News Columns & Blogs

Big job ahead for candidates and you, me

Florida House District 67 sprawls, all right. It not only includes all of East Manatee, but extends west of I-75, reaches up into Hillsborough County to Ruskin, Apollo Beach and Gibsonton. It also plunges south into Sarasota County to Clark Road.

I heard someone say the other day they thought it was the biggest district in the state. Out of curiosity, I looked it up and found that’s not true. There are several other districts with much larger geographic areas.

To name a couple, there’s District 10 out in the Panhandle, District 77 that runs from Immokalee up to Avon Park and District 120 that covers the southern tip of Florida and the Keys.

But District 67 is plenty big, and will need a new state representative to replace Ron Reagan, a Braden Woods resident who is term-limited and can’t seek re-election.

This past week, four of the five candidates who qualified turned out for a forum at Lakewood Ranch, and I had a ringside seat as moderator.

Mine was the easy job. All I had to do was collect suggested questions from citizens, pick the brains of other editors to help me refine the list, and ask the questions.

Obviously, the much harder job was that assigned to the candidates.

They were faced with answering some very difficult and thorny questions. What would you do to help balance the state budget? What’s your stance on relaxing the requirements of the class-size amendment? What would be your approach to redistricting? How would you keep Citizens, the hurricane insurer of last resort, solvent? And, where do you stand on off-shore drilling and clean energy alternatives?

And maybe one more question, not asked: “Why aren’t you running for the hills?”

Economic times are tough, the Gulf of Mexico is filling up with oil, and tax coffers are bare. Why would anyone want the job?

I can’t answer that with certainty, because it’s always difficult to discern what is in someone’s political heart, what’s motivating them, what they are thinking.

But maybe the candidates share a sense of optimism, a belief that they can make a difference.

In answering the questions, each of the candidates showed reasoning power, an ability to communicate, the willingness to question and to confront.

These candidates and all the other candidates for state and local offices have miles to walk, and many speeches to complete before they can rest and the eventual winners are selected.

Pay attention, get to know the candidates, and support the ones you think are best.

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