The Knowledge GAP

The political downfall of Corrine Brown was an interestingnarrative earlier this year. The Democrat from Congressional District 5 got a lot of coverage.

The Florida Times-Union began probing the One Door For Education “charity” for which the Congresswoman fundraised, and whether the money that charity raised had actually gone toward educational purposes, or was instead being spent on Brown and her chief of staff Ronnie Simmons.

She was indicted in July; media from throughout the state covered the event, which was held in a courtroom so packed, even the preachers who came to support Rep. Brown couldn’t get in.

From there, the primary campaign got hot coverage also … this, despite the fact that one of Brown’s opponents was from Tallahassee and the other one, from Jacksonville, was one of those candidates who campaigned for a year and never figured out that the key was fundraising.

A TV debate in August showed Brown saying that the federal charges against her were about as grounded as accusing the moderator of being a pedophile. She then doubled down on this gruesome grotesquerie when being asked questions by the media after the debate.

Brown lost her primary. By the time Aug. 30 arrived, everyone on her side seemed to know it. Only the most indebted hangers-on showed up to her victory party, which featured the most funereal version of the Electric Slide imaginable.

And since Aug. 30, what coverage has there been of the race between Democrat Al Lawson and Republican nominee Glo Smith in CD 5?

Precious little of it, other than what I have devoted to it.

In part, that’s because neither of those two candidates has shown any particular willingness to engage Jacksonville media.

Lawson, a Tallahassee guy, simply hasn’t bothered engaging the media, beyond a time in August when Trump’s Florida chair, Susie Wiles, introduced the Democrat (and colleague at lobbying firm Ballard Partners) to members of the local press.

Smith, who has run for Corrine’s seat before, likewise has been resistant to do interviews with the press.

The result is problematic: two candidates are running for a high-profile seat in Congress, one that (if Lawson wins) becomes a Tallahassee-first seat, one where Jacksonville is an adjunct to the concerns of the state capital.

And their views, their abilities to do the job, their engagement in national affairs — none of this is being vetted by the press. When compared to the luridness of the federal charges against Brown, the quotidian nature of actually doing the job in D.C. (as Brown did effectively for almost a quarter-century) doesn’t matter to most of the media.

Last week, I was the only member of the press covering what looks to be the only debate (at San Jose Country Club) between Smith and Lawson.

You won’t see the debate on TV because no broadcast outlets showed up, not even a random cameraman. And you won’t read about it in the print press: They all had other places to be.

That’s a shame. Not because they missed anything good. But because both Smith and Lawson have egregious gaps in knowledge that, because the mainstream media didn’t show, no one will know about.

For example, when the conversation turned to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, free trade, and dredging of the port, Lawson expressed his support for dredging.

After all, we have to compete with other ports … such as in Charlotte, North Carolina, Lawson said, adding that the port needs to be dredged, despite the “little bit of a problem” the St. Johns Riverkeeper may have with it.

And then the conversation turned to military spending. Smith wants to cut the Department of Education to fund more of it, as we face existential threats, including a potential “terror attack.”

“China, Iran, Japan … they’re equipping their people,” Smith said, adding that “our equipment we know is not up to standard.”

Japan hasn’t posed much of a threat since WWII, suggesting that before the Republican phases out the Department of Education, she may want to see if they have a history book from the last quarter-century or so to lend her.

The debate, which I covered in full for Florida Politics, continued in this uninspiring vein, with candidates exposing basic ignorance on issues ranging from the proposed wall on the Mexican border to the national debt.

If there were any difference between the two, it would be that Lawson (who actually has legislative experience) had a bit more substantive grasp of the issues than Smith, who is most comfortable with the kind of red meat talking points that sound great in addresses to GOP groups but don’t really resonate with actual voters.

Lawson’s going to take this one, of course. And Jacksonville Democrats will start planning which of the deep bench of veteran Dem pols will take him on in the 2018 primary.

But when it comes to knowledge of the issues, when it comes to having a representative with the actual ability to navigate D.C., to bring appropriations back home, we are screwed compared to the Corrine era.

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