Calling it a “liberal farce designed to fool voters,” Corey Simon, candidate for the Florida Senate, pulled out of an upcoming forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Tallahassee Democrat and WFSU — and announced it in a full-page ad in the newspaper.
The ad, paid for by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Simon, who’s trying to unseat Sen. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, in the Florida Senate District 3 race was “looking forward” to debating her Monday before the Capital Tiger Bay Club.
“He will not be participating in a debate that includes the overtly partisan League of Women Voters,” the ad says. “The League of Women Voters take very aggressive positions on issues and publicly state them on their official website (lwvfl.org).”
Ausley vs. Simon:
The Simon campaign agreed to participate in the forum in a Sept. 21 email to a League of Women Voters member. The event was initially set for Oct. 18. “Greetings!” the campaign said in the email. “Thank you for your follow up. Confirming the 18th. Please send final details and we will add to our calendar.”
William Hatfield, editor of the Tallahassee Democrat, said he hopes that Simon will reconsider the decision on behalf of constituents he seeks to represent.
“We’re so disappointed that days after confirming Mr. Simon’s attendance, the campaign has chosen to back out and not share his vision for the district with voters in the most widely watched and established candidate forum in the region,” Hatfield said. “Our forum’s professionalism and fairness speak for themselves. They have been recognized statewide in journalism contests and have helped countless citizens vote with confidence in local and state elections. We’ve hosted candidates, Republican and Democrat, in the last three election cycles and have never had complaints.
The ad, which ran on Paige 16A of Sunday’s Democrat, said the League has taken positions that “exactly align” with Democrats and Ausley on issues including “school choice,” gun control, health care, abortion and immigration. It said the League hasn’t taken “a single position” in line with the GOP and frequently joins the Democratic Party in lawsuits against Republicans.
See the ad in our e-Edition: https://tallahasseedemocrat-fl.newsmemory.com/
Simon’s ad also took aim at the Tallahassee Democrat and its former relationship with the Ausley law firm. Loranne Ausley's father is a partner in Ausley & McMullen, one of the oldest law firms in the capital city. The Democrat was a client of the firm for years on Sunshine Law and related matters but chose different legal counsel starting in 2017, when it sued the city of Tallahassee over deleted text messages.
“The fact that any legitimate news outlet would consider teaming up with an organization that is clearly one sided for the purpose of conducting a ‘fair’ debate is a joke,” the ad says.
Trish Neely, president of the League of Women Voters of Tallahassee, responded in a column saying that its members include people “of all political persuasions. And while she said the 102-year-old League has always been progressive, with roots in the women’s suffrage movement, she said its forums are nonpartisan and designed to educate voters, not promote a candidate or party.
“Democracy thrives best with open discussion and debate of different ideas,” she wrote. “The League is hosting candidate forums for the general election beginning on Oct. 10. We encourage all candidates to participate and adjust to accommodate all schedules. Now is the time to let differing opinions be shared and let every citizen decide which ideas they agree and disagree with.”
Simon’s decision is in keeping with increasing push-back against the League from Republicans nationwide. In August, the nonprofit ProPublica reported that conservative candidates were opting not to participate in League-sponsored events in part because of the organization’s vocal criticism of former President Donald Trump and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the seat Corey is seeking.
Contact Jeff Burlew at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida Senate District 3 race: Simon backs out of debate with Ausley