ST PETERSBURG — With the GOP primary quickly approaching, state representative and congressional hopeful Kathleen Peters tried to turn the tables Thursday on opponent David Jolly on the central issue in their contest: health care reform.
In the increasingly bitter primary battle for the District 13 congressional seat, Peters said Jolly not only has misrepresented her position on the Affordable Care Act, derisively known as “Obamacare,” but that his lobbying firm repesents a call center for a Washington State health care exchange used in the rollout of the health care act.
“David Jolly claims that he opposes Obamacare, but that didn’t stop him from lobbying for government-run health care just last year when he made over $80,000 from special interests,” said Peters, the District 69 state representative. “It takes a special kind of dishonesty to publicly oppose Obamacare while personally profiting from it.”
She pointed to Jolly’s 2012 lobbyist registration, which shows his D.C.-based lobbying firm, Three Bridges Advisors, worked on behalf of Faneuil Inc., a Virginia firm that operates call centers.
Last week, Jolly’s camp sent out a mailer painting Peters as a proponent of Obamacare because she said she wouldn’t vote to repeal it unless there was a “sensible solution” to replace it. Jolly, a former lobbyist and legal counsel to former Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who held the District 13 seat for 40 years until his death in October, said he would unequivocally support repealing the act.
“David Jolly has misrepresented me on this issue,” Peters said. “But in fact, he’s been misrepresenting himself all along.”
Jolly’s campaign on Thursday called Peters’ claim “categorically false” and a “desparate attempt” to deflect attention from her own comments on the controversial health law.
“Ms. Peters should acknowledge that she is wrong,” campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom wrote in an email. “David Jolly has never supported or lobbied on behalf of Obamacare and is actively calling for the immediate repeal of Obamacare.”
Bascom said Jolly worked with Faneuil in Florida on transportation issues in 2011 and 2012 but had nothing to do with the Washington state health care exchange the firm began operating this year. Firm executives also denied any connection between Jolly and the health care exchange.
“David Jolly’s firm was simply a consultant in Florida for us,” Faneuil CEO Anna Van Buren said. “There was never an instance where his firm represented us in any capacity on health care.”
The primary battle between Jolly and Peters in the runup to the Jan. 14 primary has become more heated in recent weeks, with the Affordable Care Act — an issue more commonly used against Democrats — front-and-center.
The two have been fighting to establish name recognition and distinguish themselves from one another since the start of the race. Political newcomer Mark Bircher, a retired brigadier general, is the third GOP primary contender. A survey Thursday by St. Pete Polls shows Jolly leads Peters 35 percent to 30 percent. Bircher got about 16 percent, with about 20 percent of voters undecided.
The primary winner will be hard-pressed to earn as much name recognition as Democrat Alex Sink, whom one of them will face in the March 11 general election, in the truncated special election cycle.
Democrats say the primary’s negative tone will benefit Sink.
“The only sure outcome of Peters and Jolly spending their time and their cash trashing each other is that independent Pinellas voters will undoubtedly be turned off by both of them,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein said earlier this week.