By Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward County political campaigns run on food. Bagels and cream cheese, Danish, hummus, spaghetti, barbeque and fruit salad for vegetarians who might show up at a political event – all paid for by candidates.
One recent evening, Florida House candidate Steve Perman brought eight pizzas and eight two-liter bottles of soda along with scores of his campaign flyers to the hungry members of the Margate Regular Democratic Club.
Perman, a chiropractor, hovered over the handful of Democrats hunched over greasy paper plates, answering questions and asking for votes.
For Perman, this sleepy night in May was just one more campaign stop leading up to the key Aug. 26 Democratic primary for the House seat in District 96. A few more hands are shaken. A few more backs are patted. And another speech is ended with the quip, “When you send a chiropractor to Tallahassee, you don’t have to worry. I’ve got your back.”
The Coral Springs resident has been at it for months. It clearly shows.
“I’m tired,” Perman, 57, conceded.
Although House District 96 is relatively compact, stretching from Pompano Beach to Parkland along the northern border of Broward, the campaign for one of the House’s open seats is strenuous and often exhausting. The district’s current occupant, state Rep. Jim Waldman, a Coconut Creek Democrat who endorsed fellow Democrat Perman, is retiring because of term limits.
Perman’s opponent in the primary is Democratic County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, 54, who said she is often exhausted, too. Jacobs, a grandmother, has been campaigning door-to-door with her non-political husband, Stuart, in tow.
“I have to remind him to smile,” said Jacobs, of Pompano Beach.
She estimated she has met thousands of likely voters picked from lists of registered Democrats who have a history of voting in primaries.
A SAFE SEAT FOR DEMOCRATS
Both candidates are campaigning only among Democrats because District 96 is safely Democratic, and victory in the primary will be tantamount to election in November.
About 46 percent of the district’s 99,460 voters as of May 1 are registered Democrats, compared with 25 percent who are Republicans and 29 percent who listed no party affiliation or registered with other parties.
The campaign will boil down to two phases. The first phase, now underway, involves personally meeting voters. Political consultants and the candidates predict a low turnout. They foresee as few as 8,000 voters will take part in the primary. Thus, knocking on doors and meeting a handful of voters at club meetings could conceivably make a difference.
The second phase will be the withering blast of negative advertising both candidates expect in the closing days of the campaign. The ads will focus on their personal differences and a handful of past votes. “She’s going to paper me,” Perman predicted.
“Part of a campaign is to tell people about your opponent,” Jacobs said. Both candidates will have plenty of money to get their message to voters.
As of April 30, Jacobs had raised $123,818, mostly from firms and people doing business with the county.
Perman had raised $49,714, the overwhelming majority from chiropractors.
Jacobs said of Perman’s campaign finances, “He’s not going to be the representative of Broward. He’s going to be the representative of the chiropractors.”
Perman got his political start as a lobbyist for his fellow chiropractors. With an office in west Boca Raton since 1993, Perman had been a lobbyist for the state’s chiropractors for a decade when in 2006, he decided to run for a Palm Beach County-based House seat. He lost, the first of four races he ran in a district far from his Coral Springs home that stretches from south Palm Beach County through rural areas to Lake Okeechobee. Of the four races, Perman won only when he was unopposed in 2010, winning a term in the House. He lost that seat in the 2012 Democratic primary.
During his two years in the House, Perman sponsored and got passed The Nursing Home Division Law, which allowed low-income seniors to receive home care rather than being institutionalized. He also sponsored a law increasing the penalties for stolen credit and debit cards and another law extending tax breaks for the creation of new small businesses or the expansion of existing ones.
As a member of the agriculture committee, he passed a bill that increased clean water storage capacity by allowing farmers to lease land to the state for water storage without losing property rights.
PERMAN’S PAST IN PALM BEACH
It is Perman’s repeated quests for a House seat in Palm Beach County that has become an issue in the campaign.
“He’s never been engaged in Broward County in the past,” Jacobs said. “He’s never been part of advocating for Broward County. He’s been advocating for other places, while living in Broward County. I’ve been advocating for Broward County for 16 years.”
Perman fired back, “I fully supported the (Broward) delegation’s legislative agenda on the floor of the House and in committees. Interestingly, I do not recall Commissioner Jacobs ever reaching out to me…to discuss any Broward issues or enlist my support for Broward. Even so, I always voted in full support of Broward County and its residents, both on the floor in Tallahassee and at delegation meetings at home.”
Jacobs was the president of the North Andrews Neighborhood Homeowners Association near Fort Lauderdale when she beat veteran County Commissioner Sylvia Poitier in 1998. Poitier, who was backed by the development industry and was the only African-American on the commission, had the support of the county’s entire political establishment, which pumped $230,479 into her campaign.
Jacobs, a political unknown who had only $15,682 in contributions, won by pounding Poitier as an ethically lax tool of political insiders. It was one of the most stunning upsets in Broward history.
In Jacobs’ only tough race since – a 2012 campaign for Congress against now U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel – she was crushed.
On the County Commission, Jacobs is one of the state’s most outspoken voices on a wide range of environmental issues. She is most passionate about finding enough clean water and offering alternative transportation options, such as bike paths and buses. She was recently named to a White House task force on global climate change, a vital issue for low-lying Florida.
Jacobs was the sparkplug behind the ordinance requiring companies doing business with the county to pay their employees a living wage. She also has been an advocate for affordable housing.
Candidates’ past votes haunt them in campaigns, and the District 96 race is no exception.
In speeches, Jacobs has been pounding Perman for voting to allow state money to be used by the poor to pay for private school tuition. Perman said that many “good Democrats” such as Waldman voted along with him for HB 965 in 2011. Eighteen legislators, including some Broward Democrats, voted against the bill. The bill provided “private school scholarships to students from families that meet specified income limitations,” according to the final bill analysis by the Legislature. The money came from corporations and other groups that received a tax credit for funding the vouchers.
“The bill he voted for was the first step towards expanding the use of vouchers, which allows more tax money to be taken from the public schools,” Jacobs said.
Perman said he has been careful not to stridently attack Jacobs publicly, fearful that he would look like a bully picking on a grandmother. However, in private, Perman was not reticent about mentioning some of the votes Jacobs has cast that he believes are wrong.
JACOBS VOTED TO EXPAND NORTH BROWARD DUMP
Jacobs voted in 2011 to allow the 21.3-acre expansion of the Monarch Hill landfill on Wiles Road just east of Coconut Creek and Florida’s Turnpike. The vote could be controversial in the campaign since parts of District 96 are periodically plagued with wind-blown foul smells from the landfill. Monarch Hill has successfully resolved numerous odor-related violation complaints from the county in the past.
Jacobs said that Coconut Creek, the city most affected by the landfill, signed an agreement with the landfill operator five years ago to allow the facility to expand in return for stepped-up attempts to damp down the smell. She called the county’s vote “ministerial” and noted that “no one from the city objected….It was a unanimous vote.”
Perman’s campaign manager, David Brown, also said that Jacobs took $35,000 in campaign contributions from the Florida Panthers, team officials and lobbyists and related interests. The contributions were made before the hockey team’s request for more money from the county’s bed tax. The campaign funds were for her losing 2012 congressional race and the current House campaign.
“There has been no vote for the Panthers. It has been postponed and probably won’t come up while I am still at the commission,” said Jacobs, who leaves the county’s Government Center in November because of term limits. She contended that despite the contributions, she has never supported the Panthers’ request. “I’m beholden to no one,” she said.
Both candidates sounded remarkably alike when asked why voters should choose them over their opponent.
“There are 120 House members and only one-third of them are Democrats. We need to send up our A Team to represent Democrat values, and I’ve been part of Broward County’s A Team for 16 years,” Jacobs said.
“We need a strong voice in Tallahassee,” Perman said “I’ve proven I can work with both Republicans and Democrats….It’s what I did in a state Legislature which was very hostile territory.”