Rabbi Betsy Torop said she was thankful that 15 candidates for local and state offices took time out Oct. 14 to attend the forum held at her Congregation Beth Shalom in Brandon.
"Every election is important," she said in an interview following the forum. "We have to be as informative about the local issues as we are about the national ones."
In all, there were seven Democrats, seven Republicans and one candidate with no party affiliation speaking before a meeting room crowd at the congregation in Brandon, at 706 Bryan Rd. (see chart below).
For another chance to hear from local and state candidates, attend the Oct. 16 forum hosted by the FishHawk Homeowners Association. For details, and to see who plans to speak, see Still Undecided? Here's Another Chance To Hear From Candidates.
Five candidates spoke on behalf of their races for the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners and two each for their bids for Hillsborough County Property Appraiser and Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections.
In attendance were two candidates for the Florida Senate and four candidates for the Florida House of Representatives, including Democrat Gail Gottlieb, running for the District 59 seat, who noted the nationwide anti-government furor in today's tough economic times.
"Government needs to be responsive, they need to double the effort, we deserve that," said Gottlieb, who as the boss of one employee, the caregiver for her mother, said she understands the sometimes "clunky procedures" inherent in giving jobs to others. But government, she added, "cannot be starved of the resources it needs" to meet the needs of its populace. "We need to tax fairly and spend wisely," Gottlieb said.
Ross Spano, running for the same seat, said he has been in private business his whole life, starting his own business six years ago that now has 14 staff members. He said the education focus should be on teachers and students and that he would push for a "real property tax credit for mom and pop businesses" so, in turn, they could have "opportunities to hire more employees."
Elizabeth Belcher, in her run for the Florida Senate, said she is focused on four things: "ethics, the economy, education and the environment." That Florida ranked No. 1 in public corruption, she said, was "shameful." There should be no profit motive in public education and small businesses should be supported. Without ethics, Belcher said, it's like "building a house on top of a sinkhole."
Her opponent, Tom Lee, spoke about his experience with his father's home-building business, as a past president of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce and in the Florida Senate, where he served as the 81st president. "We need deep-thinking people" concerned with government's operation and delivery and how it impacts people's lives. "You can't just run over people," he added. "They deserve some respect regardless of party affiliation."
Kevin Beckner is running for re-election to the District 6 at-large seat on the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners. He said he got into government because, after complaining a lot about urban sprawl, someone said to him, "You need to put up or shut up," Beckner said. "To make a difference, you have to have a a seat at the table."
The last four years in office "were the most challenging in my life," he said, noting that a $4 billion budget had to be trimmed to $3 billion. His priorities included public safety, closing down illicit drug pill mills and insurance fraud.
His opponent, political newcomer Margaret Iusulano, said she grew up in the foster care system, living in 15 homes by the time she turned 16. Her first job was in a yogurt shop and she's worked in both small- and large-business settings and as the chief executive officer of her own company.
She said she has "a big passion to serve" and that she wants to work to create more jobs, lessen the regulations for business and advance the cause of foster children in the state.
Mark Nash is running to unseat Al Higginbotham in the District 4 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission. Nash, who graduated from Brandon High, serves on the board of the Community Roundtable and has received endorsements from longtime Brandon residents, including Lyle Flagg, a past principal of Armwood, Brandon and East Bay high schools, and Mike Brandon, the great-grandson of the town's namesake.
"We have seven county commissioners and six of them live west of Interstate 75; one lives east," Nash said. "That's why we have traffic problems here; that's why we have sprawl." If Brandon were incorporated, it would be the fifth-largest city in Florida, Nash added, and for too long Brandonites have received "the smallest piece of the pie."
His opponent, Higginbotham, countered that he has studied the issue and that Brandon has fared well in resources brought back into the county versus the taxes received. The study includes salaries earned by government employees living in the area. He said he is concerned about government spending, the image of the commission and growth and development. "We need to streamline the process to bring in more businesses," he said.
Also running for the District 4 seat was the forum's sole candidate with no party affiliation, Joy Green. "A local government should have a no-party office to vote for," she said. "Vote for the person, not the party."
"Having jobs, jobs, jobs is crucial," said Green, who added that creating those jobs would solve a lot of problems. In the meantime, she added, "government should not be cold-hearted" and both the politicans and the governed "need to prioritize what is important together."
"It's important for us to listen to what you have to say," Green said, "because you're hiring us."
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Speakers At Congregation Beth Shalom's Candidate Forum
(Listed in alphabetical order by first name)