Joe Gruters and James Golden do battle for Florida House District 73 seat

Republican Joe Gruters and Democrat James Golden debate at METV studios Friday.
Republican Joe Gruters and Democrat James Golden debate at METV studios Friday. ttompkins@bradenton.com

Republican Joe Gruters and Democrat James T. Golden went head to head on Friday afternoon at the Manatee Educational Television studios in what could only be called a gentlemanly debate for the Florida House District 73 seat being vacated by Rep. Greg Stuebe, who is running for a state Senate seat.

Both candidates expressed their messages to the voters ahead of the Nov. 8 election without personal attacks and only one rebuttal over Gruters’ support of Gov. Rick Scott’s Florida Enterprise program. That program was rejected by the Legislature in the last session.

Gruters said he would do everything possible to push the job incentive program forward because Florida “needs to prepare for the next economic downtown. It’s going to happen because the economy goes in cycles.”

Gruters said the program diversifies the types of businesses that would receive incentive packages, while Golden cited Sanborn Studios as an example of why incentives don’t work. Sanborn was given tax dollars ahead of time and ultimately failed, but Gruters clarified his support of the program.

“Sanborn received monies up front and taxpayers ended up the hook,” Gruters said. “My guess is we will never recover that money. What the governor wants to do is to provide incentives only after meeting a series of benchmarks,” which includes numbers of jobs and high-paying jobs. “I would 100 percent not support giving any funding up front.”

Gruters, who chairs Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s Florida campaign, serves as vice chair of the Florida Republican Party and the chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota, narrowly defeated Steve Vernon in the Aug. 30 primaries with 51 percent of the vote. Golden is a two-term Bradenton City Council member, serving from 1999-2007.

Golden ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, winning his primary race, but losing heartily to Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who garnered 69 percent of the vote. Golden was unopposed in this year’s primary for District 73.

Both candidates cited education as a pressing matter for the state. Both support standardized testing, but Gruters wants to eliminate Common Core and give more local control back to county school districts while also giving more school choices back to parents.

Golden said, “Bad or good test results are only reflective of bad or good test preparation. The best test preparation is no substitute for good lesson planning. ... I do, however, unequivocally support standardized grading.”

The candidates showed their distance from one another with the subject of Medicaid expansion, which Scott has rejected. Gruters said the federal program would only subsidize Medicaid expansion for a couple more years, and the taxpayer would be on the hook for up to $500 million a year.

“The Medicaid system is broken and rife with mismanagement and abuse,” Gruters said. “We can help people even more by creating private health insurance for real choices and real insurance policies.”

Golden was adamant in his support. “Read my lips. I support Medicaid expansion, period,” he said.

Both candidates also support the passage of medical marijuana. Gruters believes it will pass, but if not, “I’m happy to support any legislative program that comes on behalf of medical marijuana as long as it prescribed by medical doctors.”

Golden said the legislature has failed to act quick enough to get medical marijuana passed in Florida and pledged legislative action should the amendment fail on Nov. 8.

The full debate can be seen on METV’s website beginning this weekend.