South Florida congressional hopefuls spar over Obamacare, Big Sugar

Joe Garcia and Annette Taddeo respond to questions from voters at Tuesday’s Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations forum.
Joe Garcia and Annette Taddeo respond to questions from voters at Tuesday’s Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations forum. Miami Herald

The Democratic primary in U.S. House District 26 is getting testy, as evidenced by a candidate forum Tuesday night in which Annette Taddeo continued her offensive against former Rep. Joe Garcia.

Taddeo defended her campaign's recent use of negative advertising against Garcia, and said the newly redrawn district that extends from Westchester to Key West doesn't need any more political shenanigans.

Taddeo was referring to Garcia's former chief of staff, who secretly financed a ringer tea-party candidate in 2010.

"My level of disappointment to find out that the exact same thing that [former U.S. Rep.] David Rivera had done was done by the person I supported was very high," Taddeo told the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations. "I think that we have had enough of playing with voters, playing with elections and doing things that are just not right."

She said her negative attacks will pale in comparison to what Republicans will do if Garcia wins the Aug. 30 primary.

"Believe me, when the Koch brothers and the Republicans get a hold of the attack ads, it will be 10 times worse," Taddeo said.

Garcia, who leads in the polls, said he won't go negative.

"I don't think we have to do that," he said. "I think what we have to do is speak about the issues and speak about my record. Whether it's taking on FPL (Florida Power & Light), whether it's making sure the environment is clean... all these things are tremendously important."

On the issues, both candidates agreed on many of the topics brought up by voters, such as agriculture policy, the Iran nuclear deal, climate change and fracking.

One issue where Taddeo attacked Garcia was on his Obamacare record.

"There is a record of votes," Taddeo said. "Eight times my opponent voted against Obamacare with the Republicans. Those votes had only three or four Democrats that voted with the Republicans and he was one of them. Let's check the record with Obamacare."

Garcia defended his Obamacare support and said his votes were about the well publicized implementation failures Obamacare had during the first few months of its release.

"I don't go to Washington to represent the president, I go to represent the people of this district," Garcia said. "You saw the implementation problems Obamacare had. I was on the floor of the House of Representatives. Unlike her, I actually have a record. I was sitting there voting for them. What we did was make it easier for people to subscribe to and expand Obamacare."

Garcia said he supports Obamacare because he has a personal interest in seeing it succeed.

"I have Obamacare; trust me it's not perfect," he said.

On the issue of Cuba, Taddeo said she and Charlie Crist — who ran for governor in 2014 with Taddeo as running mate — were ahead of the curve when it came to loosening sanctions against the island.

“When I ran with Charlie we were the first ones in Florida to say ‘You know what? It’s time to change things,’” she said. “Barely a few weeks after the election, the president announced his new changes, to which I approve.”

Garcia acknowledged that his attitudes toward Cuba have changed over the years.

“I thought a hard policy in Cuba made a difference. It didn’t,” Garcia said. “The president didn’t get there by himself, he got there because people like myself were pushing that policy.”

Taddeo also hit Garcia over his campaign donors, alleging that he received “maxed-out” contributions from Big Sugar.

“Both my opponents have taken money from the sugar industry,” Taddeo said.

Garcia’s campaign responded to Taddeo’s claim.

“Joe has never been beholden to special interests and has a long Democratic record of standing up to polluters and protecting South Florida's environment,” Garcia spokesman Javier Hernandez said in a statement. “"This is just another made-up conspiracy theory that Republicans are famous for.”

The winner of the Aug. 30 primary will take on incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo in the general election.