LARGO — Republican congressional candidate David Jolly said Democrat Alex Sink's recent statement on immigrants was "disgusting" and should prevent her from serving.
"I think Alex Sink's comments reflect a bigotry that should disqualify her from representing the people of this community and should disqualify her from serving in the United States Congress," Jolly said at a news conference Thursday. "She offended immigrants throughout this community, she offended non-immigrant workers. She offended business owners. She offended every American that believes in the equality of people regardless of race, creed or color. I think it was a disgusting comment."
During a candidate debate on Tuesday, Sink was asked a question about immigration reform and said: "Immigration reform is important in our country. It's one of the main agenda items of the beaches chamber of commerce, for obvious reasons. Because we have a lot of employers over on the beaches that rely upon workers and especially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping? And we don't need to put those employers in the position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers."
Several Republican groups decried her comments, some calling it racist.
But Sink's campaign manager, Ashley Walker, said in a written statement, "This selectively chosen clip misrepresents Alex's full statement, which emphasized her commitment to giving hard-working people a chance to achieve the American Dream. Alex is the only candidate in the race who favors bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform." Walker was apparently referring to a partial video clip of Sink's comments that has circulated on the Internet.
Jolly's response came at a news conference to announce an endorsement from Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who also made news this week on immigration. Latvala introduced a bill that would give in-state tuition rates to children of undocumented immigrants.
Jolly, with Latvala at his side, was asked if he supported that bill. Jolly would not take a position, saying only, "I'm going to defer to the senator on the details of the bill."
Latvala had endorsed a different Republican candidate in the Jan. 14 primary, but on Thursday he explained his support for Jolly. Latvala said he believed Jolly agreed with him on Republican principles such as "a strong national defense, in fiscal responsibility and in personal liberty."
Latvala's son, Chris, a Republican legislative candidate, also appeared at the news conference. Pinellas Republican Commissioner Susan Latvala, who is divorced from Jack Latvala, has endorsed Sink.
Jack Latvala also said Jolly, as a longtime aide to the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, could be a big help to the local defense industry. Jolly was joined at the news conference by representatives of two local defense technology companies, SmartSat and Alakai Defense Systems, who said Jolly had been helpful to them and helped found a local contractors association.
Jolly, Sink and Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby are running for Pinellas County's open congressional seat in a March 11 special election.