Editorial board recommendation 2020: Florida House District 84| Our View

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opinion

TERM: Two years

CANDIDATES:

  • Delores Hogan Johnson, 70, Fort Pierce
  • Dana Trabulsy, 56, Fort Pierce

KEY ISSUES: COVID-19 response, Indian River Lagoon, economic development, state finances, police reform.

More: See General Election candidate bios and what their stances are

More: Everything you need to know about the 2020 General Election

Democratic state Rep. Delores Hogan Johnson and her Republican challenger, Dana Trabulsy, are a study in contrasts.

Hogan Johnson is a career educator and a community activist. Trabulsy, owner of All Things Treasure Coast and co-owner of the Treasure Coast Business Summit, is a businesswoman. Hogan Johnson is sharply critical of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican Legislative majority in Tallahassee; Trabulsy gave DeSantis an “A” for his handling of COVID-19.

Hogan Johnson advocates expanding Medicaid; Trabulsy is more of a fiscal conservative. And while both have an extensive history of community involvement, much of Hogan Johnson’s volunteer work has been on behalf of the Indian River Lagoon; Trabulsy has been more involved in local business organizations.

In their interview with our editorial board, both were well-versed on the issues, though there were sharp disagreements. On the health of the lagoon, for example — long one of the district’s most pervasive problems — Trabulsy advocated for more septic-to-sewer conversions and supported controversial aquifer storage and recovery wells, or ASR wells.

The South Florida Water Management District considered digging 10 of the 1,000-foot wells in 2019 but shelved the idea, saying more study was needed.

Hogan Johnson, who has served as president of the St. Lucie Waterfront Council since 1994 and is a longtime member of the Conservation Alliance, wants more state support for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, more monitoring and more study by Florida research universities.

Her experience and in-depth knowledge on the issue is a valuable perspective to have in Tallahassee.

The candidates’ sharpest disagreement involved efforts at the Port of Fort Pierce to transform it into a repair center for luxury yachts.

Hogan Johnson has been critical of Derecktor, the firm chosen to operate the mega-yacht center. She questioned the county’s contract with the firm, which she said is too open-ended, and worries St. Lucie County taxpayers could ultimately be “saddled with paying a bill that the company who won the bid is supposed to be paying.”

Trabulsy defended Derecktor, noting it recently made its first rent payment as scheduled, adding other delays should be blamed on COVID-19.

She suggested Hogan Johnson should recuse herself from decisions involving the project, claiming the first-term representative was part of a “special interest group that is trying to discredit Derecktor.”

“I should never have to recuse myself from being a concerned citizen of St. Lucie County,” responded Hogan Johnson, who insisted she wants the project to succeed.

Given the cost  — $37 million over 30 years — and the importance of the project to the economic future of Fort Pierce, scrutiny is warranted. We were surprised Trabulsy seemed to think criticism inappropriate.

It wasn’t the only red flag raised by Trabulsy.  

Claiming she’d be stronger on economic issues, Trabulsy said Hogan Johnson received an “F” Grade from the Florida Chamber of Commerce. This wasn’t true; in its most recent Legislative Report Card, the Florida Chamber gave Hogan Johnson 83 percent — a “B.”

More troubling was Trabulsy’s answer to a question about whether craft breweries in Florida should be permitted to self-distribute their beer. A self-proclaimed advocate for small businesses, Trabulsy was hesitant, saying she was open to the conversation but suggested there may be safety issues involved. What if there’s a product recall and self-distributed craft beer isn’t as carefully tracked as beer distributed through traditional channels?

At no point in her answer did Trabulsy explain her husband is vice president and CFO for Southern Eagle Distributing, the leading beverage distributor on the Treasure Coast.

That’s troubling.

In general, Trabulsy is a solid candidate, with ideas and connections that could help local businesses thrive. But these red flags are too significant to overlook.

Hogan Johnson, by contrast, is a stronger candidate on the lagoon by virtue of her long involvement with the issue. Her background in education gives her an edge on that important topic.

Her effectiveness in the Legislature may have been limited by virtue of her party affiliation, but there’s little doubt she’s a passionate voice for her community, both in Tallahassee and here at home.

She’s our pick for the seat.

TCPalm’s candidate recommendations are decided collectively by its Editorial Board. Recommendations are based on nonpartisan criteria that prioritize the best candidates for our local community.

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