Op-Ed

Wasserman Schultz should face her opponent

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz faces a well-funded oppenent — backed by Bernie Sanders.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz faces a well-funded oppenent — backed by Bernie Sanders. Associated Press

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is taking incoming from all directions these days. No direct hits, but the political shrapnel is flying.

Bernie Sanders says the Democrat from Weston, as chair of the Democratic National Committee, has tipped the scales all along in favor of Hillary Clinton, which she emphatically denies. But she was the co-chair of Clinton’s 2008 campaign, and it’s clear where her heart lies — with Clinton. In retaliation, Sanders endorsed Tim Canova, her Democratic opponent, in the August primary and helped him raise a huge financial windfall.

Still, the 23rd Congressional District, might not be feeling the Bern. It was Clinton 68-31 over Sanders in the March presidential primary. The district is liberal, but not all that progressive. And that’s what this Democratic primary comes down to: a classic liberal versus a true progressive: A veteran career politician who has shrewdly worked her way up the House leadership chain versus a well-spoken, first-time candidate who’s put together an impressive campaign. And Canova’s also raised a phenomenal amount of money. With Sanders’ help and small contributions from progressives across the country, Canova’s campaign account is approaching $2 million. Money, as always, is the mother’s milk of politics.

It’s the stuff of resentment, too.

Wasserman Schultz insists, not very convincingly, that she’s not concerned about an opponent within her own party has a campaign war chest roughly equivalent to hers. At the same time, DWS is quick to point out that most of Canova’s funds are not from residents of the 23rd C.D. while hers mostly are.

She also cuts him no slack when he says he agrees with her on most social issues — gay marriage, LGBT issues, equal pay, human rights, etc. “He’s never been involved in this community,” the congresswoman said the other day, her voice dripping with disdain, “and so it’s very nice to say you share the same opinions on an issue. There is a difference between putting your body in front of an oncoming train and make sure that you are standing up actively engaged on those issues and saying, ‘Yeah, I’m going to stick up my hand say, “Yeah, me too.”

DWS was more than a little testy the day she said that because the fledgling Canova campaign had cleverly outmaneuvered her more-experienced one. The Nova law prof gave away free bagels to supporters at a deli in Cooper City after learning she’d be serving bagels, schmear and Barney Frank to supporters in Fort Lauderdale for a minimum contribution of $500.

“Access to the ears of our representatives shouldn’t be so costly,” Canova said. His bagel giveaway didn’t draw a big crowd, but it drew considerable media attention. When I stopped by the deli, he was about to leave for an interview on Fox News and a bit embarrassed to be seen getting into the Lincoln town car that Fox had dispatched.

Fox seems an unlikely venue for a hard-core progressive, but Canova’s gladly taking all the media attention he can get. He’s agreed to debate DWS on Channel 10 in mid-August, but she’s said it is too early to commit. “Qualifying doesn’t end until June 24,” she told me. “We’ll make a decision on a debate after that.” It wouldn’t surprise me if DWS decides not to debate Canova, who accuses her of cozying up to monied special interests both in her district and as the DNC chair.

One of those interest groups is the payday loan industry, which has given DWS about $50,000 over the years. The congresswoman says that as a state lawmaker she helped write Florida’s law cracking down on payday lenders and says it should be a national model. For months she said the states, not Washington, should regulate the predatory payday lenders who often trap borrowers in a cycle of debt they can never escape. She deplores that, but also says payday loans are “necessary” for low-income folks who can’t get small, short-term loans from banks. When the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last week proposed new rules for the payday loan industry Rep. Wasserman Schultz jumped on board. Canova called it a flip-flop.

Wouldn’t you love to hear them debate that? Also medical marijuana. She opposed the state constitutional amendment that would have legalized medical marijuana, but recently supported the VA for recommending the use of weed for vets suffering from PTSD. A constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana will be on the state ballot again in November; DWS says she’s “evaluating” her position. Canova supports it.

Canova calls DWS “out of touch” with her district, a boiler-plate charge we won’t know is true until votes are counted on Aug. 30. In the meantime, voters deserve to see the candidates debate all the issues at least once. Channel 10 is offering the venue. Canova says he’ll be there. Wasserman Schultz should, too. After all, she’s the one with experience, used to standing in the well of the House and boxing the media gaggle. He’s a novice, but a worthy contender.

Come on, Debbie, say Yes. Let the debate begin.

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