Sarasota-Manatee candidates discuss education and environmental concerns, in addition to other key policy positions, ahead of August 30 primary.
Though discussions at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee's "Primer for the Primary" event were presented as panels, not debates, Republican candidates for the House of Representatives, District 73, seized the opportunity to debate the origins of a mailer advertisement.
Joe Gruters accused his opponent, Steve Vernon, of accepting money from large donors to finance the advertisement, which Vernon claimed he had never seen prior to the panel. The disagreement was met by laughter, cheers and clapping from the audience.
Gruters and Vernon made up the third panel at the event on Saturday sponsored by University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, Observer Media Group Inc. and Manatee Educational TV and held in the Selby Auditorium at USF Sarasota-Manatee.
The pair was preceded by Democratic candidates vying for the coveted District 23 State Senate seat, Frank Alcock and Frank Cirillo, followed by Republicans running in the District 72 House of Representatives race.
The final panel of the day featured Republican candidates running for the District 23 State Senate seat, Rick Levine, Nora Patterson, Ray Pilon and Greg Steube.
Several attendees scribbled notes on their sample ballots as candidates discussed healthcare expansion, teacher shortages and medical marijuana.
Luigi Costello kept track of candidates' positions in a little yellow notebook as he followed the panel schedule on his phone. He said he came to the event because he wasn't satisfied basing his vote on advertisements alone.
"Ads more prefabricated...it's not the true picture of the candidate," Costello said. "Part of voting is instinct and gut feeling."