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Gillum, DeSantis campaigns bring contrasting visions to St. Pete Chamber

Margie Manning

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The crowd gathered at the Florida Holocaust Museum for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber Popcorn & Politics event

Despite the absence of both of the state’s gubernatorial candidates, attendees at the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s Popcorn & Politics gathering got two very different perspectives on each campaign’s platform.

Chris King, an entrepreneur-turned-politician and the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, highlighted proposed changes in healthcare, workforce and environmental policies that King said would lead to economic growth while also taking care of people.

Standing in for Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis, Pinellas County Commissioner Jay Beyrouti said this was not the time to change course after eight years of success under Gov. Rick Scott.

“The economy is at its best, with over 1.6 million new jobs, 3.2 percent unemployment,” Beyrouti said. “Now is not the time to raise $1 billion in taxes and try to increase regulation and bureaucracy. That will stop the growth of this state.”

Pinellas County Commissioner Jay Beyrouti

They spoke Thursday night at the Florida Holocaust Museum, where the chamber had invited all the candidates for state and county offices. Not every candidate was able to attend, but many sent campaign representatives, said Martha Boden, CEO of SPCA Tampa Bay and vice chair of public policy for the chamber.

Martha Boden, CEO of SPCA Tampa Bay and vice chair of public policy for the St. Pete Chamber

Beyrouti quickly went through a bullet-point list of stands DeSantis has taken on various issues:

Taxes: Keep taxes low and make it harder for the legislature to raise taxes

Healthcare: Oppose Medicare for all

Economy: DeSantis is a “free-market conservative”

Education: Boost classroom funding, expand choice and vocational and technical education, hold the line on college tuition

Environment: Improve water quality, support Everglades restoration, ban off-shore drillings

Crime: Stop illegal immigration and ban sanctuary cities.

Playing to a business crowd, lieutenant governor-nominee King talked about his own entrepreneurial background — his company, Elevation  Financial Group LLC in Orlando, is a private equity real estate company that he said supports affordable housing projects nationwide.

“In the process of doing that, I developed such an awareness of the power of small business, the power of socially conscious corporate citizens to change society and to change culture, and how so many of you and the decisions you make on how you care for your employees, what you pay, the benefits you provide, the philanthropic investments you make in our community, are so incredibly important,” King said.

Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Chris King

He focused on three areas that he said he hears about from business leaders.

Healthcare: Expand Medicaid, protect people with pre-existing conditions and create a public-private marketplace that creates affordable health care options for small businesses

Workforce: Invest in technical education, vocational education and community colleges

Environment: Climate change, rising seas, clean water and clean air are “huge issues that affect the growth and sustainability of your community,” King said.

Candidates for other offices mingled with attendees at the event and set up tables with campaign representatives and literature. Check out the gallery below to see what those in attendance had to say.

St. Pete Chamber Popcorn & Politics

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George Buck, republican candidate for Congressional District 13
“The biggest issue we have is dumping of raw sewage into the Bay and the aquifer. When I become congressman I’m going to meet with the Secretary of the Environment and have them come down here with a task force to find out why and how we stop it immediately.”
Rep. Charlie Crist, the Democratic incumbent, was not present but had representatives at the event

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