While it’s hard to ignore race in the Democratic state Senate District 27 primary between black Rep. Mack Bernard and white Rep. Jeff Clemens, the biggest contrast between the candidates may be in their adherence to Democratic Party orthodoxy.
Bernard and Clemens are vying for the Senate seat with the largest black population in Palm Beach County. Blacks make up about one-quarter of District 27 voters and about one-third of Democrats. Republicans are outnumbered more than 2-to-1 in District 27 and didn’t field a candidate.
Bernard says it’s important for Palm Beach County to have a black Senator in its legislative delegation, but he’s touting himself primarily as the candidate better able to attract business and jobs to the district, which is generally east of Florida’s Turnpike between Riviera Beach and northern Boynton Beach.
Clemens is campaigning as a true-blue Democrat who’s proud that Associated Industries of Florida gives him a 48.5 percent pro-business rating while Bernard scores 66 percent.
“Raise your hand if you think that the person with the best Democratic voting record in a race should win the Democratic primary,” Clemens told activists at a recent Democratic Executive Committee meeting. “We Democrats don’t want someone who votes for school vouchers. We don’t want someone who votes for school prayer. We don’t want someone who votes for corporate tax cuts.”
Bernard broke with most Dems this year by voting to allow students to deliver “inspirational messages,” including prayer, at school assemblies.
“The district that I represented, it was a majority-minority district. In our communities a lot of people pray,” said Bernard. Only 10 of 38 House Democrats supported the measure. Nine of the ten Democratic yes votes came from black members.
Bernard was one of only 11 House Democrats voting to enlarge a state pool of tax credits for businesses who donate so low-income students can get private school vouchers. The credits were scheduled to increase from $175 million to $219 million this year, but Bernard joined a 92-24 House majority in voting to increase the program to $229 million.
Bernard said he favors fixing failing public schools. But while doing so, he said, low-income families
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