A rare meeting of all three Democrats seeking the Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18 congressional seat didn’t permit interaction between the candidates on Thursday night but still showed the contrast between primary foes Jonathan Chane and Randy Perkins over their credentials as Democrats.
Perkins, founder and CEO of disaster-relief giant AshBritt Environmental and a major donor in the past to Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans, changed his voter registration from no party affiliation to Democrat in November, shortly before opening a campaign to replace Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, who is running for Senate.
Chane, an attorney from Palm Beach Gardens, has tried to persuade Democratic primary voters that he’s the only true Democrat in the race.
“My Democratic values are something that have been instilled in me since I was a little boy. It wasn’t a box I checked when I got into this race,” Chane said at Thursday night’s Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee meeting.
The DEC meeting featured District 18 Democratic candidates Chane, Perkins and John (Juan) Xuna, a Stuart resident running a low-budget campaign who described himself Thursday as a “Berniecrat” in the mold of Bernie Sanders.
County Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo structured the event to minimize fireworks. Each candidate got to make a five-minute opening statement. Candidates then got a minute apiece to answer three questions submitted in writing by members of the audience.
“I’ve asked them not to criticize their opponent, but to tell why they are the better candidate,” Rizzo said before the candidates spoke.
Perkins himself brought up his brief history as a Democrat when it was his turn to make an opening statement. He acknowledged registering with the party only last year, but noted that he has garnered the support of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and this week campaigned with former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, who was known as a “fire-breathing liberal” when he represented a Palm Beach-Broward congressional district from 1995 to 2010.
“I might not be a fire-breathing liberal, but I promise you I’m a Democrat,” said Perkins, who said he holds traditional Democratic views on issues such as abortion, gay rights, Social Security and Medicare and protecting the environment.
Later, in response to an audience question of “Why are you a Democrat?” Perkins said: “I am a Democrat. But I’m a Democrat who wants to get things done and solve problems and I understand in order to do that, you’ve got to be able to sit down with people on the other side of the aisle to make that happen.”
Chane has tried unsuccessfully to get Perkins to agree to a true debate, believing Democratic primary voters would look unfavorably on Perkins’ past financial support for a variety of Republicans. Thursday night’s meeting wasn’t the format Chane wanted.
“There’s no opportunity to give and take. We weren’t allowed to discuss the contrast between the candidates,” Chane said after Thursday night’s meeting. “The people of the 18th District deserve to be able to ask questions of the people who are running for these offices.”
Perkins said he’s only interested in debates or forums “if they’re positive and they’re substantive and they actually want to discuss issues and talk about what can be done in this district and leave the negativity out and the attacking out.”