Politics & Government

In their words: Congressional candidates give their thoughts on offshore oil drilling, immigration

Candidates for U.S. Representative for District 16 in the 2018 elections.
Candidates for U.S. Representative for District 16 in the 2018 elections.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, is seeking his seventh two-year term to represent Florida’s 16th Congressional District since he was first elected to Congress in 2006.

Two Democratic lawyers from Sarasota — Jan Schneider and David Shapiro — have qualified to run against for Buchanan’s seat. Schneider is a perennial candidate, having run for the congressional seat every cycle from 2002 to 2008, and then reigniting her fight in 2016. Shapiro first ran for office in 2006 for Florida House District 70, but lost to Doug Holder.

Other candidates, like Democrat Calen Cristiani, Green Party candidate Eric Allen and no party affiliate candidate Sean Canfield, had joined the race but did not qualify in May.

At the end of the second quarter of 2018, Buchanan’s campaign recently announced they had raised $640,000 between April and June, totaling his fund-raising efforts to more than $2 million. At least $700,000 of that was from organizations and political action committees, according to Federal Election Commission data as recent as March 31.

Shapiro’s campaign said Monday that more than $400,000 was raised in the second quarter, bringing his total contributions raised to more than $1 million. They also said his cash on hand is about $785,000, which is $285,000 more than what was reported during the first quarter filings.

As of the end of March, Schneider has a little over $80,000 on hand and raised $13,490 in individual contributions.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unofficially said Florida is “off the table” when it comes to the administration’s goal to open 47 new leases for offshore oil drilling. What do you think should be the future of the U.S.’s reliance on oil? Do other coastal states have the right to be exempt like Florida?

Incumbent U.S. Representative for District 16 Vern Buchanan. Herald file photo
(Incumbent) Vern Buchanan, R

: As the state with the most coastline in the continental United States, Florida is especially vulnerable to oil spills. That’s why I have consistently voted to protect our shorelines from oil drilling. As co-chair of Florida’s 29-member bipartisan congressional delegation, I have authored legislation with Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to extend the ban on drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast. I also recently joined with Congressman Charlie Crist and led a Florida delegation letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging him not to loosen safeguards put in place after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. Whether it be the powdery white sands of Sarasota’s Siesta Beach or the pristine coastline of Manatee’s Anna Maria Island, our region is blessed with some of the world’s greatest natural treasures. It’s up to us to protect these resources for future generations.

U.S. Representative for District 16 candidate Jan Schneider. Herald file photo
Jan Schneider, D

: Like every current Florida member of Congress, I am adamantly opposed to drilling off the coasts of our state, and I will even fight against preliminary seismic exploration. Moreover, I do not find it reassuring that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has only “unofficially” withdrawn Florida from Trump administration plans to open 47 new leases for offshore oil and gas drilling. After meeting with Governor Rick Scott in January 2018, Secretary Zinke did announce in a tweet that Florida is “off the table” for offshore drilling. Later, however, the secretary seemingly contradicted his tweet by testifying at a Senate hearing in March that “Florida is still in the process” of the Interior Department drilling program and by stating at a forum in April that “[n]o one was exempted.” This convinces me that continued vigilance is essential. Unique treatment for Florida has provoked angry responses from a number of other coastal states claiming similar dependence on tourism and other vulnerabilities. On the positive side, Florida currently enjoys special protection. The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 bans oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico within 125 miles of Florida – and only Florida -- until June 30, 2022. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL23) have introduced legislation that would extend the moratorium until 2027, which I obviously support. Meanwhile, other coastal states seem very likely to take the matter to court. Still, whether or not there are other exemptions, I will continue to fight against drilling off Florida coasts. As regards the broader question of the future of United States reliance on oil, with technological breakthroughs, U.S. crude oil production is up 50 percent since 2008. Petroleum imports have fallen from their high of 60 percent in 2005 to 35% today. Such initially-sounding good news, however, ignores grave realities. The bad news is that climate change is real and immediate. Among other things, sea level rise threatens to put one in eight Florida homes underwater by the end of this century. Consequently, I will work to ensure that the United States decreases dependence on oil and other fossil fuels and that this country increases reliance on solar, wind and other clean and renewable energy sources.

David Shapiro
David Shapiro, D:

There’s no doubt we have to protect our water, beaches, and land in Florida. This is a part of our way of life, vital to our economy, and tourism. I will always fight against offshore drilling, because that’s a threat to the people of Florida. If this administration agrees that Florida is off the table, then I commend them. It’s common sense and I think more states should have the local control to stop near-shore drilling.

Many people who try to cross the southern border are running away from the threat of violence in their home country. What is your stance on the wall and asylum? On the travel ban?

(Incumbent) Vern Buchanan, R: We need to secure our borders, enforce the law and protect our national security. That means strong policies to prevent terrorists from infiltrating our legal immigration system. We can start by eliminating the so-called diversity visa lottery which has allowed individuals linked to terrorism to enter our country. I was pleased by the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold travel restrictions on people trying to enter the country from terror hotspots around the world. We need tough screening and vetting procedures to protect our nation. I also believe the federal government should cut off funding to “sanctuary cities” that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws. Calls to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency are irresponsible, reckless and put our country at risk. The safety of Americans must come first.

Jan Schneider, D: On asylum, I will fight to ensure that the United States fulfills its obligations under our own laws and international agreements to allow people with a “credible fear” of persecution or torture in their home countries to apply for asylum. For several years now, desperate Central Americans -– typically from the “northern triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- have banded together to flee violence and death by seeking asylum in Mexico or the United States. President Donald Trump and his minions, taking great offense against asylum seekers, have relied on extraordinary measures to discourage and harass them. These include separating family members, claiming that designated ports of entry have “reached capacity” and generally maligning these desperate people. Such tactics, particularly dragging children away from their parents, are inhumane, un-American and disingenuous. On a subsidiary aspect of the asylum issue, I support the provisions of the current bill entitled DREAM Act of 2017. It would provide an eventual path to citizenship for “Dreamers,” who were brought across the border many years ago through no fault of their own. A related question concerns people enjoying Temporary Protected Status, which is accorded to eligible individuals from designated countries afflicted by armed conflicts, environmental disasters, epidemics or other extraordinary conditions. President Trump has already terminated TPA for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, Nepal and Honduras and asked generally “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?” Believing this to be heartless, bigoted and wrong, I support the ASPIRE-TPS Act of 2017, which would allow those covered by TPS on January 1, 2017 to apply for permanent residency by proving extreme hardship if forced to return home. As regards the travel ban, as a citizen and lawyer, I must accept that the Supreme Court has spoken on its third version in the 5 to 4 decision in Trump v. Hawaii. Nevertheless, I fear the endorsement by the conservative majority of nearly unchecked presidential power and continue to believe that the ban is a projection of Trump’s extreme anti-Muslim and other bigotry. My views are closely aligned with the vigorous dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Finally, I oppose the enormously expensive wall demanded by President Donald Trump, even were Mexico to agree to pay for part or even all of it (as will not happen). In my view, a more promising and humane approach to limiting future illegal immigration would be to increase penalties on employers who knowingly bring in and/or hire unauthorized workers.

David Shapiro, D: It’s time for both sides in Washington to come together and pass common sense immigration laws. Laws that keep families together and do not lock children in cages. The kind of laws that keep our borders safe, but don’t waste billions of taxpayer dollars on a border wall. In the cases of people legitimately seeking asylum, America has always stood as a beacon of hope for those seeking a better life. This is a classic case where Washington is too partisan and broken to make real change.

Mass shootings have become commonplace in American society. What can Congress do to suppress these occurrences?

(Incumbent) Vern Buchanan, R: I support the Pollack plan offered by the father of one of the students killed at Parkland. Andrew Pollack has created a national movement around his eight-point plan for school safety that includes, among other things, more mental health resources, school security officers and single points of entry. I was one of the first in Congress to call for banning bump stocks after the Las Vegas massacre. Our laws cannot be effective if there are gaping loopholes that allow criminals and deranged individuals to purchase firearms at gun shows or over the Internet without being subject to background checks. Congress needs to address this issue on a bipartisan basis and should also consider red flag laws like the one signed into law by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Jan Schneider, D: The United States is dealing with an epidemic of gun violence, including a growing number of “mass shootings” in schools, churches and elsewhere. While recognizing that the Second Amendment is part of the Constitution, I cannot accept its over-broad construction by the National Rifle Association and its supporters. Accordingly, to suppress the incidences of mass shootings, I support the following gun safety measures by Congress: Expanding and enforcing more rigorous, universal background checks in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) — including by closing the gun show, online sales, Charleston (a/k/a default proceed, delayed denial or 3-day), stalker (dating partner) and hate crime loopholes; Renewing the assault weapons ban and adding certain weapons readily susceptible of conversion to fully or near-fully automatic (in particular, the AR-15); Likewise banning high-capacity magazines and “bump stocks”; Restoring the Obama-era regulation requiring the Social Security Administration to send records of severely mentally ill beneficiaries to NICS; Prohibiting suspected terrorists from purchasing guns (“no-fly-no-buy”); Repealing the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which provides unique legal protections shielding dealers and manufacturers that negligently sell or manufacture guns; Getting rid of the 2004 “Tiahrt Amendments,” which restrict release of gun trace data except to law enforcement officers or prosecutors when related to a criminal investigation; Opposing the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, which would allow any individual licensed to carry a concealed firearm in one state to do so in any other state allowing concealed carry; and Funding gun safety/violence and mental health research. Such measures should be added to existing prohibitions against various categories of potentially dangerous people, including criminals (particularly violent felons), dishonorably discharged military personnel and seriously mentally ill persons.

David Shapiro, D: The horrific and tragic event that claimed the lives of 15 high school students and two educators is yet another reminder that we must take action and pass common-sense gun safety laws before there is one more life lost. We can preserve the right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment, and still take reasonable precautions to protect our children and the general public. It’s obvious that there are far too many loopholes that allow dangerous criminals or those with mental illnesses to access guns. We need background checks that will make communities and our families safer. As we’ve seen too often in Florida, assault weapons are designed to inflict mass carnage and injuries within seconds. And it’s time to close the gun show loophole so that dangerous individuals cannot bypass the laws designed to protect our children and communities.

What should Congress do to strengthen Social Security and Medicare and ensure benefits for current and future recipients?

(Incumbent) Vern Buchanan, R: I have no higher priority than making sure Social Security and Medicare remain strong for today’s seniors and future generations. These vitally important programs are two of the government’s greatest success stories. That’s why I was honored to recently receive the “Guardian of Seniors’ Rights” award by one of the nation’s leading non-partisan organizations for my efforts to preserve the financial stability of Medicare and Social Security. As a senior member of the Social Security Subcommittee, I am committed to combatting waste, fraud and abuse within our entitlement system. I have introduced bipartisan legislation to crack down on scams and fraud targeting older Americans. I also co-sponsored the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act signed into law this year protecting seniors unable to manage their financial affairs. We must never lose sight that seniors have worked their entire lives so they can retire with the dignity and the benefits they have earned.

Jan Schneider, D: Social Security and Medicare are extremely important issues for me and for the Florida 16th Congressional District as the second oldest in the country in demographic terms. The combined Social Security Trust Funds are projected to be depleted in 2034, and after that the program will only have enough coming in to pay 79% of promised benefits. The Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is expected to be depleted even sooner, in 2026. To strengthen Social Security finances and ensure benefits for current and future generations, I support: raising or eliminating the taxable maximum or “cap”; and reducing fraud, waste and abuse in this designated “high-priority” or “highest-risk” federal program in terms of improper payments. Toward similar ends, I oppose: privatizing or partially privatizing Social Security; increasing the normal retirement age beyond 67; changing calculation of cost-of-living increases, including by adopting the “Chained CPI” to adjust COLAs; adjusting the primary insurance amount, either by increasing the number of years of earnings included in the PIA or by adjusting the “bend points” of the formula; and adopting means testing, which would fundamentally change the system from one of earned social insurance to a species of welfare. To strengthen Medicare and preserve its benefits, I support: eliminating or restoring the massive cuts to Medicare spending (including the $537 billion sought to be slashed in the 2019 budget recently proposed by Republicans in the House or Representatives); allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, as Veterans Health Administration already does; and reducing fraud, waste and abuse, Medicare being another “high-priority” improper payments program. I oppose: converting Medicare to a “premium support”/vouchers program, thereby transforming it from a defined benefits to a defined contributions program; raising the Medicare eligibility age; and increasing expenses for beneficiaries, by imposing greater cost sharing and/or increased income-related premiums. Beyond these positions, in the interests of full disclosure, I should acknowledge being a Single-Payer/Medicare-for-All proponent. Also, I fervently maintain that any country that can accord $1.5 trillion in boons for the most advantaged in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act can surely afford to protect the health of ALL its citizens.

David Shaprio, D: Seniors who have paid into Medicare and Social Security deserve to receive full benefits they’ve worked for their entire lives. We need to protect both of these programs for future generations. That also means voting for bills that help us keep our fiscal house in order - not blowing $1.9 trillion holes in the deficit that give millionaires a tax cut to buy new yachts and auto dealers getting a special tax deduction, while Washington politicians threaten Medicare and Social Security.