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House candidates trade barbs in heated debate

They shook hands and smiled at each other when they arrived, but by the end of an hourlong debate, the two candidates for the District 47 state House of Representatives seat barely were talking to each other. "He's the master of insinuation and innuendo," an angry Rep. Chuck Smith, the Democratic incumbent from Brooksville, said of Republican challenger Dean Beagle at the end of the debate Monday. "He hasn't come up with a single fact yet."

Smith cried foul several times during the forum, sponsored by the Hernando County Democratic Executive Committee, saying he did not get a chance to rebut Beagle's accusations.

Beagle accused Smith of everything from conflict of interest to doing a lousy job as the chairman of the House Environmental Regulation Committee.

"When people read reports and see contributions to (Smith) from these different oil interests ... and then they see that he was only one of five (representatives) to vote against a ban on offshore drilling, people start to have questions," Beagle said at during the debate.

Smith, who operates a petroleum company, said he voted against approving the ban because "it was a piece of junk, pure election hypocrisy."

"The bottom line is that the oil will come out of the Gulf of Mexico or out of Brooksville," said Smith, 62. "It (oil) will eventually come from wherever it is."

Beagle also accused Smith of kowtowing to large political action committees (PACs) _ some based outside the District 47 counties of Hernando and parts of Pasco and Sumter _ and ignoring people in the district.

Through the end of last month, Smith had received nearly $70,000 in campaign contributions, most of it from PACs and corporations. Beagle had received a little more than $5,000, most from individuals.

"It's rather interesting to me that we now call our neighbors special-interest groups," Smith said. "All they are doing is pooling their money instead of giving me $10 apiece. And I'm not soliciting it like (Beagle) is."

One thing Beagle and Smith did agree on _ kind of _ during the debate was that the state needs to reform its tax structure.

"We do need tax reform," said Beagle, a 61-year-old Brooksville businessman and former minister, "but I think we need more than that. We need spending reform in the Legislature."