TAMPA — Education, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Cuba policy dominated discussion at a Tiger Bay meeting Friday featuring candidates seeking to represent District 11 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Democrat Kathy Castor currently represents the district, which includes parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties.
The five candidates seeking to replace her highlighted the unemployment rate and housing crisis as reasons to vote her out of office.
Castor pointed out that many new jobs have come to the Tampa Bay area, including construction projects at the Tampa International Airport and MacDill Air Force Base. She also cast herself as someone willing to stand up to special interests, including BP after the Deep Horizon oil spill.
Republican Tony Buntyn, owner of a technology company, took the most extreme stance when answering questions about education programs, saying that the federal Education Department should be eliminated.
"Sending federal tax dollars to Washington just to get back 15 percent of that money is inefficient," he said. "So much bureaucracy is added on to that and brings no value back to the classroom."
All of Castor's opponents said education is best handled at the local and state level.
"When you need a problem solved in an elementary school in Temple Crest, the federal government is not going to be very effective at solving those problems," said Eddie Adams, owner of a residential design company.
Adams will face Buntyn; Tommy Castellano, who owns an air-conditioning business; and Mike Prendergast, an Army veteran, in the Republican primary.
Castor defended federal education programs, pointing out that Head Start, which prepares young children for school, is an example of an important federal education program.
"It doesn't mean Washington controls them," Castor said. "It means they provide those resources to Hillsborough County."
The candidates expressed sharply divided views on the country's policy toward Cuba.
Castor is the first Florida lawmaker to sign on to federal legislation that would lift all travel restrictions to the island nation, signaling her interest in a step-by-step approach to normalizing relations with Cuba.
Buntyn and Prendergast said they support the Cuba trade embargo. Castellano and Adams said they would like to see it end.
"The embargo we've had for all these years hasn't worked," Castellano said. "The only people who are suffering are the Cuban people themselves."
Tim Curtis, a tea party activist running as a Democrat against Castor in the primary, said if elected he would support continued financial backing for the 50,000 U.S. military advisers in Iraq.
Among the Republican candidates, only Castellano said 50,000 is too many advisers. And he went further, saying the United States should close some of its military bases in other countries.
Castor said that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are among the biggest contributors to the country's deficit. She voted against a supplemental appropriations bill for the war in Afghanistan because "it was not paid for," she said.
Defense spending, she said, needs to be re-examined, with resources directed to special operations instead of the conventional war machine.
"We need to modernize," she said.
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.