Congressional District 2 Race: Neal Dunn on the issues
Two incumbents from opposing political parties are vying to represent more than a dozen Florida Panhandle counties in the U.S. House.
Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson and Panama City Republican Neal Dunn were placed in the same congressional district under a map enacted in April. Florida’s 2nd Congressional District now includes part of Lawson’s District 5 — including all of Leon, Gadsden and Madison Counties.
Each candidate sat down in studio with WFSU News’ Valerie Crowder to talk about where they stand on the issues that matter to voters ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Below is part of that conversation with Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Panama City). The interview has been edited for clarity and accuracy.
My first question has two parts. You were elected to represent District 2 in 2016. You've served in the U.S. Congress for nearly six years. First, what do you consider are your biggest accomplishments? And what lessons have you learned during your time in office?
Wow. Well, the second question is a big one. Let's start with the easier one. I think that the biggest accomplishments would have to center around the recovery from Hurricane Michael. Nobody ever runs for Congress to become a disaster expert. But once it happens to you, you know, you've got no choice. And so when that hurricane hit, I dove in, my staff dove in with a vengeance. And we rescued a lot of businesses and Tyndall Air Force Base. And, of course, some of the major agricultural concerns in the district. We had part of that disaster was the biggest forestry disaster, literally, in the history of the country. And so we took some, some new and inventive legislation to help foresters get out of that hole. And I'm very proud of the work we did with agriculture, as well as the military.
And that kind of leads into the second question, which is what lessons have you learned during your time in office?
*laughing* There’s a lot of those. But honestly, I think one of the things that you'll find is that there really are a whole bunch of good people in Washington. They're not all that ideal. I would say we have our fair share of knuckleheads, but we also have good people on both sides of the aisle. And we've been able to actually work together — for the first four years I was up there, I think, thought quite, quite productively. The last two have gotten a little bogged down in divisiveness, but we learned a lot about how Washington works. And also how to take care of constituents on a one-by-one basis, which is a gratifying thing to do on a day-to-day basis. You can’t always help everybody, but if you can help one family, two families – that’s a big deal to those families.
And many families across America and across the district are struggling. Right now housing, food and gas prices have gone up across the US. You voted against the Inflation Reduction Act. Could you explain your vote?
And what do you think lawmakers in Washington should do to address this issue?
So the Inflation Reduction Act was anything but inflation-reducing. It was it was literally hundreds of billions of dollars that is going to be highly inflationary. It doesn't even address it in near term any of the costs. A lot of it’s put off until ’25 and ’26. But the things that you see that they're increasing taxes on a large portion of America in the middle of a recession. We are in a recession, and raising taxes in a recession is simply, you know, verboten, you really should not do that.
What do you think lawmakers in Washington should do to address inflation?
Well, the first thing we can do is adjust the structural problems with energy costs. Energy costs are driving a huge portion of the problems that we see across the world. So not only is it driving the cost of fertilizer to three times what it was one year ago, which drives up the cost of everybody's groceries, and of course, the price of everybody's transportation and gas. But the reason we have a war raging in Europe right now, is because of energy. Russia simply could not have attacked Ukraine if the EU were not dependent upon Russia for its energy.
House District Two covers many rural areas where agriculture is a dominant industry. It also includes more than a couple hundred miles of coastline and covers many natural springs and waterways. What would you do to protect those resources if you're reelected to represent the district?
So one of the things I like to say is, you know, nobody's better steward of the land than the farmers. And unfortunately, they kind of get vilified in the course of this because they really do do a wonderful job taking care of the land and the water. They care about clean water, believe me every bit as much as anybody who focuses on the environment wholly and not on agriculture. So that's an easy one, that we should not exclude the farmers from this and they feel like they're getting marginalized. I talk to them all the time. This is the single most agricultural district in the state of Florida congressional system. And it is our number one economic driver, not state government, not tourism, not even the military. It's agriculture. We should remember that, you know. They've been keeping this land clean for us for two-hundred years.
We've vilified all fossil fuels. Let's get rid of the coal, but let's don't get rid of natural gas until we've got something to replace it. A base load of electricity, and energy, fundamentally still requires clean natural gas. We just don't have a good replacement for that. You can't use something like solar or wind, which are intermittent sources of, of base energy, rather than consistent, we need a reliable. When you flip on a light switch, it's got to come on.
Another issue that's important to many voters is access to safe and legal abortions. What role do you think the federal government should play when it comes to abortion access? Do you think the federal government should provide any sort of checks on state laws?
This is a very timely question. No, of course, the Supreme Court just overturned Roe v. Wade. But it's important to realize what they did with that what they did is they put it back on the states and say, you know, this is not a constant constitutionally, this is not a federal place to play. I mean, it's just not the federal law that we have to we have to play with. Now. I'm, I'm basically pro life completely. So I'm pro life. And there's people who are pro choice, and you're entitled to your opinion, but that should be fought out in the states and not in Washington, DC.
Mass shootings are a frequent occurrence in the United States. That’s not the only gun violence that we see. We also see domestic violence, neighborhood crime violence. What do you think Congress should do to address gun violence in America?
So we have a thing called the Second Amendment. I'm a big believer in that. We have a process for amending the Constitution. If people want to get rid of the Second Amendment, I think that they should be forthright and say, ‘Okay, we want to start an amendment process.’ Now, the reason you don't see anybody doing that is because they know it wouldn't win. It just has no chance. And so what we see people doing is kind of cheating around the edges, trying to rein in gun rights.
I will say this, I spent a long time in the military, a lot of time overseas, most of the most dangerous places I've been in my life had very, very, very strict gun laws.