State Senate Three Contenders Square Off In Online Debate

Tom Flanigan, WFSU

Democrat Loranne Ausley and Republican Marva Preston had a few points of agreement, but far more issues separated them in their battle to succeed Bill Montford.

The two candidates who want to succeed Bill Montford as the state senator from North Florida’s 3rd district squared off in an online debate on Wednesday, September 23rd. The event was hosted by the Tallahassee Democrat.

There were disagreements aplenty between the two contenders. Democrat and long-time state house member Loranne Ausley opposed Governor DeSantis’s proposed law to hike penalties for “violent demonstrators.” “It is meant to divide us with the politics of fear and sent people into their corner when we need to be building trust,” she asserted.

Republican Marva Preston, with a quarter-century of law enforcement in her background, had a different take. “The governor has come forth with actions to take against people that are trying to destroy our homes, our communities and the history, not only of this state and our communities but this country.”

Ausley and Preston also didn’t see eye to eye on how Florida has handled the pandemic. “Frankly, I think the state’s response has been botched from the beginning,” Ausley charged, to which Preston responded: “I believe that the governor has responded on a state level, but on a local level responding to the needs of the people.”

one blonde woman in blue dress next to african-american woman in red shirt, both are smiling

There was likewise a gaping gulf between the two on the early meltdown of Florida’s unemployment system as COVID-19 spurred a surge of joblessness. Ausley opined, “We have a system that utterly failed Floridians.” While Preston insisted, “There is an opportunity to address this with our governor. There is an opportunity to make known some of the needs that the people have.”

But the candidates also had a few points of agreement. Both Preston and Ausley went on the record in favor of returning voting rights to felons and against voter suppression in any form.

Preston said, “I believe that when people have paid their duty to society and they’ve been incarcerated, they certainly deserve to have their life restored.”

Ausley insisted, “We should be on a constant quest to expand voting opportunities to make it easier for as many people as possible.”

In a few areas, Ausley’s 16 years as a state legislator shone through. Here was the response when debate moderator Jim Rosica asked Preston her thoughts on how lawmakers tended to drain the state’s affordable housing trust fund year after year.

“Somebody needs to be held accountable. Somebody needs to say why this was done,” she surmised.

That was a question for which Democrat Ausley had a ready answer.

“The people who have been diverting the money from the housing trust fund are the Republican leadership of the party.”

But Ausley had her own uncomfortable moment. At issue was the persistent charge that her campaign is refusing to return federal money it mistakenly received from the Paycheck Protection Program. That was intended to keep businesses afloat as the pandemic spread.

“The Florida Democratic Party did take the money,” Ausley acknowledged, “And we condemned it at the time. They gave the money back. Our campaigns did not receive any money and this is another page from the Trump playbook of lies and distractions because they don’t want to talk about the issues.”

And even though the persistent rumor that the Ausley campaign did avail itself of that cash hasn’t been directly linked to Preston, she didn’t mind giving the charge a little nudge.

“If there’s an allegation, whether it’s against me or anyone else, I am 100% behind finding out the truth.”

The truth of the election will come November 3rd.

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