Candidates at Congregation Beth Shalom's forum Sunday had to prove themselves to potential voters, many of whom wanted to know: "Can we trust you?"
People asked the candidates if they would side with special interest groups, lobbyists and corporations over the public, and whether they were prepared to clean up corruption in government.
Carl Shulz, of Brandon, was among the 70 or so people at the forum, and two of the questions he submitted were posed to the candidates. One asked how the candidates would protect voters from the "personal liberty and freedom intrusion by lobbyists and referendums."
Shulz said he was satisfied with the answers he got.
"I was glad to see the show of candidates, that there were as many who attended and spoke," he said.
More than a dozen candidates attended the forum, including Ronda Storms and Bob Henriquez, who are running for the Hillsborough County property appraiser's job; Rich Glorioso and Craig Latimer, who are running for county supervisor of elections; along with candidates for the county commission and state Legislature.
County commission candidate Mark Nash was asked about recent issues the county faced with former Commissioner Kevin White, sentenced to three years in federal prison for taking bribes, and former County Administrator Pat Bean and former County Attorney Renee Lee, who fell out of favor after top administrators, including Bean, received raises without the commission's approval.
"We've been living in the last four years with some pretty embarrassing headlines," Nash said. "It's called the culture of dysfunction, if you will. I'm being kind."
Former state Senate President Tom lee, who's running for the Senate District 24 seat, was asked whether the state's Public Service Commission works for the public or the utility companies it's supposed to regulate.
"I can tell you I'm very sensitive to that," said Lee, the Republican running against Democrat Elizabeth Belcher.
"We have to make sure that, whether it's an elected official or appointed official … these people are working for the people that they're there to represent."
Gail Gottlieb, the Democratic candidate for the state Senate District 59 seat, said Florida needs to enact comprehensive ethics reform.
"One of the candidates mentioned Florida is at the bottom of the nation's corruption incidences. It doesn't have to be that way," she said.
"We really could clean up our act. We don't have to accept that Florida is just going to continue down this path. We really could make some real differences."
Sunday's candidate forum was the second in three days for Jean Wilson, who has made it a point to learn about the local candidates.
When Wilson moved to Valrico from Tallahassee seven years ago, she didn't know the local candidates and relied heavily on newspaper endorsements. Now, she's done her own research and is just waiting to seal and mail her absentee ballot. While she's already made up her mind, she said she still wanted to hear from both sides.
"There were candidates here that I've not heard speak before, so that was good," she said. "It gives you a different perspective on their viewpoints. I wish there were more of these."