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NAPLES — Collier’s only forum for Florida’s Congressional District 25 race hosted three of the four candidates facing off for the seat on Nov. 2.
However instead of the issues, the fewer than 20 people who attended the event — sponsored by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and the Eastern Collier Chamber of Commerce at iTech in Immokalee — saw the debate devolve into a back and forth between front-runners Republican David Rivera and Democrat Joe Garcia.
“They were definitely more interested in addressing their banter — their bad politics and their nasty politics — instead of answering the questions,” said Golden Gate resident and moderator Kaydee Tuff with Tuff News, Media Consultants. “It showed that they may not have been as informed on the issues here in Collier County or they would have answered more of the questions.”
Florida Whig party candidate Craig Porter also attended the event and got some jabs in.
“I guess they don’t want to play with me,” said Porter after being excluded from the back and forth between Rivera and Garcia.
Questions ranged from earmarks and what candidates would do to promote job growth, to whether or not the candidates would toe the party line when they got to Washington and where they stood on Jackson Lab.
As to what the candidates would do to promote job growth in Collier, the three had different approaches.
Porter said he believes it’s not the responsibility of the federal government to promote jobs, but that the government could do more — for the businesses that create jobs — by not taxing people so heavily.
He added that one way the federal government could actually create jobs, would be for it to do its duty and invest in the preservation and restoration of the Everglades.
“That would bring thousands of jobs,” he said.
Rivera partly agreed, saying that lower taxes would help to promote jobs by nurturing businesses entrepreneurial spirits.
Eliminating the national debt and balancing the budget, Rivera said would also create jobs, by removing economic uncertainty.
Garcia said to create jobs in Collier he would promote more loans for small businesses.
“If you have a small business, it is impossible to get a loan,” said Garcia “We have to invest in jobs, not government jobs.”
The candidates also weighed in on Jackson Lab.
Rivera, who supports the project, said the impetus for the Jackson Lab project came from Collier, and that he was part of the Legislature that allowed for federal funding to go toward the project.
“As long as the community wants it,” Rivera said before going off on a tangent on the fact that he cut taxes, and Garcia doesn’t yet live in the district and spent most the past year living out of state.
In response, Garcia rebutted Rivera by bringing up the Republican’s financial disclosures which were amended on Friday. The disclosures had been called into question in an Oct. 13 Miami Herald article, due to the fact that Rivera listed that his main source of income — apart from his legislative salary — as coming from consulting work done for the U.S. Agency for International Development. However, the article revealed that the agency had no record of hiring Rivera or his company.
The amended paperwork omits USAID and Rivera’s firm Interamerican Government Relations.
Garcia said he and his family have always lived in South Florida and then he called Rivera out for claiming that he cut taxes when fees for things such as a driver’s license went up.
As for Jackson Lab, Garcia said the decision has to be made by Collier voters and not politicians.
Porter said he would be for Jackson Lab as long as the industry is not heavily regulated.
Although the event was hosted in Immokalee, two major issues that concern the community were not discussed — Immokalee’s agricultural economy and immigration.
That left some of Immokalee’s long-time advocates, feeling like those running for the district do not know the district.
“I think there was too much bickering between the candidates and not dealing with the real issues. There was only one man — Craig Porter — (who) tried to stay on task on what he’s about,” said Fred Thomas with the Eastern Collier Chamber of Commerce. “None of them (neither Garcia nor Rivera) understand Immokalee. None of them understand Immokalee and the needs of Immokalee turn this county around.”
Immokalee League of United Latin American Citizens president Gloria Hernandez said she was surprised and disappointed that the candidates did not even broach the subject of immigration — especially because of the area’s large farm/migrant worker community.
“We’ve spent years fighting for immigration reform,” said Hernandez after the forum.