4A's makes endorsements during forum


Rep. Ted Yoho responds to a question during the African American Accountability Alliance Candidate Forum on Monday while Jake Rush, the Republican challenger, listens.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesvile Sun
Published: Monday, July 7, 2014 at 10:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 7, 2014 at 10:56 p.m.

The 4A's Political Action Committee for the African American Accountability Alliance hosted a candidate forum Monday evening, during which the organization made its endorsements in advance of the Aug. 26 primary.

As the forum wrapped up around 10 p.m., PAC members cast their votes for the candidates and the PAC's endorsements were announced.

The organization endorsed Glo Smith for U.S. Congress District 5, County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson for County Commission District 2, Kevin Thorpe for County Commission District 4, incumbent Gunnar Paulson for School Board District 3 and Jancie Vinson for School Board District 5.

The PAC didn't make an endorsement for U.S. Congress District 3, for which U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho is running for re-election, and also didn't endorse any judicial candidates.

Candidates running for the Alachua County Commission, Alachua County School Board, Alachua County Court Judge and U.S. Congress attended the forum, during which they fielded a variety of questions.

The forum was held at the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County. The candidates present for each race who are competing in the August primary election participated in moderated question-and-answer sessions.

Yoho and Republican challenger Jake Rush, who are running for the District 3 seat, faced off alongside fellow Republican Glo Smith, who is running for the District 5 seat held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, during one of those sessions.

Former County Commissioner Rodney Long moderated the discussion and kicked things off by pointing out Congress' abysmal approval rating.

“Why would anyone want to run for Congress, the most dysfunctional body probably in American history?” he asked, garnering some laughs. Well, he said, they had some candidates there that night who were going tell them why.

Rush's answer: He isn't running because he wants to be popular.

“It's because I'm a warrior. I've defended the Constitution in state and federal court. I sincerely believe that that which you do to the least of my brethren you do to me,” he said.

During a question regarding the Voting Rights Act, Rush called out Yoho regarding prior comments of his that were the subject of news reports from several outlets, including Salon and MSNBC, earlier this year.

Rush said Yoho had said he thought voting is a privilege and people should have to own property in order to vote and told the audience he disagreed and thinks it's important for everyone to have access to the ballot box.

Yoho responded, saying his opponent had misquoted him.

“I have never said people should own property,” he said.

When the U.S. was just beginning as a country, people had to own property to vote, he said, but it would be “ridiculous” to go back to that today.

After Yoho's rebuttal, Long said they'd leave it to the people at the forum to go search online because there are related reports out there, so he left it to the room to determine that.

Salon, in a report in May about Yoho's comments, cited footage of the congressman at an event during his 2012 campaign in Ocala during which he said, “I've had some radical ideas about voting and it's probably not a good time to tell them, but you used to have to be a property owner to vote.”

Long also asked the candidates why African-American and Latino voters should vote for them since most of those citizens view the Republican Party and the Tea Party as uncaring, hostile and insensitive toward issues important to them.

“The law is color blind,” Rush said. He said he's represented the downtrodden as a lawyer, who often are from minorities.

The Republican Party is the party of equal access and equal opportunity, not equal outcome, he said, and he'd be happy to convert anyone who would talk to him.

Smith emphasized that people should vote their values and not support a candidate just because of party only.

“Before I'm a Republican, before I'm a woman, before I'm black, I am an American,” she said.

Yoho said what the Tea Party stands for is what's good about America.

“We need to be Americans and come together over a common vision,” he said.

While the congressional candidates fielded broader questions about immigration and the economy, the Democratic candidates for the County Commission addressed more specific local issues.

County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson and Harvey Ward Jr., who are running for District 2, and Ken Cornell and Kevin Thorpe, who are vying for outgoing Commissioner Susan Baird's District 4 seat, all participated in the moderated discussion.

The candidates were asked whether they support the county's transportation sales tax initiative, which will appear on the November ballot and proposes an eight-year, 1-cent sales tax to fund road repairs and other transportation projects. The involved local governments have been developing project lists delineating which particular projects would be slated for funding if the tax is approved.

All four candidates said they supported the sales tax referendum, citing the county's road repair backlog as a key concern.

“This is probably the simplest and least painful way to address that,” Ward said.

Cornell said he is going to support it, mentioning that it makes sense to have visitors to Alachua County contribute some of the revenue for the roads through a sales tax.

“If it does pass, I'm a CPA by trade. I will make sure that every dollar you approve to be spent to fix our roads in accordance with that list will be done the way it was supposed to be done,” he said of the sales tax and the related project list.

The County Commission candidates were also asked whether they support Plum Creek timber company's Envision Alachua application regarding how it wishes to develop its land in eastern Alachua County.

Pinkoson said the county attorney advised him strongly not to take a position on this matter since the application will be coming before the commission for consideration. He did say the eastern portion of Gainesville and the county is very much in need of help in terms of economic development. However, he said he doesn't believe he should be taking a position on this until the board votes on it.

Thorpe said the applicant should be given the right to be vetted properly and coming down on one side or the other at this stage in the process would be a “dereliction of our duty.”

Ward and Cornell, however, said they did not support Plum Creek's application.

“I love the idea of building a dense, mixed-use city and increasing economic development and all those wonderful things, but I look at that land and I say, 'I don't see how this is going to work,'” Ward said. “I'm just not sold on it.”

Cornell said he doesn't support the current application that has been submitted to the county and stands by the county's current comprehensive plan, which allows the community to grow while still protecting the natural resources and wetlands that are important in this community. For right now, he said, that's where he stands.

School Board District 3 incumbent Gunnar Paulson and candidate Philoron Wright, as well as District 5 candidates Jancie Vinson and Rob Hyatt, also participated in their own session during the forum.

Susan Bullard, AuBroncee Martin and Jose Moreno, all of whom are running for County Court Judge Group 4, as well as William Falik, a circuit judge candidate, did so as well during which they discussed their credentials and reasons for running.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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