The race to succeed the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young is not one of subtleties. Republican David Jolly, a former Young aide and Washington lobbyist, faithfully recites his party's most conservative views and is clearly more about what he opposes than what he supports. Democrat Alex Sink, the state's former chief financial officer, supports health care and financial reforms embraced by the Obama administration and has suggestions for improving them. The candidates agree on delaying soaring flood insurance premium increases while reforming the system. But on almost everything else, Sink reflects the mainstream values of Pinellas voters and has a record of the bipartisanship that Washington needs to start working again.
These are not the candidates who were expected to seek to succeed Young, who served more than four decades in the House and died in October. More prominent Republicans with experience in public office passed up the race, and Sink moved from Hillsborough to run. Libertarian Party candidate Lucas Overby, who was planning to run before Young died, also is on the March 11 special election ballot.
Jolly, 41, casts himself as Young's logical heir. But no one can bring home the hundreds of millions in federal dollars that Young did, and Jolly is a more hard-edged conservative than his former boss. Young supported a combination of spending cuts and public investments to reduce the federal deficit; Jolly only wants to cut. Young was hesitant to militarily intervene in the crisis in Syria; Jolly has no qualms about intervening. Young had a regional view of Tampa Bay; Jolly offers a pinched Pinellas view as he mischaracterizes Sink as an outsider.
Sink, 65, better reflects Young's views on those key issues. She wants to reduce the federal deficit with targeted spending cuts while making smart investments in the future, including in transportation and education. She wants Congress to rewrite the tax code to prevent so many major U.S. corporations from avoiding paying any federal taxes. Sink does not support military intervention in Syria, and she would continue to work on behalf of regional institutions such as the University of South Florida and MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, just as Young did.
The contrasts are just as stark on other issues. Sink supports the Affordable Care Act but says it needs work, including revisiting a medical device tax that affects some Pinellas businesses. Jolly wants to repeal the health care law but has no workable plan to provide coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. Sink's views on gay marriage have evolved and she now supports it. Jolly opposes gay marriage. Sink supports abortion rights, and Jolly would ban all abortion. Sink wants to ensure Social Security remains viable for future generations and would consider reforms such as changes to the income cap on contributions. Jolly opposes any changes for any participant who has been working at least 10 years — a horizon that would make it harder to keep Social Security financially viable and transfer too much of the burden to younger workers.
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The fight over which candidate has the Pinellas roots has been a distraction. Sink has been more visible, spending the end of her banking career in Tampa Bay managing operations, including in Pinellas. She and her late husband, attorney Bill McBride, have long been involved in civic life across the region. Sink won Pinellas in her successful race for CFO in 2006 and in her unsuccessful race for governor in 2010.
As CFO, Sink was the lone statewide elected Democrat in Republican-controlled Tallahassee. She repeatedly demonstrated her fiscal conservatism, from pushing for more transparency in the state pension fund to lessening the state's exposure to financial damage after a hurricane. Jolly has spent years in Washington and talks knowledgeably about federal issues. But Sink has demonstrated a strong grasp of public policy details and would have no trouble applying those skills in Washington.
Sink has never been terribly comfortable on the campaign trail, and Jolly is more polished in his campaign sound bites. But there is no comparison when it comes to substance. Sink has proven herself to be committed to public service, bipartisanship, fiscal conservatism and centrist government — values Pinellas voters have long embraced. Jolly does not reflect the mainstream views of this congressional district, and he lacks his former boss' pragmatism and appreciation for building consensus.
In the March 11 special election for U.S. House District 13, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Alex Sink.