said. “The fact that she won’t debate, refuses to debate, and won’t schedule anything I think is really telling.”

[Last modified: Thursday, October 20, 2016 12:50pm]


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