#schoolsafety | 2020 Vote: Florida State Representatives

As part of the Gabber’s election coverage, we’re reviewing lesser-known races to help voters make a more informed choice in November. 

In this issue, we take a closer look at Florida State Representatives races in District 68 and 69.

The Gabber asked each candidate questions compiled by our editorial staff. Answers have been edited for style and length. Read more of the Gabber’s election’s coverage at thegabber.com/vote.  

Learn more about the November 3 elections at votepinellas.com.

Florida State Representative Candidates 

The Florida House of Representatives works with the State Senate and the governor to create laws and establish a state budget. This includes passing bills on public policy, setting state spending levels, raising or lowering taxes, and voting on gubernatorial vetoes.

Florida State Representatives introduce and vote on bills that represent the interests of the people who live in their voting district, and work closely with city mayors to ensure accurate representation in the decision-making process. 

Florida State Representatives serve two-year terms, with a four-term limit. 

District 68 

District 68 represents St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park. The candidates are incumbent Ben Diamond and Matt Tito. Tito did not respond to the Gabber’s questions.

Ben Diamond (Dem) – Incumbent Ben Diamond was elected to the position in 2016. Diamond has advocated for criminal justice reform, environmental stewardship of Florida’s land and water resources, and increased funding for early childhood education and support for public schools. 

Matt Tito (Rep) – A U.S. Marine veteran, Matt Tito says he will focus on creating greater access to affordable, quality healthcare, especially for veterans and frontline workers. He has held no previous political office. 

Photo courtesy of Ben Diamond.

Florida state legislative decisions have infringed upon the home rule for local governments. What, if any, efforts will you make to restore local government control to their own communities?

Diamond: I have been a strong supporter of home rule during my two terms as the Representative for Florida House District 68. I was honored to receive the Florida League of Cities’ “Defenders of Home Rule” award in 2019 for the work I’ve done to protect local control. I will continue to stand up against proposed bills that take power away from local government. I believe that the government closest to the people serves the people best.   

Tito: No response. 


How does the state plan to direct school safety – particularly in mass events like active shooter drills – in relation to COVID-19 concerns?

Diamond: COVID-19 has made already difficult issues like school safety even more challenging. It is important that the state provide basic guidelines to all schools, but at the same time give individual school districts the flexibility they need to make changes to these guidelines based on their individual needs. Again, I believe in local control, and that these issues can best be addressed by our local school districts.  

Tito: No response.


What measures will you support to combat the effects of climate change on your coastal district?

Diamond: During the last legislative session, I filed a bill that would create a Florida Climate and Resiliency Research Program. For too long, Florida has ignored the problem of climate change on the state level. My bill would create a statewide assessment of the impact of climate change in Florida – on our environment, agriculture, energy, transportation infrastructure, public health, disaster preparedness, economic growth and other policy areas. This information gathered from these assessments would help create a resiliency plan for our state. I believe we are at a critical moment on this issue, and need to come together across party lines in Tallahassee to provide leadership for all Floridians.  

Tito: No response.


How do you feel about the political direction of the state, and of the country as a whole?

Diamond: I am really concerned about how divided and polarized we are now, and the breakdown of trust at all levels. Now more than ever, we need to lead with kindness, humility and empathy, and we need to bring people together to work on solving problems and not casting blame. 

Tito: No response.


What can you promise the voters you will NOT do?

Diamond: I promise the voters that I will not  give up or compromise my principles. I still believe in our democratic experiment in this country, and I know that persuading people takes time, but on the issues that I believe in – like expanding access to health care, making greater investments in public education and higher education, and taking more steps to protect our environment and natural resources – I am committed to staying in the fight, because I believe those issues will make Florida a better place for our children and grandchildren.   

Tito: No response.


If elected, what will you consider your greatest priority? 

Diamond: First, we are going to have to address the challenges brought on by this pandemic. We are going to have a more difficult fiscal situation, but in spite of that, we are going to have to make a greater investment in our public health infrastructure and a greater investment in our social services. The unemployment insurance system has been a cruel joke for Floridians who have lost their jobs, and we need to totally overhaul and fix that system. I continue to believe that,  long term, our greatest priority must be to take steps to protect Florida from the impacts of climate change. We are very vulnerable here in this state, and the challenges associated with living here in paradise with our changing climate are not going to go away.  

Tito: No response.


Candidate-Specific Questions

For Diamond: A number of bills you’ve recently sponsored – particularly in social services and social justice – have failed. If re-elected, how will you work with the legislature to get bills like these passed?

We need to keep working on these issues – like social justice and criminal justice reform – and not give up. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Every session, we have more support for ideas that during the prior session never saw the light of day. The legislative process is an intentionally difficult process, but we have to keep trying and have to keep having those difficult conversations with our colleagues about how we can come together and make progress. 

For Tito: Most of District 68 is in St. Petersburg. As a Republican, what challenges do you anticipate working with a historically liberal mayor in St. Petersburg if elected? 

Tito: No response.  

District 69

District 69 represents the beaches from Redington Shores to St. Pete Beach, west to Kenneth City and Gulfport. The candidates are Linda Chaney and incumbent Jennifer Webb. 

Linda Chaney (Rep) – Linda Chaney is a former St. Pete Beach Commissioner. Chaney says her top priorities include improving the environment and water quality, education, infrastructure, healthcare, lowering taxes and increasing job potentiality for constituents. 

Jennifer Webb (Dem) – Incumbent Jennifer Webb was elected to the position in 2018. During her first term, two-thirds of her policy solutions became law; she secured $3.25 million in the budget for infrastructure and education projects. She says she is committed to fighting for families and local businesses.

A woman in red glasses and a white blouse sits at a desk with a laptop, holding a pen over a piece of paper, smiling at the camera.
Photo courtesy of Linda Chaney.

Florida state legislative decisions have infringed upon the home rule for local governments. What, if any, efforts will you make to restore local government control to their own communities?

Chaney: I support Home Rule and fought for it as a St Pete Beach City Commissioner to the point that the city and developers sued me personally to try to shut me up and stop me. It didn’t work; all suits were thrown out and some even called “frivolous” by the judge

A woman in a sleeveless dress with arms crossed stands smiling at the camera in front of the water.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Webb.

Webb: I am a staunch defender of Home Rule. For my efforts I have earned Legislative Appreciation Awards from the League of Cities for both the 2019 and the 2020 session. I have worked closely with the many Pinellas County mayors to beat back the state’s efforts to pre-empt our ability to control local zoning, protect our waterways and beaches, and ensure equity in hiring and inclusivity in housing practices. With the help of my mayors, I will continue to fight for Home Rule in the coming sessions. I will also continue to sponsor bills to repeal pre-emptions previously passed by the state and ensure our community has the ability to have their voices heard in how lands in their communities are zoned and used.


How does the state plan to direct school safety – particularly in mass events like active shooter drills – in relation to COVID-19 concerns?

Chaney: When operating the mobile mammography business my husband and I built, we visited hundreds of schools in six different counties observing the effective implementation of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. I will support the continued funding to implement these safety protocols, combined with all current COVID guidelines established for schools.

Webb: I am awaiting responses from Superintendent Grego and/or Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. For the complete school reopening plan and MSD safety plan implementation, please visit pcsb.org.


What measures will you support to combat the effects of climate change on your coastal district?

Chaney: Encourage LEEDS development/redevelopment. Encourage walkable community planning providing for pedestrian safety in bike lanes, wider sidewalks, landscaping, etc. (I attended many planning workshops by Gladding Jackson and Dan Burden Walkable Community workshops.) Support mass transportation alternatives. Implement best practices to address coastal flooding. Support the Adaptation Planning Guidebook plans as directed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity as part of the Florida Coastal Management Plan, and specific plans for our area as developed by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, which I sat on as a city commissioner.  Continue to monitor the adaptation plans that include clear accountability and thresholds for bringing approved strategies online. Monitor SLR sciences that are subject to change as new information and studies become available. Ensure that a well-defined process is developed within each division to ensure that milestones are achieved, the latest science is being considered, and vulnerability assessments are being completed as part of the capital planning process. Upgrade flood infrastructure projects. Increase pre-disaster mitigation funds. Provide innovative grants for flood mitigation technology. 

Webb: Within the context of an economic slowdown, my plan for combating the effects of climate change has slightly shifted toward those that create win-win-win solutions. Now is the time to put people to work making solid wages by fixing our infrastructure and implementing innovative solutions in our local communities to protect our waterways and increase the resiliency of our coastline. By increasing our usage of alternative energy sources and investing in coastal resiliency planning, we can reduce our footprint. Now’s the time to install solar and other green technologies that will save taxpayer dollars over the long haul. Now’s the time to offer incentives to help local businesses survive by creating healthy and green environments to protect their clients and save them money. Now’s the time to be vigilant against off-shore drilling and fracking. The federal government has been threatening our waters; we must stand strong and united. Now’s the time to take a sustained look at sea level rise. Our ability to hold onto our way of life, economy and jobs depends upon implementing solid solutions.


How do you feel about the political direction of the state, and of the country as a whole?

Chaney: I am optimistic that the American spirit to overcome will get us through current and future conflicts as it always has.

Webb: Our politics are more divisive now than ever, and people do not trust their elected officials. For the past four years, I have sought to find those issues that our district as a whole agree are important – the economy/working families, environment, education and (mental) health care. And when elected, I simply took my campaign promises and turned them into bills or budget requests that I then worked to get passed. By inviting accountability, operating with integrity, and focusing on an agenda that brings people together – rather than one that divides us – I feel like I have done my part to push back against politics as usual and strengthen our community.


What can you promise the voters you will NOT do?

Chaney: Sell out to developers as my opponent has done contributing to the over-development of Pinellas, the densest county in Florida, contributing to our road congestion, crumbling infrastructures and dumping of sewage into our waterways.

Webb: I will not attempt to divide us through bombastic rhetoric, deceit or self-indulgent editorializing. I will remain accessible and welcome accountability. My personal cell phone number is 727-320-6275.


If elected, what will you consider your greatest priority?

Chaney: Help get our businesses back on track and Floridians back to work (eg: remove duplicate and burdensome licensing requirements for working Floridians, increase funding for Visit St. Pete Clearwater, work with federal partners to fast-track transportation projects and CARES Act funding, invest in economic drivers like infrastructure upgrades and protecting our environment, replenish state small and medium business loan and forgiveness programs). Stop dumping sewage into the bay (improve infrastructure). Reduce health care costs. Improve our education systems (eg: teacher pay raises, expand vocational and technical training programs for high-paying careers).

Webb: Policy: Addressing the intersection of the health, economic and climate crises by advocating for targeted investments in resiliency, green technology and waste-water and stormwater infrastructure. This will employ people in good paying jobs, shore up the foundations of our economy and society, and help us prepare for sea-level rise while reducing our footprint. All are necessary for rebounding from this health and economic crisis. Budgetary: The speaker of the house, governor, and senate president have failed to prioritize the passage of two policies that, combined, would have generated $2.9 billion over the last two years. Implementing the Wayfair Decision would level the playing field for our local businesses by collecting online sales tax from out-of-state sellers. Senator Gruters estimates that this would generate $700,000 each year. Finalizing a gaming compact would generate $750,000 each year. This would help close our deficit. 

Candidate Specific Questions

For Chaney: You’ve stated, “We must act to lower health insurance premiums and expand affordability and quality of care from pregnancy to end of life.” Specifically, what is your plan to accomplish this?  

Chaney: My experience in the healthcare industry leads me to believe that if we open up health care networks we can create competition that will reduce costs and give more people access to health care


For Webb: Your voting record is largely along party lines. What is your appeal for Republican voters?

Webb: Right now my strongest appeal to voters – Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike – is that I have spent my entire career preparing to help Florida’s families, small businesses and economy out of this down-turn. I spent nearly a decade in economic and workforce development. I created career and technical training programs for adults so they could have the dignity of earning a solid wage, benefits and enter into a fulfilling career. I even went back to school to study urban development, workforce organization and community revitalization. While at USF, I pulled together multi-sector projects to move the needle on entrenched issues in our community to address sea-level rise, attracting and supporting the tech industry, reducing childhood hunger and homelessness. When I left the university, I founded a business, OmniPublic, to help businesses grow so they can gain brick-and-mortar presence in our community and hire additional workers.

Plus, I have spent the past two years building relationships across the aisle, with industry experts, and with House and Senate staff. I have learned how to successfully work the legislative process. This knowledge and my pragmatic approach to bi-partisan problem-solving will ensure that I can move forward an agenda to help our district.

I think it’s important to point out, however, that if you look at my record, it demonstrates the success that can be found in nuanced policy making. I have one of the highest scores in the Democratic caucus from the Florida Chamber and AIF, typically organizations stacked to highlight Republican lawmakers. However, I also have a perfect score on the People’s Report Card, which promotes policies good for Florida’s families, and I have received ringing endorsements from Sierra Club and Florida Conservation Voters. I have received a rising star award from Jeb Bush’s education group and an A from the Florida Education Association. How can this be? It is because I focus on career and technical education, workforce education, and early learning, which are priorities of Jeb Bush’s organization. Yet, at the same time, I am 100% committed to our public school students. Similarly, I have specialized in crafting insurance policy to protect consumers. Thus I have earned the respect of those within the Office of Insurance Regulation, insurance industry and organizations that protect consumers, like the trial bar. These groups rarely see eye-to-eye, but both appreciate my commitment to creating a healthy insurance industry while also protecting consumers.

Find out more about the election, including voting locations, mail-in ballots and more at votepinellas.com. Follow the Gabber’s ongoing elections coverage through November at thegabber.com/vote.

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