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Legislator debates her GOP challenger // DISTRICT 46 DEBATE

The Pasco Times continues its series of political debates with a transcript of last week's faceoff between District 46 state Rep. Debra Prewitt and her Republican opponent, Alan Levine. Prewitt just completed her first term in the House. She is executive director of the Deaf Service Center of Pasco andHernandocounties. Levine is vice president of Columbia Regional Medical Center at Bayonet Point. They asked each other three questions, in alternating order. Answers were limited to two minutes, followed by a 30-second rebuttal.

Question

PREWITT: Mr. Levine, this is a copy of my resume. If I were to apply for your position at Columbia Hospital, would I be considered a qualified candidate? Yes or No.

Answer

LEVINE: I think that's comparing apples and oranges, quite frankly, Debra. The real question I think you're getting at is qualifications for the office that I'm seeking, which is state representative, District 46. Debra, I've been very involved in this community for the last four years. In fact, I've had my entire professional career right here in Pasco County. During my time here, I've served on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, and was elected by thousands of small businesses to be there. I'm on the board of Junior Achievement and through Junior Achievement I volunteer in the school system, where I taught in the eighth grade, and what I taught them was about picking your career, taking the responsibility to pursue a career and to be responsible for their actions. I'm active in the Big Brother/Big Sister Program, where I'm a role model for a young teenager without a father, who otherwise could have been involved in drugs or violence. In fact, last year, as chairman of Friends of Scouting, we had the first successful fund-raising drive in Pasco County in over 13 years, and that was under my leadership. So I think the true measure of a person's commitment to their community rests really with what they've done while they've been in that community, and really, that's what I believe my strength to be.

Rebuttal

PREWITT: Well, that's well-taken, but the fact of the matter is your involvement in this community has been in the last year, possibly 18 months, and the fact is you moved into this community specifically to run against me. And although your qualifications are minimal, the citizens, the constituents of District 46 deserve someone who has the long-term commitment to this community that I represent. The longevity of living here for 25 years, attending the public school system in Pasco County, and fully knowing and understanding what the community needs at the local level and my involvement with the city of New Port Richey.

Question

LEVINE: Debra, in the last legislative session, you missed more votes than the rest of the Pasco House delegation combined. In fact, of the 28 legislators elected two years ago, you have the 24th-worst attendance record on the floor of the House. Now, do you think that your poor attendance record is a reason the Miami Herald rated you as one of the least-effective legislators in Tallahassee, and, if not, what do you think the reason was why one of the state's most-respected newspapers rated you so poorly?

Answer

PREWITT: Well, my voting record on the floor of the House is part of the journal, and on a daily basis, myself and my aide reviewed the votes that were taken. There were, in fact, some missed votes due to the fact that I was part of the leadership and had a responsibility to be involved in the decisionmaking, the compromising, negotiation issues with not only Republicans but those folks in the Senate. I followed up my votes on the floor with votes the next day in writing, which is customary policy and procedure. The Miami Herald has rated the Legislature for a number of years. Their criteria is questionable. The determination that they make on who ranks high and who ranks low changes over a year, from what I understand, and the policies and procedures for the House are very specific. Missed votes will happen, and the votes that I missed were a function of me taking on some leadership roles as a freshman, as opposed to some other legislators, one in particular in our delegation, who possibly missed votes as a result of a photo opportunity, leaving the floor to attend a bill signing or doing some other things that were not, in fact, considered House business. So I have taken care of those missed votes in the journal, and I feel confident that those votes were cast appropriately.

Rebuttal

LEVINE: Debra, it really sounds to me like you're being an apologist for the status quo, and that's the reason I'm running, because I want to change that process. You know, the fact is, Debra, in the real world, in the private sector where I work, if you miss work 32 times, you get fired. The child misses school 32 times, they get expelled. The fact is, you missed some important votes. You missed a vote expanding the Healthy Kids Corp. The final vote on the floor of the House. That vote _ that bill _ expanded access to health care for poor kids all over the state of Florida. Those are the kinds of bills that are important. By your own standards, Debra, the true measure of a legislator's support for a bill rests with their vote on the floor of the House.

Question

PREWITT: Alan, this folder represents angry constituents in this district who received a phone call from your campaign conducting a very disgusting poll which attempts to twist my voting record, and I believe that you owe it to the voters of this district to explain why you have already waged such a nasty campaign.

Answer

LEVINE: Debra, I frankly don't understand that, because my campaign hasn't paid for or engaged in any polls. In fact, I have supporters who received a phone call from the Democratic Party who is conducting polls, paid for by the Democratic Party, asking people if they'd be likely to vote for me because I have speeding tickets. Yeah, Debra, I have speeding tickets, and you know what? Just like many other people, I make mistakes, but my campaign has not conducted a poll, and I don't understand where that question came from. If you have evidence that I've conducted a poll where I twisted your voting record, then frankly, I'd like to see that. Now, Debra, that fact is, your voting record is on the record. It's a matter of public record. You voted against higher academic standards. You voted against school choice. You voted for a bill allowing pharmacists in drug stores to bill and charge senior citizens for advice in drug stores. Now, Debra, if you perceive that as a negative question, well, maybe you need to look at your voting record.

Rebuttal

PREWITT: Mr. Levine, I think that it is appalling that you would put off this poll and say that you had nothing to do with it, because if you can't control your campaign, if you're not responsible . . .

LEVINE: Debra, do you have any evidence that I did that poll?

PREWITT: If you have control of your campaign, and if you have the responsibility of running your campaign, then you need to know where this is coming from. Some of these same people that have called me have talked to you, and you've denied this, and you've put it off on your own party. And the residents and constituents of District 46 are not going to feel comfortable with you as their state representative running a legislative office if you can't be in control of your own campaign.

Question

LEVINE: I'd like to see the evidence of that, Debra, because I haven't done a poll, but frankly, Debra, my question to you now is, do you think that it is good tax policy to make senior citizens of hard-working families in your district pay hundreds of millions of dollars in more taxes over a five-year period and then turn around and vote to give tax breaks and tax exemptions to big corporations and special interests worth hundreds of millions of dollars, when your district is one of the poorest districts per capita in the state of Florida?

Answer

PREWITT: You're speaking of the Enterprise Florida package, and the Enterprise Florida package was an opportunity to deregulate and uncreate the Department of Commerce, to bring together a public, private partnership of business, government and community leaders, and in that regard that is exactly what the state of Florida needs, the opportunity to bring together business people, to encourage new businesses to move to Pasco County, to create jobs, to give people an opportunity who are on welfare to get a fair wage for a job that they can work and live in their same community, to offer senior citizens the opportunity to access those services and expand this economic base. That's the benefit to the people of this community.

Rebuttal

LEVINE: Debra, that bill that you're referring to gave tax breaks to big corporations and special interests and it was such a bad piece of legislation, your own Democratic governor vetoed it, despite your support for it. And at the same time, you'd passed tax increases on the people right here in Pasco County. Now, that doesn't make good tax policy. When we have to build new schools, and you're telling the public we need the money for schools, and then you turn around and vote for tax breaks for big corporations. If you can name _ I'll give you the rest of my time if you can name one corporation in that package that brought new business to the state of Florida, because most of them already do business in the state of Florida.

Question

PREWITT: Last question. Mr. Levine, if you would please state your position on allowing the woman reproductive choice?

Answer

LEVINE: Debra, you know as well as I do that that's an issue that's been decided by the Supreme Court, and the Florida Legislature has absolutely no jurisdiction over that question. Now, in fact, even a couple of years ago, the Legislature passed legislation providing for parental notification, which you don't support and the court even ruled that unconstitutional. But, let's talk about _ let me give you my opinion on it. I believe the government does have an obligation to protect any citizen, whether it's a senior citizen in a nursing home, a child who has been abused or neglected, and yes, even an unborn child, Debra. But the fact is that you're talking about the symptom of a bigger problem, which is teenage pregnancy. Last year in the state of Florida, almost 17,000 girls that are teenagers gave birth to children. The cost to the average taxpayer in Florida is $10,000 per child, per teen child, per teen pregnancy. That's $170-million it cost the taxpayers last year in the state of Florida. Now, there was a bill last year in the Legislature called the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Act, which allowed the prosecutors more tools to use in prosecuting men over the age of 21, who impregnate girls under the age of 16. Now, Debra, this is a huge social problem in Florida. Despite the fact an overwhelming number of Democrats, Republicans and even a local newspaper supported that bill, you voted against it. Now, frankly, I don't understand why someone 25 or 26 years old should be able to impregnate a girl who is 13, 14 or 15 and not go to jail. Now, maybe you can help me with that.

Rebuttal

PREWITT: Well, you've avoided the answer to my question, but the fact is that you will only allow a woman to make a reproductive choice in the case of rape or incest, and as a woman and as a representative of District 46, I find that appalling, and the reason is, a woman should not have to survive a violent attack in order to be eligible to make a reproductive choice. Reproductive choice should be across the board. It's a personal decision. It needs to be made with the woman and her physician. And your position on it indicates that you don't even trust the medical community, who are licensed and educated in that realm to make that decision. You are trying to make that decision for them, and that is not appropriate for the women of this district or the state of Florida.

LEVINE: And the moment that we can debate that issue at the state level and have some say in it, I will be glad to debate it with you, Debra.

Question

LEVINE: Debra, you sent out literature to the taxpayers telling them that you support higher graduation standards, and you voted against them. You sent out literature telling your constituents that you support school choice, then you voted against it. You tell the senior citizens you're an advocate for them, but then you vote for a bill allowing pharmacists to bill for advice in drug stores. Debra, don't you think this type of double talk is the reason people are turned off by politicians today and they feel alienated by their Legislature?

Answer

PREWITT: My voting record is not only a function of the issue as it was presented in sub- and full committee, but my vote is a function of what the bill looks like as it's amended on the floor. And yes, I voted against school choice. Not because of the bill, not because of what it included, but because of an amendment that had nothing whatsoever to do with school choice or accountability or school standards, education standards. When amendments get added on the bills, they take a good bill and make it something else, in some cases, make it bad, then I have a responsibility to vote my conscience. In all good conscience I could not vote for a bill that included something that was not appropriate. And that's the benediction and invocation portion of that particular bill. And my position was further condoned by the governor vetoing that bill. Now, school standards and education standards were dealt with by the Cabinet, and that issue has been dealt with by the state, but that bill was totally turned around and had many amendments added onto it that were not appropriate for that bill. I had a responsibility to vote my conscience and make sure that all citizens in this state were protected.

Rebuttal

LEVINE: Well, first of all, Debra, the bill you are referring to was not the school choice bill. It was the bill raising academic standards. But, Debra, the fact is that if you think that the Cabinet dealt with the problem of higher academic standards, you're dead wrong. Last year, in fact, over the past several years, 60 percent of the people, the freshmen attending community colleges, have to take remedial high school courses. This is at a cost of almost $20-million to the taxpayers. The problem hasn't been dealt with, and by the time kids get into the senior year of high school, it's too late to start worrying about their academic progress. We need to start focusing on kids at a younger age.

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