News Column

National Association of Women Business Owners Hosts Candidates

Oct. 12, 2012

Jeremy Maready, Eric Pera and Rick Rousos

Thursday's candidate forum, hosted by the Lakeland Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, was no exception as some candidates arrived late, coming from another event hosted by State Farm in Winter Haven.

The event hosted 15 candidates, along with four representatives who spoke for their candidates. The event at the Lakeland Yacht & Country Club was attended by about 40 people.

The abbreviated format limited responses to 60 seconds or less and generated little if any substantive remarks from speakers.

Some, like Lillian Lima, a no-party candidate who hopes to unseat Republican Seth McKeel in the race for Florida House District 40, tried to compensate by talking very fast.

Although a political novice, Lima played up her experience in the Coast Guard and her former position as director of minority affairs and community engagement for the Department of Children and Families.

"I'm not a newcomer to government," she said, adding that by not aligning with any political party, she'll bring a "new political approach" to state government.

"My goal is to be a voice for the people," Lima said.

McKeel reiterated his support, if re-elected to a fourth term, of holding the line against raising taxes despite prospects for ongoing shortfalls in state revenues.

"I want to be able to give small business owners tax relief" to spur hiring of new employees, he said, adding in closing that the Legislature's No. 1 priority should be a balanced budget.

When judicial candidates Bill Sites and Christine Trakas Thornhill were asked questions about their views on the privatization of jails, they had to decline to answer because they are not allowed to discuss issues that might come before them as a judge.

The question was revised to asking about their qualifications; a point both answered appealing to their business-minded audience.

Sites and Thornhill both cited their qualifications as small business owners who have operated their law practices in Polk County.

"My husband and I started from scratch," said Thornhill, who is based in Winter Haven.

Sites also shared his difficulties as a business owner.

"I know what it's like to pay everyone else before yourself," said Sites, who is based in Lakeland. "That's the kind of person you want in public office."

Stego Blue, a Democratic candidate for State Senate Dist. 15, is running against Republican Kelli Stargel. She participated in the State Farm event, so she arrived at the Yacht Club near the end of the NAWBO forum. That gave Blue a mike of his own for most of forum.

When asked what the cure is for the inability of government to get things done, Blue said the first thing he would do is encourage people to make some changes with the power of their votes.

Blue spent 17 years in the Navy; 10 on active duty and seven in the Naval Reserve. He said military people "band together for a common goal" and elected officials must "put party aside" to do the same.

Stargel, who walked in late with State Rep. John Wood from the State Farm event, briefly talked about increasing problems in the housing insurance market and the potential for worse trouble.

She said Citizens Property Insurance Corp. should only be used by homeowners as "a last resort."

"I would like to move insurance into the private sector," Stargel said.

Carol Cooper Welzel, a Democrat challenging Wood for his House District 41 seat, made certain that the audience felt her frustration with the status quo in Tallahassee.

"I'm not a career politician, I'm a grandmother," she said, adding that, if elected, she'll be a voice for women business owners.

"I would look at every opportunity to try to pass legislation that will help women become business owners," Welzel said.

Wood, who is seeking a second term, said he too isn't looking for a career in politics, and that he'll continue to stand up for Jeffersonian principles, especially personal responsibility and less government intrusion.

After Thursday's forum, Welzel spoke of some frustration with the way the host organization allowed Wood and Stargel to show up at the last minute and be allowed ample opportunity to participate.

"It was kind of disruptive but I wasn't in charge," Welzel said.

Annette Miller, owner of Sylvan Learning Center in Lakeland, said she learned a lot of candidate faces at the event. Now, she said, "it's time to do some homework" to determine in depth just what the candidates stand for.

Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2012 The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.)


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