The couple is in the kitchen. The woman sits at the table, pointing at a computer in dismay. The man stands in the background, by the stove.
The woman looks unpleasantly surprised, like she just found out her bank account was overdrawn. The man's arms are outstretched, palms open toward the ceiling, a gesture that conveys something along the lines of How can that be?
This scene of domestic distress is splashed on political advertisements mailed across northern Pinellas County's state House District 65 this month, under the words "Does Carl Zimmermann really want a state INCOME TAX?"
Zimmermann, the Democrat challenging incumbent Republican Peter Nehr for the third time, says he does not support a state income tax and never has. The ad, he says, is based on a statement he made several years ago that has been twisted.
But that's not what the ad says.
"It's true, Carl Zimmermann actually favors a state income tax!" it says, citing a web address.
The website is not active. The ad was paid for by the Republican Party of Florida. Brian Burgess, state GOP communications director, said the party has a printed, time-stamped document from that website from June 2008.
"Zimmerman replied to a question asking, 'Would you support a constitutional amendment allowing a progressive state income tax if it replaced revenue from, and lowered, the state sales and local property taxes?' Burgess wrote in an e-mail.
"His response indicated that he would support amending the state constitution to start taxing personal income because he believed it was 'more stable' and 'fairer.' He did, however, acknowledge that it wasn't worth pursuing because nobody would support it."
When asked for a copy of the document, Burgess said, "I'm not inclined to provide it."
"I don't want to get into the habit of providing the slippery answers that Democrats use to try to flip-flop their way out of the positions they took in the past," Burgess wrote.
Zimmerman, 61, a journalism teacher at Countryside High School, says he made the statement during a phone interview by a survey group in 2006, when he ran against Nehr for the first time. Zimmermann says he doesn't remember who was doing the interview, but he disputes the question.
Zimmermann says he was asked if he knew the difference between a progressive tax and a regressive tax. Zimmermann says his definition of a progressive tax — which imposes a higher tax rate as the amount taxed increases — has been clipped and misinterpreted as support for a state income tax.
Zimmermann lost close races to Nehr in 2006 and 2008, and he says the income tax issue has plagued him. He frequently meets people on the campaign trail who ask him why he supports an income tax.
"The best thing they've been able to come up with against me is half a sentence … twisted out of context," Zimmermann said this week. "But it's effective. People are afraid of taxes."
Three-term incumbent Nehr, 60, said it's hypocritical of Zimmermann to complain about negative ads when he's passing out fliers that mention Nehr's two bankruptcies and accuse him of desecrating the American flag, a charge Nehr denies. In 2008, Nehr pointed out, Zimmermann mailed ads accusing Nehr of voting to make U.S. 19 a toll road, which was untrue.
"These are things that people in these races do," Nehr said.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.