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Congressional District 5 candidates on Trump, health care and economic inequality

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Albert Chester and Lashonda J. Holloway are challenging incumbent Congress Al Lawson Jr., D-Tallahassee, in the Aug. 18 primary to be the party’s nominee for the 5th Congressional District in the November election. 

In a candidate forum hosted by the Tallahassee Democrat, differences between Lawson and Chester emerged over how to improve access to health care, while Holloway parted from the others and specifically called for a $15 minimum wage.

All three stated support for the Black Lives Movement and found little in President Donald J. Trump’s agenda to endorse. When asked if there was anything that Trump had accomplished, they could support, Chester quickly responded with “Nothing.” 

“It’s tough to find something,” said Holloway. 

“I disagree with him on 99.9%. But the $225 million he gave to HBCU’s and the First Step to start to reform the criminal justice system are two things,” countered Lawson. 

While Lawson touted his career of service and experience, Chester referred to him as an “establishment politician.” Tension between the two simmered underneath the hour-long discussion. 

While Holloway used her time to talk about economic inequality and a need to divert spending towards job creation, Chester and Lawson often sniped at each other. 

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Lawson hit Chester about social media posts concerning gay rights and sexuality. They both used time to rebut the other on how to improve access to health care, and Chester criticized Lawson’s for saying he supports protecting the environment but accepts money from corporate polluters.

When Chester called for Medicare for All, Lawson said it was too expensive. Chester shot back it would reduce what Americans spend overall on health care.  

Lawson touted a fix for the Affordable Care Act. 

When Chester implied Lawson was weak on environmental protection and failed to support the New Green Deal, Lawson replied he didn’t know what the challenger was talking about.  

“It really never came up for a vote. Maybe my opponent doesn’t understand that,” said Lawson.

“I have a history of protecting the environment for 32 years. I did the Apalachicola Bay Protection Act. It was very comprehensive,” said Lawson, who chaired environmental committees in the Florida House and Senate. 

The full exchange among the candidates can be viewed at tallahassee.com/elections. Here are answers from two questions, edited for clarity and brevity, from the discussion: 

Q: What do you see as the number one problem facing Congressional District? 

Chester: Without a doubt, it is healthcare. Covid-19 is the worst pandemic we’ve had in our lifetime. Healthcare has been an issue for a very long time. And that is why I want to push for Medicare for all. At a time like this it would have been essential and right on time if we would have had the ability to to test everyone months ago and possibly flatten the curve. 

Holloway: The biggest issue that plagues the 5th district is economic inequality. There are not enough jobs in the 5th Congressional District. There are many counties in the 5th Congressional District where there are simply no jobs. 

Forty-five percent of the District is below the poverty level. And I think what plagues the 5th Congressional District is a lack of jobs and economic inequality. 

Lawson: The number one problem facing this district is access to health care. That is one of the reasons I went to Congress, to fix the Affordable Care Act. No question about it. All the polling we’ve done in the district healthcare comes out number one.  

The important thing to remember is that Medicare for All is not even on the agenda. Sen. Sanders was not been able to get it off the ground. One of the reasons why is it going to cost between $40 –45 trillion to implement. 

What we need to do is fund the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature program, and if we put $3 trillion into it we can fix it. 

Q: How would you rate the federal and state response to Covid-19? Specifically, what could they be doing better? 

Holloway: What we need to do more of is more testing. I don’t think this government handled the pandemic well, at all … I believe all people should be tested. One of the biggest failures is only American citizens can be tested and I believe that all people should be tested, including immigrants. Because, hey, until all of us are covered or tested than all of us are at risk. 

Lawson: The biggest problem we had is when the administration was aware of what was going on back in the early part of January, they did not take it very seriously. That is why we really got hit by the virus. 

We have been doing everything possible in Congress. The CARES package we just passed provides dollars for hospitals, provides dollars for additional testing. To hear the Speaker, speak on it from time to time, she says testing, testing and testing is what we really need to do. We need more testing, tracing and treatment. 

Chester: COVID-19 has exposed us for what we have not been able to accomplish – and that we are not ready. True enough we need more testing. True enough we need more tracing. 

However, the information as a pharmacist, which hasn’t been put out to the American public enough, is of course we practice social distancing, of course we encourage you to wear your mask, but more information needs to be given to the public as far as building that immune system, strengthening your body. Because the way this virus is running around, the way it is moving, it is inevitable that we all are going to come into contact with it at some point. 

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee

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