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League of Women Voters and Bob Graham Center host candidate forum for 2022 General Election

The League of Women Voters of Alachua County and Bob Graham Center for Public Service held a candidate forum on Sunday. (Emily Ferguson/WUFT News)
The League of Women Voters of Alachua County and Bob Graham Center for Public Service held a candidate forum on Sunday. (Emily Ferguson/WUFT News)

Candidates facing voters in less than a month discussed a variety of issues spanning from housing to healthcare on Sunday.

The General Election Candidate forum was jointly hosted by the League of Women Voters of Alachua County and University of Florida Bob Graham Center for Public Service on Oct. 9, which was rescheduled due to Hurricane Ian.

The goal of the forum was to inform voters in Alachua County about the candidates and issues that voters will see on the ballot on Nov. 8.

The forum focused on the local elections for Alachua County, in which Matt Jacobs, the director of the Bob Graham Center, emphasized the importance of local elections.

“When we look at your day-to-day lives and the impact on your day-to-day lives, local elections matter far more,” Jacobs said.

In addition to the focus on local elections, the forum focused on local issues that each candidate will face if they are elected to their respective seats.

Candidates from the Florida State Representative Districts 21 and 22, 8th Judicial Circuit Judge Group 12, Alachua County Commission Districts 1, 2, and 4, Gainesville Mayor, and Gainesville City Commission Districts 2 and 3 races were all invited to speak at the forum to discuss the local issues for their positions.

For the Florida Congressional Districts 20 and 22, Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson (D) of District 20 and Brandon Peters (D) of District 22 were in attendance to discuss questions about the Sadowski funds and housing, and prescription drugs.

Housing has been a big topic in recent months in Alachua County, as well as in the city of Gainesville as the need for housing increases in Florida.

When it comes to the Sadowski funds that are used for housing, Hinson says that the money should be for affordable housing to combat the housing crisis—something, she says, the current legislation does not recognize.

“That money should remain where it is for housing affordability because we also have a housing crisis that this particular legislature does not want to recognize,” Hinson said.

Peters wants to see the state use the Sadowski funds to help small businesses and to keep programs funded for the ordinary Floridian. He emphasized that housing programs like SAIL and SHIP, which are funded by the Sadowski funds, need to be robustly funded.

When it comes to prescription drugs, Hinson believes that the state can put caps on the amount of money that drug companies can put for certain types of prescriptions by the use of the managed healthcare plans that the state has.

Peters puts emphasis on the expansion of Medicaid so that those who do not have healthcare in the state of Florida, can afford some type of healthcare, especially in counties like Levy County, in which Peters resides.

“If we brought Medicaid expansion into the state of Florida, we would be able to have rural healthcare. Right now, in my county, Levy County, we don’t even have an emergency room. People die because of that,” Peter said.

In the 8th Circuit Judicial runoff candidate discussion, Sean Brewer and AuBroncee Martin put emphasis on the importance of the public having knowledge of the courts.

Martin calls judges the guardians of justice and puts emphasis on judges to speak with the community and be transparent on any reasons that judges make decisions. He also mentions the importance of professional diversity to ensure all perspectives and backgrounds are represented.

“We should be transparent and explain why we made such a decision,” Martin says.

Brewer said that the public keeps informed on the duties of a circuit court judge is essential.

“It is absolutely essential to the general public so that the general public understands what is going on at the courthouse and has some faith in what is going on at the courthouse,” Brewer said.

As for the candidates in the Alachua County Commission for Districts 1, 2, and 4, they spoke about pertinent local issues that will be on the ballot, such as single-member voting districts for Alachua County commissioners, as well as affordable housing requirements for Alachua County.

The candidates for District 1, Raemi Eagle-Glenn (R) and Mary Alford (D) were in attendance and spoke about their thoughts on these issues.

Eagle-Glenn is in favor of single-member district voting and said that the voters within the Gainesville city center decide how the city should be run and that those outside of those areas does not feel represented.

“We have a lot of unhappy residents that feel voiceless,” Eagle-Glenn said.

Alford disagrees and said that single-member districts would cause competition for resources and that single-member districts did not solve anything.

“I do not want to fight for just my districts, I want to fight for everybody,” Alford said.

The candidates for District 2, Ed Braddy (R) and Marihelen Wheeler (D) spoke on the subject very differently.

Wheeler said that even though she is elected for District 2, she serves the entire county.

“The whole idea of being able to work the whole county is a matter of developing the county as a whole, instead of one section at a time,” Wheeler said. Wheeler also believes that it would create competition for resources and would encourage them to not work together, but to work for the best interest of their district.

Braddy wants to see single-member districts and finds that other cities around Alachua County and East Gainesville feel bullied and ignored because they feel that the county doesn’t work with them.

“[Alachua, High Springs, and Micanopy] feel like they are either ignored or bullied, and citizens in a lot of East Gainesville still feel ignored,” Braddy said.

Ken Cornell (D) of District 4 feels that single-member districting isn’t good government and is Tallahassee’s want to govern the area. He said that most of the issues are county-wide issues and that single-member districting would cause confusion for representation should there are disagreements.

“Right now, you have the opportunity to seek representation from the other four commissioners who do represent you,” Cornell said.

When it comes to affordable housing requirements in the county, Wheeler said that they need to look at the historical and cultural needs that she says are often ignored when they look at the development of these areas.

“We need to understand the historic significance of what people are saying to us and how it is impacting the growth or the progress of these communities,” Wheeler said.

Braddy does not support government leadership imposing new developments on already existing development patterns. He said the real answer to the problem in the community is that the community does not have the conditions for housing affordability. He says the issues lie when you try to put affordable housing in areas that do not want it. He said he wants to revisit land development in Alachua County.

Cornell said recognizes that affordable housing is also a statewide issue, and not just a local issue. He said that the requirement is to not concentrate housing in the city of Gainesville but also disperse it into other areas of Alachua County. Cornell said that out of the 2,100 affordable housing in the city of Gainesville, 1,800 of them are located on Main Street, which further concentrates on affordable housing.

Alford said that it is important to keep the affordable housing that is already there. Alford proposed to make $15,000 grants to landlords to maintain affordable housing for a period of 7 years, which would not be limited to energy-efficient upgrades to lower the cost in those units.

“That’s a significant amount of money, but when you talk about the cost of a homeless family, it’s almost nothing,” Alford said.

Eagle-Glenn said that she wants to ensure that she is against communities being forced to have projects in the neighborhoods that say they do not want them. She emphasizes not wanting to drive down the property values of homes if these affordable housing projects are places in neighborhoods that do not want them.

Candidates for the Gainesville Mayor runoff, Ed Bielarski, and Harvey Ward spoke about supporting a vibrant economy in the Gainesville community.

Bielarski wants to focus on jobs and believes that they need to bring business into the area, something he says that the community lacks. Bielarski adds that he wants to bring manufacturing jobs into the community and needs to bring more skills training into the community.

“We’ve got to work somehow with the disparity in the education system so that folks aren’t coming out of school with no opportunity,” Bielarski said.

Ward said it starts with infrastructure on both the physical and people infrastructure fronts. He said building companies in Gainesville is important and employing apprentices and disadvantaged workers, no matter the job.

“They’ve got to begin paying everybody who works on this campus whether they sweep the floors, or whatever this job is a living wage. We do that, and we solve poverty in this county,” Ward said.

The final candidates to speak at the forum were the candidates for Gainesville City Commission for Districts 2 and 3. These candidates spoke about increasing the electrical vehicle fleet in Gainesville and how that will affect the GRU business model.

James Ingle of District 2 said of the electric vehicle fleet that EVs are coming, and they are going to be a part of transportation in the near future. He said GRU will have to deal with infrastructure supply, and that buildings, new and old, have upgrade services for these vehicles.

Ed Book of District 2 said that he supports moving to these vehicles, but GRU will have to get ready for reduced revenue because the community will be using less energy. He said GRU will have to prepare for better budgeting as the community heads toward electric vehicles.

Casey Willits of District 3 said this energy will be something that will be produced locally, which he said is a great opportunity for GRU. He said the GRU will have to plan and innovate for it but is something that GRU can do.

Dejeon Cain of District 4 agrees and said that it will be great for the Gainesville community. He emphasizes that the commission will have to bring other entities in, such as members of the community and other outside entities.

“We’re going to need to bring everybody to the table. With this current commission, that’s something that we’re not doing,” Cain said.

Voters in Alachua County will see all candidates, as well as the issue surrounding single-member voting districts on the General Election ballot on Nov. 8. The last day to register to vote is Tuesday.

Emily is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.