Members of Jacksonville’s Hispanic community got to meet with and hear from several candidates for state and federal offices at a forum on Tuesday night.
The nonpartisan political forum at Havana-Jax Cafe was organized by the Jimenez Law Firm, with support from the Northeast Florida Hispanic Leadership Alliance and the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Below are the questions each of the candidates were asked and a summary of their responses:
Segment 1: Florida House Representative
Cord Byrd (R) - Florida House Representative District 11 (Incumbent)
1. What is your position on gun control, particularly background checks for those purchasing guns legally in Florida?
Byrd said he supports background checks, which should help ensure that only law abiding citizens can obtain firearms
2. How have you helped advocate for small business owners, specifically minority small business owners in Tallahassee?
Byrd said over the past two years in the Florida House he supported legislation that would reduce the sales tax on leased businesses, calling it a barrier to entry for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Timothy Yost (D) - Florida House Representative District 12
1. Should Florida increase its minimum wage and if so, how much should it be and why?
Yost said Florida should increase its minimum wage, but not to $15 an hour statewide. He believes the minimum wage should be tied to the average rent in every community.
2. What can the state do to Foster the growth of small businesses?
Yost said the best way to foster the growth of small businesses is to focus on education. He said more investments in public schools would better prepare students as they head into the workforce.
Clay Yarborough (R) - Florida House Representative District 12 (Incumbent)
1. What is your top accomplishment as a State Representative and what is your top priority in the upcoming legislative session?
Yarborough said the accomplishment he’s most proud of is a bill he filed last year that would require families to be notified if a service business employee (like a mover) who is a convicted sexual predator will be entering the home. He said the bill was designed to protect families and their children.
Yarborough said the number one priority this year and going forward needs to be school safety to prevent tragedies like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He also said the state needs to put more money into mental health programs.
2. A few years back, state Senate Republicans supported Medicaid expansion. If the next governor wants to expand Medicaid, would you support it? If not, why?
Yarborough said he would not support the expansion of Medicaid in its current form, but he would be open to discussing other options, especially ones that include work requirements and deductibles. He said he does want to improve access and quality.
Segment 2: Florida State Representatives
Wyman Duggan (R) - Florida House Representative District 15
1. What do you plan on doing in Tallahassee to help improve the lives of veterans in the first coast?
Duggan said he would look for ways to enhance and expand programs that are already in place. He said additional mental health funding would be the best way to address quality of life for veterans.
2. What challenges do you see in Florida’s k-12 education system, and if elected what would you do to address those challenges?
Duggan said the most important thing, to him, would be to create a program similar to dual enrollment with state colleges for a “skilled trade certificate.”
Tracye Polson (D) - Florida House Representative District 15
1. Do you support Andrew Gillum’s proposal of raising the corporate tax rate? Why or why not?
Polson said she would have to see the legislation before she would agree to support it or not, but she does support Gillum’s plan to use any additional funds raised from an increased corporate tax rate to pump $1 billion into the state’s education system.
2. In your opinion, what is the best way to promote economic stability for Floridians?
Polson said the best way to improve Florida’s economy is to invest in public education.
Ken Organes (D) - Florida House Representative District 16
1. Following the school shooting in Parkland in February, Florida passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act. What is your proposal to make our schools safer?
Organes said he has a three point plan to make schools safer. First, implement reasonable gun legislation that respects the second amendment. Second, make schools safer but still comfortable places for learning. Third, make it harder for dangerous people to get guns.
2. What do you think should be done to address the growing issues of uninsured and underinsured people in our communities, with regards to health care.?
Organes said Florida should accept additional federal Medicaid funding, which would improve mental health spending and indirectly help address gun violence. He said he wants to bring an Affordable Care Act exchange to the state.
Jason Fisher (R) - Florida House Representative District 16 (Incumbent)
1. You have been critical of the Duval County Public School system. What advice would you give them to improve on scores, spending and accountability?
Fisher said the first thing that the Duval County School Board needs to do is have an external independent audit done of their finances to address recent issues. Then they need to do a zero-base budget, get rid of some administrators, hire more teachers and get rid of the common core curriculum.
2. Recently you retweeted Florida Representative Jeff Brandes’ tweet which stated “Florida’s medical marijuana market is controlled by a small ‘cartel’ of suppliers, while a surge in demand leads to high prices for sick Floridians. Next year I will file legislation that puts patients first and will open the market to small business.” Do you support such legislation and what are your thoughts relating to these issues?
Fisher said he would need to see the legislation before he could say whether or not he supports it, but he did vote against a recent medical marijuana implementation bill.
Segment 3: US House of Representatives & Florida Senate
Ges Selmont (D) - US House Representative District 4
1. In the current political climate with a clear distinction between party lines, what are areas that you feel like you will be able to compromise with your Republican Counterparts and how do you plan on doing so?
Selmont said you compromise by offering creative and thoughtful solutions to problems and when you listen as much as, or more than, you talk. He said the only way to make compromise possible in the federal government is to vote people like his opponent, Republican John Rutherford, out of office.
2. Recently, House Bill H.R.6136 bill, also known as Goodlatte 2, was introduced and defeated in the US House of Representatives. This bill would have granted legal permanent residency to 1.8 million undocumented childhood arrivals comprised of 700k DACA recipients and 1.1 million Dreamers. The bill provided a transition for this 1.8 million to obtain a Green Card and a path to citizenship upon the funding to secure the southern border. Would you vote to trade a border wall with Mexico for protective status for Dreamers? More specifically what do you want or what are you willing to give up in exchange for protective status or a path to citizenship for Dreamers?
Selmont said Dreamers deserve citizenship and there shouldn’t be a need for a deal, but he would be willing to trade increased border protection, an increased budget for border security, strategic fencing in places where it’s needed and portions of wall where Immigration Services feels it’s necessary to protect the border.
Aaron Bean (R) - Florida Senate District 4 (Incumbent)
1. What is one of the most important factors in having a world class education system?
Bean said the best way to ensure a world class education system in Florida is to make sure students have options like private schools, homeschooling, a strong public school system and vocational opportunities.
2. Following the Parkland shooting, you voted to enact the School Safety Act. Can you please explain why you voted for this act and if you had the support of the NRA?
Bean said he was committed to passing some legislation that would attempt to prevent something like the Parkland shooting from happening again. He also supported the parts of the School Safety Act that improved funding for mental health, hardened schools and required more armed guards in schools.
Billie Bussard (D) - Florida Senate District 4
1. Recently you indicated that you would propose a $100 per bullet tax on every bullet sold in the state of Florida. Could you please expand on this proposal?
Bussard said high bullet costs would reduce the number of shootings. She said bullets are what kill people. She proposed using the money raised from that tax for school safety programs.
2. Would you be in favor of expanding government programs by increasing taxes or lower taxes and cut government programs? Specifically, which programs would you expand or cut?
Bussard said she would propose getting rid of tax cuts that benefit corporations and the wealthiest Floridians.