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Tallahassee candidates Loranne Ausley and Corey Simon square off before a lively Tiger Bay crowd

Three people stand at podiums, with an American flag on the left and a banner with a cartoon tiger and the words "Capital Tiger Bay Club" behind them
Tom Flanigan

State Senator Loranne Ausley, a Democrat, is defending her seat from challenger Corey Simon, a Republican. They squared off Monday at the Capital Tiger Bay Club.

Tiger Bay’s usual room at the Civic Center was so full, the staff had to bring out more tables and chairs. There were 5 TV cameras, plus print and radio reporters -- also more than usual.

It was the day after the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee had taken out a full-page ad in the Sunday Tallahassee Democrat. It called an upcoming candidate forum “a liberal farce designed to fool voters.” But the ad said Simon was looking forward to the Tiger Bay event, which he called “nonpartisan.”

“The problem with politicians and politics in general and why so many normal people don’t engage in the process is because they feel like, “Oh, I have to be on this side of the fence or that side of the fence,” and they can’t think for themselves,” he said. “I’m going to the capital to think for myself and my constituents -- that’s what this is about.”

Simon described himself as an independent thinker. Ausley said that wouldn’t matter if he got elected.

“But you are running as a Republican,” she said. “You are being supported by the Republican Party with millions of dollars. I have seen this happen before. You can think that you can be the most independent person when you walk into that chamber as a member of that party supported by the Republicans. You are not going to be able to be your own person.”  

Ausley is an attorney known for her advocacy for children, public employees and people with disabilities. Simon is a former Florida State University and NFL football player who was CEO of Volunteer Florida.

Their discussion continued along party lines. Asked about Governor Ron DeSantis’s directing roughly 50 Venezuelan immigrants to be flown to Martha’s Vineyard, Simon criticized President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.

“But they continue to keep this policy open. And why is that? Well, the answer is very simple. The answer is because they need more voters,” he said. “They are looking for more people to come and vote in our elections, and that’s not what this should be about. This should be about the safety and welfare of those families and those children that are coming across, taking dangerous routes and putting themselves at great harm.”  
Ausley said the United States is a nation of immigrants and that the people who’d been flown to Martha’s Vineyard were seeking asylum from persecution.

“We put 50 unsuspecting people on a plane and told them one thing and dropped them in a place where the people were not expecting them -- and the state of Florida paid for that?” she demanded. “This is outrageous, it is unlawful, and it is nothing but a political stunt.”   

At the end of the candidate forum, moderator Gary Fineout of Politico Florida invited Ausley and Simon to ask each other a question. She asked him if he thought President Biden had been legitimately elected.

“The election is done, President Biden is the president and we are worse for it.” [Fineout: “But do you think he was legitimately elected?”] “The election is done, President Biden is the president and I believe we are the worse for it.”  

Simon asked Ausley, “Is there any group that you won’t take dollars from?”

“The question was, ‘Is there anyone you won’t take money from?’ Of course there are people I won’t take money from,” Ausley said. “But that wasn’t the question. The question was ‘Can money buy your vote?’ and the answer to that is ‘No.’”

A Republican victory in Senate District 3 would almost certainly give the GOP a supermajority in that chamber.

The full Tiger Bay candidate forum with Loranne Ausley and Corey Simon will air Friday evening at 7:00 p.m. on WFSU.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.