BROOKSVILLE — In the race for the 5th Congressional District seat, Democrat Jim Piccillo and Republican Sheriff Rich Nugent are talking a lot about hot-button issues like health care, Social Security, immigration and, of course, the economy.
They share some similar views, too. Neither likes the health care reform law much, though Nugent says he wants to repeal it, and Piccillo says he wants to help make it better. Neither man supports amnesty for illegal immigrants or the cap-and-trade emissions control policy. Both say Congress needs to stick to the pay-as-you-go method of financing.
Neither of the two men hoping to take over the seat held for eight years by Republican Ginny Brown-Waite is talking much about the social issues that typically divide the two parties. Some of these issues may be left to state legislatures, others decided by the courts, but the St. Petersburg Times asked both men where they stand on topics ranging from abortion to medical marijuana.
While there are some nuanced similarities in their views, there are stark differences, too.
Both men support capital punishment. Both oppose gay marriage, but Piccillo, 36, supports legally recognized civil unions. "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and I strongly believe that," Nugent said.
Nugent, 59, said he has never considered offering benefits for same-sex partners at the Sheriff's Office and probably never would. Piccillo said if he were in Nugent's place, he would make such an offer.
Nugent says Roe vs. Wade should be overturned but maintains that abortions should be allowed in the case of rape, incest or the health of the mother. Piccillo says the landmark case should stand, but he does not support late-term abortions unless the health of the mother is at risk.
Republicans last week blocked a Democratic effort to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military. Nugent, who served in the Illinois Air National Guard, said the current don't-ask-don't-tell policy seems to be working, and said the debate should await the outcome of a Pentagon survey of service members on the repeal.
"If it's not broken, why are you trying to fix something, other than for personal beliefs?" Nugent said.
Piccillo, an Army veteran who owns a small-business consulting firm, says the policy is fundamentally flawed and agrees with a sentiment offered by Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen.
"We have an oath that these men and women swear to their country, which includes honor and loyalty, but they need to lie about who they are," Piccillo said.
Asked whether he supports the rights of gay couples to adopt, Nugent would not offer a direct answer. He said the states should have control over the issue and that he would respect the decision of the courts.
An appeals court ruled last week that a 30-year-old Florida law that prohibits adoption by gay men and lesbians is unconstitutional. Piccillo contends that was the right call. "We shouldn't be using someone's sexual orientation to stereotype their abilities as parents," Piccillo said.
Creationism should not be taught in schools, said Piccillo, a Catholic. Nugent, a Christian, disagrees, saying he's comfortable with the theory being mentioned in science class.
"I think that's a positive thing to expose children to multiple ideas," Nugent said.
Nugent says he sees no problem with the federal government funneling tax dollars to faith-based groups to provide community service programs. Piccillo disagrees.
"I don't want the federal government involved with churches," he said.
Neither man supports the legalization of marijuana, but Piccillo said the decision should be left up to the states. He also supports medical marijuana if it's properly regulated, another decision that he maintains should be decided at the state level.
Medical marijuana is a sham, Nugent said. "It's another way to skirt around the system," he said. "You desensitize the public, and it's easier to legalize the drug."
Both agree the federal government needs to re-evaluate its strategy on the war on drugs. Nugent said more money needs to go to states to treat addiction, and Piccillo said too many dollars that could help local agencies with enforcement are going to fight drug wars in South America.
Piccillo and Nugent agree that the government needs to continue rooting out fraud and waste in the welfare program. And they agree with members of Congress who maintain that unemployment benefits should be subject to the pay-as-you-go philosophy, too.
"I'll go farther and say that for every $1 you spend, you should be looking at $1.25 in cuts," Piccillo said. "Then we can get our budget in line without taking a battle-ax to some of our programs."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.