They disagree on gambling, with Machado generally favoring it if it is accompanied by social safeguards and Zapata generally opposing it. While Zapata speaks favorably about incorporation — the process of creating new cities — and the potential of the county focusing more on providing regional services than municipal ones, Machado says he is skittish about widespread incorporation creating new municipal governments.
Their views also diverge on the Jackson Health System’s future. Zapata, who delved into healthcare in Tallahassee, chaired the task force last year that recommended turning the public hospital into a private nonprofit with a governing board independent of the commission.
Machado said in an interview last week that he opposes privatization. He praised Jackson’s current administration, and the 17-member Public Health Trust that oversaw Jackson until last year, when the commission appointed a temporary, seven-member financial recovery board to watch over the system, which had been suffering massive losses. Commissioners agreed this week to replace the trust with the smaller recovery board.
Machado has declined to debate Zapata, saying he will only do so if Zapata makes public the records from when he was arrested 20 years ago. The case has been sealed and expunged.
Zapata said he was arrested as a 25-year-old Florida International University student for purchasing anabolic steroids in Colombia and having them mailed to him in Miami. He plead no contest, served six months of probation, paid a fine and later had his record sealed. Zapata said he was following his lawyer’s advice to prevent him from facing difficulty getting a job. He had his record expunged after leaving the statehouse two years ago.
Machado said he does not believe Zapata’s explanation, and chided Zapata for not unsealing his record during his 2004 campaign, when a voter unsuccessfully sued to make it public.
“If that’s what you were arrested for, why keep it sealed?” Machado said.
Zapata dismissed Machado’s suspicions as a tactic to avoid debating.
“I’m running against a guy who has zero experience,” Zapata said. “He’s never done anything for the community.”
Most of the attacks in the heated campaign have been leveled by shadowy, third-party political committees linked to the candidates’ allies. A committee opposing Zapata has painted him as a lobbyist and phony Republican. A committee opposing Machado has portrayed him as a bureaucrat and police-union lackey.
Machado’s attorney sent People for Truth & Integrity, an electioneering communications organization that backs Zapata, a letter demanding that the group stop sending out and publicly correct a flier that Machado said makes misleading claims. The group’s attorney said it stands by the piece.
A previous version of this article misidentified former state Rep. Juan C. Zapata's expunged arrest.