Students question local candidates at forum

Though not all candidates attended, students had the chance to meet many of the individuals seeking various offices from State Senate to County Commissioner on Wednesday at USF Votes: 2012 Candidate Forum.

Jean Cocco, coordinator for the event, a Student Government (SG) senator and a junior majoring in political science and international studies, said the event, sponsored by SG, offered a chance to bring politics closer to campus.

Events like these are crucial to the democratic process, as it provides a unique experience in which you will be hearing directly from the candidates, he said.

Eight candidates seeking four different offices were slated to speak in a series of debates moderated by USF alumni, Laila Abdelaziz of Emerge USA and Christopher Cano of the League of United Latin American Citizens, though only one debate took place since three candidates were absent.

Members of a student panel, moderators and members of the audience asked the candidates questions ranging from the environment to unemployment.

The event was the first event in what is proposed to be a series on voter education, student body President Brian Goff said, but at the time, no other events are planned.

The focus of the night was the debate between the two contenders, Shawn Harrison (R) and Mark Danish (D), for the State Senate District 63 seat.
The candidates butted heads on the issue of education, and were asked how each would be an advocate for USF if they won in November.

Harrison, a member of the state House of Representatives, said he will fight for fairer budget cuts something USF has seen more of in recent years and pointed out that he is one of only three USF graduates in the Fla. House.

We need to increase our numbers in the house, he said. We got to elect more Bulls.

Danish, a seventh-grade science teacher for the last 30 years, responded by pointing out that Harrison voted for last springs budget cuts and the separation of USF Polytechnic.

You may have been a Bull, Danish said. But you gave USF the horns on that one.

Those absent included Republicans Rich Glorioso for Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, Margaret Iuculano for County Commission District 6 and Tom Lee for State Senate seat 24. Cano jokingly offered each of those absent a chance at debating.

Jarory De Jesus, a senior majoring in anthropology and computer science, said the turnout was reflective of the candidates concern.

I wish more opposition had shown up, he said. Its like they dont want to debate or dont care about USF.

Craig Latimer (D), running for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, is a former homicide
crime scene investigator and the chief of staff for the Supervisor of Elections.

I am the only candidate that stands before you who has conducted an election, Latimer said.

Elizabeth Belcher (D), a candidate for the State Senate District 24 race, is a former investigator for the IRS, and this is her first time running for office. Belcher relayed her message of four Es: ethics, economy, education, and environment. She also addressed what she views as a one-party dominance in Florida politics.

The Republican Party has had total control of Florida for last 14 years, Belcher said. Are you happy with the path Floridas on?

Kevin Beckner (D) is a sitting member of the Hillsborough County Commission and is running this year for the County Commission District 6.

Beckner is a former police officer and works as a financial planner.

At the event, he called for bipartisanship in local, state and national politics, and expressed the importance of voting in local elections.

Emily Schwab, a senior studying financial marketing and member of the College Republicans, said she enjoyed the event, but was disappointed in the dearth of candidates.

It was a good idea, and we should expand on it, but I wish more candidates would have shown up, Schwab said.