Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

Democratic candidates say they have the right experience for Pinellas District 67

With all the money in politics, does anyone represent the regular guy?

The three Democratic candidates in the House District 67 race all say they would, and each claims the perspective comes from working-class roots.

Thomas Ryan works at a dairy, was happy when his salary got into the $30,000 range, and said "I think I'd be a voice for the poorer people, for the people who really struggle."

Steve Sarnoff is a Clearwater city employee and president of Communications Workers of America Local 3179. People from many occupations serve in the House, he said, "so it's only normal that we should have somebody from the unions."

Shawna Vercher said she has a diverse background, because she grew up in a "poor minority area" near a Texas refinery and now is regularly around wealthy and powerful people. This perspective "provides me with a wider lens with which to view a problem."

They're all running in District 67, which covers much of Clearwater and Largo except for the westernmost parts of the cities. The winner will go on to face the Republican nominee, either Chris Latvala or Christopher Shepard, for the open seat.

All three say they plan to vote for Greenlight Pinellas, the plan that calls for a one-cent increase in the sales tax to expand bus service and pay for a Pinellas rail system, and all plan to vote in favor of the statewide ballot initiative to allow use of medical marijuana.

Ryan, 61, a divorced father of five grown children, acknowledged he hasn't worked on campaigns or served on a lot of boards or neighborhood groups as candidates often do. With kids and work, he said he's been busy.

But he said his life experience would make him "a voice for the people who have lived from paycheck to paycheck, and I'd be a voice that wouldn't be shut."

He said he's not afraid to share his views. In his workplace, he said, "I'm the most dedicated liberal in the place." He thinks Obamacare didn't go far enough because he favors a single-payer system.

"Do away with the damn insurance companies," he said. "They're like the mafia at the doors of the clinic."

Ryan has an associate's degree from Illinois Central College, and has lived in the area for 25 years.

Sarnoff, 61, married with two grown daughters, has been a union organizer. So does that make him a one-issue candidate? No way, he said. He said even as a union man, he can meet face-to-face with management without rancor. Unions succeed by making coalitions with other groups, he added.

Sarnoff said education is the No. 1 issue. And on that point, he said he believes education should be "fully funded by whatever means necessary." He added that he does not support privatizing pubic schools, but if it occurs then privatized schools must be "held to the same exact standards as the public schools are," including teacher salaries.

Sarnoff attended the City College of New York and has lived in the Clearwater area for 27 years.

Vercher, 37, who is married and has one daughter, said "I'm the only candidate with a business degree and I'm running as a pro-business progressive."

She has a degree in management information systems from Florida State University. Vercher said some people have the idea "that if you're a Democrat and a progressive specifically that you don't understand how to run a business," but she said she aims to show otherwise.

Vercher's own business experience has been varied, and even made national news when she published a book written by an ex-NBA referee who got caught up in gambling. She was successfully sued by the author for nonpayment, lost a $1.5 million judgment and filed for bankruptcy but is appealing the ruling. Her bankruptcy is pending.

Legal matters are a main thrust of her campaign. She said she strongly believes the legal system needs to be reformed, and has written a book explaining why and how. However, some in the system have sharply disputed her account of what happened.

Vercher also said she is "absolutely opposed" to expanding offshore oil drilling near Florida's coastline. "I come from Galveston," she said. "Let me express to you the number of harmful things that can go wrong."

Ironically, the candidate who is in bankruptcy has raised the most campaign money: $23,503 for Vercher, $12,342 for Sarnoff and $2,772 for Ryan.

The primary is set for Aug. 26 and the general election will be Nov. 4. The winner will succeed Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, who cannot run again because of term limits. Hooper is running for a Pinellas County Commission seat.

Contact Curtis Krueger at [email protected] or (727) 892-8232. Follow @ckruegertimes.

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