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District 51 debate draws a familiar audience

About 55 people attend the event in Seminole, but many are those who already know the candidates and their platforms.

By ANNE LINDBERG
Published October 30, 2006


SEMINOLE - With about a week to go before the election, voters got their first chance to see the candidates for House District 51 go head to head.

But there was apparently not a lot of interest. About 55 people showed up for Sunday's debate at Seminole Gardens Apartments, and at least 20 of those were family members, friends, campaign workers, Seminole City Council members and the media.

Despite the apparent lack of local enthusiasm, the race has generated some interest at the party level - the Republican Party has donated about $16,000 to Dottie Reeder's campaign, or about 14.4 percent of the total $111,426 that she has collected. The Democrats have given Janet Long about $21,600, or about 21.6 percent of the $100,122 that she has raised.

Those who did attend Sunday's debate got to watch Long and Reeder - who served together on the Seminole City Council - dig at each other.

Reeder stumbled when answering a question about zero-based budgeting, saying that it "depends on who you talk to what the answer is with that." She followed that with the blanket statement that "every government could decrease their taxes."

Long answered by saying, "I understand zero-based budgeting." Then she explained to the audience that zero-based budgeting means the tax rate is decided after the budget is built from the ground up, starting from zero dollars. Under the current system, she said, cities and counties start with the tax rate and work back from there.

Later, Reeder took a shot at the likelihood that Long, a Democrat, could be effective.

Because the Republican Party is in power, Reeder said, she would be able to sit at the front of the room "while the Democrats will sit in the back with little or no leadership. That is the way it is."

One woman in the audience muttered, "She's awfully certain (Charlie) Crist will win (the governor's race)."

Long said she has worked with both parties in the past and can do so again.

"I don't care about political ideology," Long said. "People are more important than party politics."

Reeder and Long also criticized each other's stance on property insurance rates.

Long advocates creating a consortium of states along the gulf and the Atlantic to bargain with insurers. By spreading the risk, she said, rates will decrease.

Reeder said that's no solution because all of those states are at equal risk, and, if such a plan is to work, the states involved should be inland, where they are not subject to high risk of hurricane damage.

Reeder wants to attract reinsurers back to the state and has said she wants to continue with insurance reforms that this year's Legislature implemented.

Long said those reforms have taken away consumer protection and left millions of homeowners with no place to go.

Reeder, 57, has lived in Seminole since 1963. She has served on the Seminole City Council and has been mayor for the past 11 years. She has resigned her mayor's seat, effective Election Day on Nov. 7. She is a health and welfare coordinator for BayCare Health System.

Long, 61, served as a deputy insurance commissioner with the Florida Department of Insurance from 1987 to 1998. She also served on the Seminole City Council, opting not to run for re-election this year so she could run for the state House.