There's a 30-year congressman in the race for U.S. House District 11, but you couldn't find much incumbent-bashing in a debate Thursday night.
Instead, the three candidates vying for the seat focused on the issues of health care, taxes and the federal deficit. And while the two challengers to incumbent U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Tampa, were polite, they both made it clear they thought it was time for a change.
Republican Mark Sharpe, a former Navy intelligence officer, said he would have voted differently from Gibbons, a 15-term congressman, on issues ranging from school choice to welfare reform to luxury taxes.
"We've tried to target those people (for taxes) who were wealthy and we put the boat builders out of jobs," Sharpe said.
Independent Joe DeMinico, who has linked his campaign to Ross Perot's presidential effort, questioned why Gibbons didn't voluntarily refuse the substantial contributions he receives from political action committees.
Gibbons said most of his PAC money comes from people who
"live and work in Florida."
"PACs," he said, "are as American as apple pie."
Gibbons said his record showed exemplary service.
He noted that some politicians in Congress have been tainted by scandals, but that he has not. He and his wife, Martha, managed to balance their checkbook without bouncing checks, he said.
"I could balance the national budget if it were all up to me," Gibbons said.
To improve the economy, Gibbons said health-care costs must be brought under con-trol and the tax system changed.
Gibbons favors expanding the Medicare system to provide health care for all Americans. Sharpe and DeMinico don't. They agree on the need for a market-driven health-care plan and cost-containment measures.
DeMinico echoed a pledge made by Perot to slash the federal deficit.
"I would pledge to voters that if the deficit were not reduced to zero, I would not seek re-election after 1996," said DeMinico, a former military officer who described himself as a "fledgling businessman."
But Sharpe said deficit reduction must betaken "one step at a time" without breaking the backs of the most needy Americans.
"The people who are going to suffer are the people on fixed incomes," said Sharpe, who favors cutting the congressional budget as a symbolic first step.
When the candidates questioned each other, Gibbons quizzed Sharpe on his stance on abortion, a position Sharpe said he has struggled with.
Sharpe said he thinks each woman has the right to decide whether to have an abortion, but also a responsibility to get counseling from a doctor. He said a teenager should make the decision with her parents.