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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tussle in Tallahassee: Al Lawson, Steve Southerland debate

25

October

News Service of Florida:

Democrat Al Lawson and U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland jousted in their only televised debate, disagreeing about nearly every issue except for money for areas along the Gulf coast hurt by the 2010 BP oil spill.

The battle for Southerland's Second Congressional District seat, which he won by beating seven-term Democratic Congressman Allen Boyd in 2010, has drawn increasing attention and money from both parties as they vie for control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Democrats need a 25-seat gain nationwide to wrest the House from the GOP.Southerland's internal campaign polls show him ten points ahead in the Northwest Florida district, while Lawson's show the race tied.

The district includes Panama City, Southerland's home, and Tallahassee, where Lawson lives. It is roughly 40 percent rural.

When Lawson was asked the first debate question, about bringing compromise to Congress, the 28-year state legislator said he'd served in leadership posts under three Republican governors.

"The reason I had those leadership positions is because of my ability to work across party lines," he said. "In order for you to get something done today and to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, you’ve got to have the ability to work across party lines. Unlike my opponent over here, the congressman voted 93 percent of the time with his party. And that is unacceptable if you really want to get things done."

Next Southerland was asked about an ad paid for by a PAC allied with Lawson, claiming Southerland is "out of touch with North Florida, wants to dismantle the Department of Education, cutting Florida education funding, putting a college education out of reach for many and at the same time, voting to gut Medicare, forcing seniors to pay thousands more in order to give the wealthy another tax cut."

"Totally false," Southerland responded. "Because I've done exactly what I promised I would do. I would return and protect the freedoms of the American people and make sure that our personal liberties and our personal freedoms were paramount and restored. And there's people inside Washington D.C. – especially those like Nancy Pelosi – who don't like me very much because of that."

The sparring continued throughout the short debate, with the two men disagreeing on nearly every issue – except the importance of seeing to it that RESTORE Act funding, passed by Congress this summer for the five Gulf Coast states that suffered most in the BP oil spill, is not diverted by a U.S. Justice Department settlement with the company.

And even then, Southerland claimed authorship of the bill, while Lawson said Southerland had initially voted against it.

"The desperation of my opponent is glaring," Southerland said. "To say that Steve Southerland voted against the Restore Act – an act I authored – is laughable."

They also clashed over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – known as "Obamacare" – which Lawson supports and Southerland voted against.

As the debate ended, Southerland got the last question, about the embargo with Cuba, which he called essential "as long as Fidel [Castro] and his brother are there."

[Last modified: Thursday, October 25, 2012 3:05pm]

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