LAKEWOOD RANCH — Four candidates slugged it out Wednesday night in a debate in a political race that is among the most competitive of local primary contests.
The discussion among candidates running for Florida House District 67 ranged from questions about Gulf oil drilling to how best to balance the state budget.
Attending were Republicans Jeremiah “JJ” Guccione, Robert K. McCann and Greg Steube; and Democrat Z.J. Hafeez. No-party candidate John M. Studebaker did not attend the event at the Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.
They all covet election to District 67, a sprawling area covering all of East Manatee and some territory west of Interstate 75. The seat is now held by state Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits.
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The primary election is set for Aug. 24, with the general election slated for Nov. 2.
Guccione, 33, a small businessman who operates group health care and assisted living facilities, said he believed in low taxes, less government, personal responsibility and free enterprise.
He also said he thought the state constitution’s class-size amendment should be relaxed, saying evaluation of students does not boil down to the number of chairs in a classroom. However, he strongly supported a good education system, saying well-educated graduates would attract business and more jobs to the state.
McCann, 52, an osteopathic physician and an attorney who operates the McCann Medicine & Law, P.A., where he provides medical care and legal services, supported giving preference for jobs to local people.
He also asserted that balancing the budget is the primary job of a state legislator, saying lawmakers should never compromise the health and safety of the populace, but that “everything else should be on the table.”
“Raising taxes is a poor option,” he said.
Greg Steube, 32, the son of Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube, graduated from the University of Florida and law school, and is an Iraq War veteran who works as an associate with the law firm Najmy Thompson, P.L., in its Lakewood Ranch office.
Steube has won the endorsement of political heavyweights, such as Reagan and state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, according to his website.
On the topic of Gulf oil exploration, Steube said he opposed any near-shore drilling.
“Imagine the tragedy it would be for this area,” he said.
Rather, it would be better not to rush into anything, and focus instead on renewable energy sources, such as solar and biofuels.
Florida should be a leader in renewable energy, and businesses would come here, he said, adding it “would be a great thing for our community.”
Hafeez, 26, graduated from New College of Florida and later graduated from law school at Georgetown University, and is a legal consultant.
He was occasionally at odds with his Republican colleagues during the debate.
He contended the number of chairs in a classroom “really does matter,” and noted that he personally had witnessed, “why they passed the class-size amendment.”
He argued that it should not just be rich people whose children get to enjoy small classes.
He also argued in favor of more stringent ethics regulation of legislators, citing the indictment of former House Speaker Ray Sansom in connection with a budget appropriation.
“We have shown we can take down corrupt politicians,” he said.
The forum was moderated by Jim Jones, East Manatee editor for the Bradenton Herald and Lakewood Ranch Herald.