- Senate District 3 candidates Corey Simon and Loranne Ausley debated at a packed Tiger Bay Club luncheon
- The candidates sparred over abortion, school vouchers, gun rights and independent thinking in the Florida Senate
- Republican Simon is a former NFL star and FSU alum, while Democrat Ausley is an experienced incumbent seeking re-election
- Ausley repeatedly said she did not believe the government should have any role in abortion restrictions
Incumbent Democrat Loranne Ausley and Republican challenger Corey Simon sparred at the Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee on Tuesday, with the debate producing a handful of memorable moments on abortion, education and election issues.
Simon, a political newcomer, brings strong name recognition and an impressive resume to the Senate District 3 race. In the 1990’s Simon was a defensive standout who helped lead the Florida State Seminoles to a BCS national championship under coach Bobby Bowden. He also had an eight-year career in the NFL and made a Pro-Bowl appearance in 2004. He later served as CEO of Volunteer Florida, and also served foster children in Florida through Corey’s Kids, a group he started in order to assist disadvantaged youth.
Ausley, the incumbent, is seeking reelection to the Florida Senate after defending against a well-funded challenge from Republican Marva Preston in 2020. Prior to her service in the Florida Senate, Ausley served two terms in the Florida House. Her family has a long history and deep roots in Tallahassee banking and her father is a prominent attorney.
Politico reporter Gary Fineout moderated the debate, and kept it focused on current issues facing Florida, including national events that impact the Sunshine State, including recently passed legislation on guns, abortion, and election security.
One of the most poignant moments in the debate came with Fineout asked both candidates to clarify their views on abortion restrictions and Florida’s ban after 15-weeks. Simon answered first, saying he believed the state had to draw a line somewhere, and said that the 15 week ban was “about right,” but also clarified that he supported limited exceptions for the health of the mother and rare cases of rape or incest. He also stated he opposed prosecution of women who sought abortions that were otherwise banned.
Ausley didn’t immediately state her position, but instead accused Simon of trying to claim he would be an independent thinker, saying that Republicans passed the current law – without exceptions for extreme cases – on a party line vote, and complained that Simon wouldn’t be able to get away with independent thinking in the Florida Senate.
“You are running as a Republican. You are being supported by the Republican Party with millions of dollars. I have seen this happen before. You can think that you can be the most independent person when you walk into that chamber,” Ausley said. “You are not going to be able to be your own person.”
Simon shot back, “Again, that is the problem with the system. Because she’s been a part of the system for so long, she feels like she can’t think for herself and she can’t go against her party,” Simon said. “I’ve always been a leader, and I won’t stop being a leader now.”
Fineout then circled back to ask Ausley, pressing her to answer the original question about where she would draw the line on abortion, and Ausley explicitly said she wouldn’t place any government restrictions on abortion.
“The bottom line is that I do not believe that government has any role in this very private decision that a woman should make with her family and her doctor,” Ausley said. “The majority of Floridians do not support restrictions on reproductive rights.”
Even after the debate, Ausley was given another chance to clarify her initial comments about her apparent support for late-term or partial birth abortions, but she instead doubled down on her original statement.
“These are questions that are ridiculous because right now we are talking about a total ban on everything,” Ausley said. “The government should not be involved in these decisions.”
The two candidates also sparred on gun rights, with Simon making clear that while he supports tighter school security, he also supports the constitutional right to own and use of firearms.
“My feelings on guns are very simple,” Simon said. “We have to stop criminalizing law-abiding citizens for their Second Amendment rights.”
Ausley said that she, too, supports Second Amendment rights, but clarified that “even the Florida Constitution acknowledges that the manner of bearing arms can be regulated by law,” she said. “We have a gun violence epidemic in this country, and it’s different than every country around the world. And it’s far too easy for people who shouldn’t have access to guns to get them.”
Fineout then asked Ausley about a controversial political mailer depicting Simon’s face, and those of children, turned into gun range targets. Beneath the targets were piles of empty shell casings and spent ammunition. The mailer was paid for by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
Republicans have complained that the racist overtones in the mailer were obvious. But Ausley, who has faced previous criticisms on racial sensitivity, denied having anything to do with the mailer.
“My campaign is not responsible for the mail piece,” Ausley said Monday. “It was put out by the Democratic Party. I have no control over what they send out. I do not prefer these campaign tactics, I don’t think either of us do, but neither of us can control them.”
On a question about universal school vouchers, a proposal where education funding follows the student and would give parents near unrestricted school choice, Ausley and Simon again disagreed. Ausley that universal school vouchers was similar to what the state already has in place now, and said that vouchers were responsible for “siphoning money” from traditional public schools. Simon backed vouchers as “putting our kids first and putting the system second.”
Democrats have held District 3 for years, but this year state lawmakers reconfigured the district’s borders as part of the redistricting process that occurs every ten years. Even so, Democrats have a roughly 50,000 registered voter advantage.