UM district’s congressional candidates accuse and discuss at forum

The Democratic and Republican congressional candidates of Florida’s 18th district discussed a range of issues Oct. 8 at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce candidate forum, held at the Jungle Island tourist attraction on Watson Island.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has served Florida’s 18th district, where the University of Miami is located, since her election in 1989. At the forum, which covered topics such as the economy and the federal government’s financial bailout plan, Ros-Lehtinen stood up and paced the stage using hand gestures and a loud voice to address the audience.

Ros-Lehtinen’s opponent, Democratic congressional candidate Annette Taddeo, preferred to debate from her seat, which was only a few feet away from Ros-Lehtinen’s chair. From this position, Taddeo shot accusations at her opponents, many times looking Ros-Lehtinen directly in her eyes.

Prior to the forum, both campaigns were sent a list of potential questions submitted by the Chamber of Commerce.

Taddeo, in a post-forum interview with The Miami Hurricane, described her opponent’s style as “very cheerleader-like and overly caffeinated,” adding that her own behavior was “congressional.”

Taddeo accused Ros-Lehtinen of being a rubber stamp for President George W. Bush’s administration, and said she was in the “pocket of big oil companies.”

Ros-Lehtinen thinks her record belies these accusations.

“I am one of only three Republicans who voted against the plan to drill off of Florida’s cost,” Ros-Lehtinen said in the debate. “I don’t know how many times I voted that way yet my opponent said I am in the pocket of big oil.”

However, one of the main bones of contention for these two politicians was children’s health insurance.

“My opponent supported President Bush when he did not want to expand children’s health insurance not once, but five times,” Taddeo said.

Taddeo later said she was referring to the four attempted expansions of State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and one attempted veto override. None of these votes was successful.

SCHIP is low-cost insurance for families and children designed by the states within federal guidelines.

Ros-Lehtinen criticized this program due to state abuse. She said that states like Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey used this program to cover the health insurance of 600,000 adults, not for poor and sick children.

“Let’s have those states get rid of those [programs] and give them to our Florida needy, poor children,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

However, Taddeo questioned why she did not do something about these abuses while she was in Congress; Ros-Lehtinen blamed congressional bill-making rules, which would not allow amendments to the SCHIP bills, for this inaction.

In the post-debate interview, Taddeo was not satisfied with this answer. She said, in these expansions, several attempts were made to appease Republican concerns including some of Ros-Lehtinen’s frustrations. These include lowering the cigar-rolling tax.

In her closing remarks, Taddeo complimented Ros-Lehtinen’s record, including her work for Jewish people and Israel.

Ros-Lehtinen has declined an invitation from NBC6 to debate her opponent, and Taddeo said Ros-Lehtinen has refused her invitations to debate at least nine times.

Ros-Lehtinen was not available for a post-forum interview with The Miami Hurricane.