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Candidates begin to stake out turf in District 67 House race

BRADENTON — As five candidates jostle for position in the key District 67 Florida House of Representatives race, seeking to replace the term-limited Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, some similarities and differences are beginning to emerge.

Four of the five said Thursday they oppose Amendment 4, also known as Florida Hometown Democracy, which would amend the state constitution to require elections for changes to comprehensive land-use plans.

One, Robert McCann, called it the “dumbest thing I’ve heard in my life.”

Another, Jeremiah Guccione, said it would make the cost of home ownership more expensive.

Greg Steube said he is “strongly and adamantly opposed” to Amendment 4.

Guccione, McCann and Steube are all Republicans.

The only Democrat in the race, Z. J. Hafeez, said Amendment 4 would actually take away from the democratic process, while creating new costs.

John M. Studebaker, a no-party affiliation candidate, who was present at the forum, declined to join the question-and-answer session at the Tiger Bay Club meeting at Mattison’s Riverside Restaurant.

After the meeting, he said he has only one issue and that is to impose term limits for those serving in the U.S. Congress.

Candidates were also asked their stance on oil drilling. None said they outright oppose all drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but most said they would not allow it near Florida beaches.

Coming out most strongly in support of oil drilling was McCann. Asked about his stance on drilling after the meeting, McCann said he supports it offshore, near shore and on shore, although he would favor keeping it out of sight of beachgoers.

Asked about protecting the pensions of law enforcement officers, in the face of state budget constraints, each of the candidates said they would do everything they can to preserve state pensions.

Candidates were also asked about the thorny problem of student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

In general, the candidates said they favor giving local school boards more oversight, and finding a way to get more parental involvement in the schools.

One, Hafeez, said the education system in Florida “is broke,” and the solution is not to take money away from schools.

Asked what would be their No. 1 priority if elected, Steube said he would focus on small business growth and economic development. Guccione said he would work to shrink the achievement gap in education between haves and have nots, and to work on helping foster kids find their way to adoption in secure homes.

McCann said he would work to keep prescription drugs out of the hands of children, to fund a state database on prescriptions, and to punish doctors who abuse the system. Hafeez said in addition to what he talked about earlier in the forum (the four e’s: the economy, education, energy and the environment), he would focus on tort reform.

The primary election is Aug. 24, and the general election is Nov. 2. District 67 includes parts of Manatee, Sarasota and Hillsborough counties.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.