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State house candidates spar over ads

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – Brandon Peters, Democratic candidate for Florida House District 22, sent out the above image to media outlets yesterday, stating that the image of him shaking hands with President Joe Biden is photoshopped and that the mailer, which was sent on behalf of his opponent, Republican Chuck Clemons, by the Florida House Republican Campaign Committee (FHRCC), is deceptive.

Peters wrote, “In fact, I’ve never actually met Joe Biden” and said “The people deserve to know” whether Clemons did, in fact, approve the ad, as stated on the mailer.

Clemons told us he did approve the mailer and its message, although he didn’t ask the FHRCC about the source of the photo. 

The FHRCC acknowledged that the photo was edited to make it appear that Peters and Biden were shaking hands and also sent Alachua Chronicle this statement: “Is it odd that Brandon Peters is so offended by being pictured with his old boss, Joe Biden? The people deserve to know the truth about Brandon Peters. His policy goals are one and the same with Joe Biden – higher taxes, more spending, radical social engineering.”

The first two issues on the ad (open borders and inflation) are unrelated to the Florida legislature; the third one refers to whether men who identify as women should be allowed to play women’s sports. The Florida legislature passed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act in 2021, and Governor DeSantis signed the bill. The law states that an athletic team or sport that is designated for females, women, or girls may not be open to students of the male sex, based on the student’s biological sex listed on the student’s official birth certificate at the time of birth; the law applies to public secondary and high schools, state colleges, and state universities. President Biden issued an Executive Order in January of 2021 that said athletes should be allowed to join sports teams corresponding with their chosen gender, but a federal judge temporarily blocked the directive in July of 2022. Thus the issue currently remains with the states.

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Peters says he has never taken a position on the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act but did not elaborate further.

Clemons challenges statements in Peters’ ad

Clemons also took the opportunity to challenge a Brandon Peters ad, shown below. Peters says the ad was sent out by text message after voters received the mailer above.

Peters confirmed to Alachua Chronicle that he approved the ad and that his campaign paid for it. In response to our question about whether he agrees with the information in the ad, he replied, “The factual record confirms my opponent voted in very harmful ways on the specific legislation listed in the cites appearing in the ad I approved.” We looked at the claims in the ad.

On Florida’s property insurance crisis, Peters says he would “oppose government bailouts for failing insurance companies… [and] insist on insurance premiums that significantly lower our record high insurance costs.” The ad says Clemons “gave a $2 billion handout to property insurance companies.”

The ad refers to a bill passed during a legislative special session in May that increased a reinsurance fund by $2 billion to help insurers that are in sound financial condition and continue to operate in the state for one year; the money provides more funds for “reinsurance” that insurance companies can purchase to protect themselves from hurricane losses. Insurers that participate in the program must also reduce rates to reflect their savings. The bill passed on a bipartisan vote.

Peters says he will “insist on insurance premiums that significantly lower our record high insurance costs.” However, simply requiring insurance companies to reduce rates is likely to drive insurers out of the state, exacerbating the problem.

On abortion, the ad says, “Access to abortion and the use of contraceptives are highly personal decisions to be made without interference from the government” and adds that Clemons “voted to ban abortion after 15 weeks and even voted against an amendment that would have protected victims of rape, human trafficking or incest from getting an abortion.”

Clemons says that all women have 15 weeks to decide whether to end their pregnancies for any reason. 

On “Lowering Our Taxes,” the ad says Peters “opposes taxes and fees that hurt Floridians. Brandon supports a bipartisan plan to cut sales taxes on necessities for newborns and household items under $25.”

Governor DeSantis has proposed a permanent tax exemption for baby and toddler necessities for children under the age of 5 and a second permanent exemption for cribs and strollers; Clemons supports the proposal.

The ad says that Clemons voted to tax online purchases, “a tax that is especially burdensome on our rural communities.”

Clemons says he championed the bill, which did not add a new tax but enabled the state to collect sales tax on all taxable sales; previously, the state could only collect from businesses located in Florida. Clemons says this is an issue of fairness because when local businesses have to charge tax and online retailers don’t, out-of-state retailers are able to charge less for the same product than a local business, making it harder for local businesses to compete. 

On “Our Right to Local Government,” the ad says Peters will “fight efforts to take away our ability to govern our own communities” and says Clemons “filed legislation that took away the voters’ freedom to choose their County Commissioners.”

This is factually incorrect: Clemons filed and championed a bill that put a referendum on the November ballot that will enable voters to choose whether they want county commissioners to be elected from single-member districts. Clemons says that putting a referendum on the ballot gives voters the ability to decide the issue.

The ad also says that Clemons voted for two new toll roads in North Central Florida, but Clemons said he voted for the Florida Department of Transportation budget, which included the new toll roads, as a package in 2019. Clemons also voted for the 2021 bill that repealed those allocations and effectively scrapped the new toll roads; Peters’ ad lists that vote (SB 100 in footnote 7) as if it were a second vote in favor of building the roads when it was, in fact, a bill to repeal the funding for the roads.

The bottom line is that campaign literature, like other advertising, often provides partial information on issues to promote one candidate or attack the other. When a candidate does not have a record in elected office, ads often try to associate them with incumbents, whether popular or unpopular.

The FHRCC ad uses a doctored photo to portray Peters’ longtime support of Biden and other Democratic candidates, and the text attempts to associate him with Biden’s policies; Peters did work to elect Biden in 2020 and recruited volunteers to support Democratic Party efforts in both Florida and Georgia in 2020 and 2021.

Peters’ ad correctly portrays some of Clemons’ votes but is factually incorrect on single-member districts and the toll roads and presents only the negative aspects of bills that enable the collection of sales tax from online retailers and that attempt to shore up the property insurance industry.

Voters should be cautious with any claims made in campaign ads and should do their own research. Many organizations provide voter guides, and voters who are generally aligned with an organization can use their guide to sort through competing claims. Alachua Chronicle will also provide a voter guide closer to the election.

  • They aren’t the equivalent. Doctoring photos is disgraceful. I’ll never vote Democrat, but shame on Clemons!

  • Thanks for fact checking with facts!

    Any advertisement in any industry will make use of doctored photos.

    Campaign ads are just long-form memes, expect a manipulative photo.

  • Every two years we suffer through this agonizing ad blitz. One candidate bad mouthing the other.
    Every TV channel has it, they are far worse than the lawyers who will sue for a hang nail.
    Instead, let it be the law of the land that all campaign commercials must and will be only about the candidates achievements and what they will do for the voters.
    With this, the riff-raft would hopefully be weeded out.

  • It is very telling that the Democrat candidate does not want to be associated with the sitting Democrat president. Why isn’t he proud to be in the same picture with Joe ‘the big guy’ Biden? How disrespectful.

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