Backgrounds distinguish congressional candidates

The fight to the right was on when five Republican congressional candidates came together at a meeting of the ultra-conservative Volusia 9/12 Project Friday night in Holly Hill.

A candidates forum, held during the group’s regular monthly meeting at Sica Hall, didn’t do much to distinguish the individuals on the GOP slate for the newly drawn District 6 that covers all of Flagler and St. Johns and most of Volusia and Putnam counties. But it did serve as a helpful introduction for the nearly 100 people who came out.

It’s the candidates in neighboring District 7 that have all the name recognition. New congressional boundaries drawn by the Legislature this year have pitted two local incumbents against each other.

Both John Mica, a 20-year veteran and chairman of the transportation and infrastructure committee, and Sandy Adams, who’s finishing her first term, live within the borders of the new District 7, which includes most of Seminole County, part of Orange and Southwest Volusia.

Though official qualifying doesn’t end until June 8, the District 7 incumbents’ anticipated showdown in an Aug. 14 primary has created a wide open race in District 6, especially among Republicans, where several candidates have been jostling to separate themselves from the crowd.

With the candidates in agreement on nearly all the issues they discussed Friday night — lowering taxes, limiting the role of government, addressing illegal immigration, supporting Israel — it was their backgrounds that most distinguished them in the pursuit of the job that carries a two-year term and annual salary of $174,000.

– Richard Clark is a Jacksonville city councilman who was raised in St. Johns County. He runs a janitorial company and said he would move back to St. Johns if elected. “I know the responsibility with (hiring people), and there’s a lot of pressure in that,” he said. “The government is getting in the way. … We have to find a way to get rid of the interference so we can afford to take risks and hire people.”

– Fred Costello is a member of the Florida House of Representatives and a former mayor of Ormond Beach with a dental practice in that city. He emphasized his experience in business and government. “We have the federal government stepping on the state government, and the state government stepping on the local governments,” he said. “The best government is the least government, and the government that’s closest to the people.”

– Ron DeSantis is a lawyer who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach. The former judge advocate general officer in the Navy who served in Iraq is making his first run for political office. “We’re at a crossroads as a nation,” he said. “We’re walking away from some of the fundamental principles that define us as a country.”

– Craig Miller is the former CEO of the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse chain among others. The Air Force and Vietnam veteran ran against Adams in 2010, actually out-polling her in Volusia County, and was running for U.S. Senate before switching to this race and moving to Ormond Beach. “I want to bring to Washington the perspective of a business person and job creator,” he said. “One of the biggest problems in Washington is we don’t have enough people like us up there.”

– Billy Kogut, a Realtor in Ormond Beach who lives in Flagler County, may have taken the prize for most extreme answer of the night when he replied to a question about illegal immigration. The country needs more police enforcement on the border, along with military exercises and “a target range for citizens,” he said. When the statement drew a few laughs, he added,”I’m not being facetious.”

– Beverly Slough, a School Board member from St. Johns County, has also been campaigning for the seat but did not attend Friday’s forum.

– Heather Beaven of Palm Coast — who lost to Mica in 2010 when his district stretched into the area — is running with the backing of the state Democratic Party.