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Election 2022: Volusia-area candidates debate abortion, climate change – Daytona Beach News-Journal


Florida House District 30 candidate Chase Tramont responds to a question at one of several mini-debates hosted by Tiger Bay of Volusia County on Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Daytona Beach. His opponent, Robyn Hattaway listens.

DAYTONA BEACH — Tiger Bay Club of Volusia County promised “A Night of Political Fireworks,” and while the six mini-debates — one-minute intros and three, two-minute questions — between congressional candidates and Volusia County School Board candidates remained civil, there were a few rockets launched and eyes raised. Here are some highlights.

On abortion

The Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade, finding that states have a right to limit or ban abortions, drew some strong responses from three Democrats and five of the eight Republicans running for Congress in the new 7th District.

Florida House District 30 Republican candidates Chase Tramont and Robyn Hattaway each offered powerful testimonials for their pro-life views.

Tramont talked about adopting a special-needs child. “My son is non-verbal, 100%. He’ll never say the word dad. That breaks my heart … And I was there the night he was born. And the options were abortion or adoption. Well, my wife and I chose to put our life where our mouth is. We weren’t just going to say we value life and then walk away. We took him in. And it’s changed our life drastically, and no one can ever tell me his life doesn’t have value. … We have a moral obligation, particularly in unexpected pregnancies (and with low-income mothers to ensure) they have the proper resources to manage that. It’s not enough to just love ’em to life. You have to be able to love ’em enough to be able to give them hope and opportunity … so investing into adoption programs and foster care reform.”

Hattaway said her husband is the product of a child pregnancy. “I couldn’t be more grateful to my mother-in-law. She’s my dearest friend and the most courageous woman I know,” she said. Then Hattaway shared a story about her father, who impregnated his high-school sweetheart. That child was adopted: “I found out four years ago that I have a brother. God, I’m gonna cry. As a little girl I used to dream I would have a brother to defend me on the playground and it was always this pipe dream. I was always jealous of other kids who had a big brother. … But I got to meet that man. And I am so grateful to the woman who had him and the choice she made and his life is beautiful. And he has excelled and has five children and they’re a part of my life today. And I’m so grateful. I can’t imagine valuing life more.”

On School Board ‘toxicity’

Three of the five Volusia County School Board District 1 candidates participated, addressing a question about a perception that the district has had a problem with toxicity.

Georgann Carnicella recounted a story about attending a School Board meeting where a woman approached the board during public comment and none of the board members looked her in the eye: “I don’t know if I’d use ‘toxic.’ I think we’re in a toxic environment, all of us. It’s a strong word to use, to say the school board members are ‘toxic.’ I think what’s missing is trust. I think what’s missing is attention.”

Incumbent Jamie Haynes made reference to the firing of former Superintendent Scott Fritz, saying since then, no one has approached her expressing unhappiness: “The tension walked out of the room on April 12th. … What I can tell you is the sun is shining on Volusia County right now. Dr. Carmen Balgobin. She was a surprise. She came to us and little did we know that shortly into the pandemic, she would have to step up into the role of superintendent. She did it with graciousness and never stopping. She worked 24/7. That’s what I believe she is going to continue to do now.”

Al Bouie responded with a recitation of his resume, then emphasized team-building. “You don’t get upset and fire your superintendent before they have a chance to finish strategic plan. So my point is I think we remove the toxicity by showing that we know how to work as a team for the betterment and the learning activities of our children.”

On who was not there

One of the hottest School Board races is District 5, where incumbent Ruben Colón faces a challenge from Volusia County Councilman Fred Lowry.

Lowry didn’t appear at the Tiger Bay debate, and Colón and a few other candidates whose competition weren’t in attendance were given a chance to introduce themselves.   

“I’m kind of used to being by myself,” Colón said. “It’s unfortunate that the Moms for Liberty debate, which ended up getting called off, my opponent doesn’t show up. Tonight, didn’t show up. League of Women Voters, he’s already said he isn’t going to show up. He’s counting on support that he’s done nothing for.”

Then came the announcement that the Moms for Liberty debate was back on. Colón and Lowry will debate from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 22 at The Center at Deltona.

Lowry said in a text message he doesn’t need to defend his record.

On climate change and the Supreme Court’s EPA ruling

Six of the eight Republicans in the 7th Congressional District responded to a question about climate change and a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to regulate carbon emissions without specific authorization from Congress.

Scott Sturgill said the Supreme Court “got it right in limiting the EPA.”, then added: “Global warming, sure. There are issues where you know we could do better as a society. But there’s also issues where … the Earth takes care of itself. It’s an ever-changing battle. So again for all the people who want global warming and want, you know, to pursue that avenue, I hope you enjoy the high prices. I hope you enjoy the excess penalties that we’re paying. I’m not a big believer there.”

Anthony Sabatini acknowledged a changing climate but said private enterprise — and not the government — must take the lead. “We know that the effect of people living in Western developed countries is very limited in the global effect on climate change and countries like India and China are the main contributors to this problem,” he said. “And that by restricting our own people and attacking them and making it so they can’t live a good, fruitful life and can actually use energy to their own consumptive needs, we’re just unilaterally disarming ourselves as a country, while these bad actors aren’t doing the same.”

Erika Benfield said the Obama administration’s “Cash-for-Clunkers” program was an example of government overreach that hurt American jobs, then added: “Florida, of course, has a ginormous amount of shoreline, but we have to be mindful of how those things are affecting us so I definitely think it should be discussed, should be talked about, but I’m not for anything that is government overreach that’s gonna hurt Americans.”

Ted Edwards concurred with the Supreme Court’s ruling that the executive branch should not bypass Congress in making regulations. “As far as global warming, yes, based on the rising temperature, I think we would all agree there’s a change that’s been happening in our climate. We need to make sure we do what we can to address that. … Certainly we need to do what we can to protect our environment, but we need to do it on a reasonable basis.”

Al Santos advocated support for innovators in developing methods to capture carbon emissions, but cautioned too many regulations harm the free market economy. “So I think the role of the government should be as a leader of the world to start off a program or to continue with the program of planting trees all over the world. I think we should be planting billions of trees, you know. That’s going to take some time.”

Brady Duke also emphasized the importance of maintaining an economy free from overregulation: “Our environment should absolutely be stewarded. We have been blessed with creation and we should absolutely steward the resources within it every chance we can.” 

Three Democrats running for U.S. House District 7 in Florida, from left, Al Krulick, Allek Pastrana and Tatiana Fernandez, participate in a debate hosted by Tiger Bay Club of Volusia County on Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Daytona Beach.

The three Democrats in attendance also addressed what needs to be done to combat climate change. 

Tatiana Fernandez: “The U.S. Supreme Court is trying to go back in time. We will also need clear federal legislation to reduce carbon emissions not only as an agency goal but also as a U.S. government goal.”

Allek Pastrana said he would advocate laws based on scientific proof, but added: “I understand where SCOTUS came from, because the EPA should not be making their own laws. The laws should be coming from Congress, right?”

Al Krulick said climate change is real and cannot be wished away. “It is estimated that there are over 100 climate-change deniers in Congress and every single one of them receives campaign contributions from the dirty energy companies,” he said. “The truth is our economy will be stronger if we invest in clean energy.”

On the pandemic’s impact on schools 

District 3 School Board candidate Justin Kennedy expressed a view shared by several others: “I think the School Board did what they could do with the information they had at hand. … And I think the School Board was looking at it from a school safety standpoint, and then it became more political.”

Kim Short curates the Volusia County School Forum Facebook page and said it grew from about 5,000 people pre-pandemic to more than 12,000 a few months into it. “I think there were a few things we could have definitely done better. One of them would be communication. … When people are flooding Facebook to try to find answers and your district is not controlling the communication, that’s not exactly a good sign.”

Jesse Thompson said grace should be shown to board members because their decisions during the unprecedented spread of COVID-19 were difficult. “I would consult a variety of medical professionals early on and realize that science does evolve. Science is not settled. It’s ever-changing.”

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