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Special Election Congressional Candidates Hold First Debate

Ashley Lopez

Candidates vying for Trey Radel’s former seat in Congress met for their first debate Tuesday in downtown Fort Myers.

Four Republican candidates for District 19 discussed a range of issues—and mostly agreed on every single one.

The candidates all say they would fight government spending, close the nation’s borders and work to repeal the federal health care law, if elected.

The congressional hopefuls were also asked about a state ballot measure aimed at legalizing medical marijuana.

State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R- Fort Myers, said she’s opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment.

“I am against illegal drugs being used for any purpose, but the matter is in the hands of the Florida voter,” she said. “It will be on the ballot in November. And the folks of Florida are going to decide what will happen.”

The candidates were also asked what they would do to stop flood insurance rate hikes. Former state lawmaker Paige Kreegel says he would work to change how the feds are calculating flood insurance premiums.

“We certainly need to vote for a delay in the implementation, we need to vote for a much longer phase-in, but most importantly we need to get back to the formula they are using,” he said. “They are currently using a formula that makes no sense at all.”

Two relatively unknown businessmen are also running for the now-vacated 19th congressional district. Both men were also in Tuesday’s debate and are up against two well-known politicians in the area.


Benacquisto, the state senate’s majority leader, announced she was running for the seat shortly after Gov. Rick Scott called a special election.

Before that, former state Representative Paige Kreegel, a Punta Gorda Republican and medical doctor, announced he would jump into a race he lost back in 2010.

Because the primary election is relatively close most political experts say name recognition will likely be key in this election.

However, retired CEO Curt Clawson has been buying pricey ads in the hopes of catching up. During the debate he said his experience turning around a tire company in his 40s would be useful in Washington.

“I think Washington is ready for a turnaround,“ he said. “And those with these sorts of leadership skills to make the hard choices, show the leadership and grab the mantle of leadership is a pretty good time in our country’s history.”

Self-employed businessman Michael Dreikorn said Southwest Floridians are lucky to be in a solidly conservative area. He said the country is in a quote “death spiral” because of encroaching liberalism.

“It’s time for us to be hardline on the conservative values that founded this Republican Party,” he said. “And that’s why I am running. I am not a career politician. I have never ran for an office before. I am pissed off as a businessman and I want to go make a change in DC.”

The primary election is set for April 22nd.

Ashley Lopez is a reporter forWGCUNews. A native of Miami, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a journalism degree.
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