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‘Spews that lie over and over again’: Is there anything positive in showdown between Book and Sharief?

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 8/17/2022 Anthony Man, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

As Lauren Book and Barbara Sharief compete ferociously for a seat in the Florida Senate, there’s little, if anything, that’s forward-thinking or positive in Broward’s hottest political contest of the summer.

Book and Sharief, along with their allies, have been shredding each other for months as each seeks votes — and tries to tamp down support for the opposition — in new state Senate District 35, which is mostly south and west of Florida’s Turnpike.

“We have gotten to a very ugly place in this race,” Book acknowledged during an interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel Editorial Board.

As their joint interview grew more heated, Sharief had this to say about one of her opponent’s comments: “She spews that lie over and over again and, I might ask, if you can spew that, what other things are you lying about?”

It’s not entirely negative. In the closing stage of the campaign, each candidate has positive TV messages about herself that don’t contain the vitriol that’s marked the campaign.

And they agree on many issues. Both support abortion rights and some restrictions on guns, and see affordability of housing and insurance as critical. Both Democrats, they see President Joe Biden as the legitimate winner of the 2020 election and oppose the idea advanced by some Republicans of state legislatures taking over the job of deciding members of the Electoral College in presidential voting.

The Aug. 23 vote will decide whether Book or Sharief spends the next two years in the Senate. Both are Democrats, but the primary is open to Republicans and no party affiliation/independent voters because no Republican came forward to run.

Candidates

The two candidates each endured major childhood traumas and have become formidable political players.

Book, 37, who currently represents District 32 in the state Senate, has twice been chosen by her colleagues to serve as Senate Democratic leader, a position she’ll hold for the next two years — if she wins re-election.

She is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Lauren’s Kids, which educates children and adults about preventing sexual abuse. Book was sexually abused and gang raped as a child.

Sharief, 50, is a former Broward County commissioner, and her colleagues twice elected her to terms as county mayor. She is also a former Miramar city commissioner, and an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in a 2021 special election.

She is founder and CEO of South Florida Pediatric Homecare. When Sharief was 14, her father was killed when “a 15-year-old with an illegal handgun shot him in his chest in front of my 19-year-old sister. And so it has been my life’s duty, my life’s responsibility … to get illegal weapons off the street.”

Unraveling the rhetoric

The hostility shows up in joint appearances, candidate questionnaires, conversations with key supporters, and in their advertising.

Some of the things they say about each other are accurate. Others have a grain of truth. Some points are missing context or are exaggerated. And some aren’t true. Some are major accusations about impropriety; others are relatively small.

Examples:

From Sharief about Book, on a candidate questionnaire – “My opponent has never been elected by the people of this district or county for that matter and does not live in the district. Bought her seat with money from special interests and her dad just like she intends to do again. She has never stood up for working class families. Puts special interests above ours … and she depends on the public to fund her lifestyle.”

From Book TV ad about Sharief – “When calls came in, none were answered. As mayor, Barbara Sharief twice ignored the mounting crisis of a failed 911 call system that put Broward families in harm’s way. Worse, her guilty actions of defrauding Medicaid twice by hundreds of thousands of dollars jeopardized access to care for thousands. Barbara Sharief: caught defrauding taxpayers. Barbara Sharief: Reckless in her actions. Barbara Sharief: She can’t be trusted.”

Book has not been elected in the sense that most people think of elections. Her previous Senate victories came when she was automatically elected when no candidate came forward to run against her.

Sharief contends that’s because Book’s father, Ron Book, one of the state’s most prominent and powerful lobbyists, scared people into not running. Contributions from some of Ron Book’s deep-pocketed clients have helped fuel Book’s 2022 campaign.

Book said in the Editorial Board interview that it “simply isn’t true” to say that her father bought her the Senate seat — adding that the accusation is “sort of ironic” since Sharief sought contributions from her father during previous political races. Sharief acknowledged that Ron Book has contributed to her financially.

“My opponent likes to gaslight the community and talk about the things that aren’t necessarily fact,” Book said. “I don’t understand why Ron Book has any place in this race. Ron Book isn’t serving in the Florida Senate. Lauren Book is.”

Sharief’s contention that the public helps fund Book’s “lifestyle” — one of her ads showed a wedding video clip and said Book’s cost $1 million — is the annual state appropriation that goes to Lauren’s Kids.

Sharief said it’s a conflict of interest for Book to vote on the annual budget that includes money for Lauren’s Kids, $2 million this year. And she points to Book’s salary. A financial disclosure form filed with the state shows Book’s earned $236,000 from the charity in 2021.

Book said the Senate general counsel said voting for the state budget containing the appropriation isn’t a conflict of interest.

“My opponent continues to lie, and obfuscate the truth on this issue,” Book said about the state money that goes to Lauren’s Kids, adding that “no portion of my salary is derived from state dollars.”

Book said it’s hypocritical for Sharief to talk about salaries, and pointed to the $7.1 million in salary that Sharief’s financial disclosure report said she was paid in 2021 by South Florida Pediatric Homecare. (She doesn’t make that much every year. Another financial disclosure reported a 2020 income of $104,500 from the home health agency.)

“My opponent has things to answer for. She defrauded Medicaid, and paid $600,000 in fines,” Book said.

Sharief said the accusation that her company defrauded Medicaid is “such a lie,” calling it “a complete fabrication, and it’s meant to throw voters off of what’s important in this race.”

She settled a claim from the state in 2013 after the government concluded the firm was overpaid for some services that were not covered by Medicaid. Sharief said she settled because continuing to fight would cost more in legal fees.

In July, Sharief filed a $1 million defamation and libel lawsuit against Book and Winning Florida, a political action committee, over the advertising claims. Book has termed the lawsuit frivolous.

Problems with the county’s 911 system have been extensively documented, including in a series of investigative reports from the South Florida Sun Sentinel this year. Sharief said steps to improve the system were made when she was in office, and the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for some of the issues.

Sharief was mayor during the 2017 mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. She wasn’t mayor, as the attack ad against her suggested, during the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.

Whose district?

Another dispute concerns who truly represents the territory of District 35. Each has a base of support in different areas, Book in the north and Sharief in the south.

Sharief, a Miramar resident, said she has lived in the district for 21 years and depicts Book as an outsider.

Book’s current district includes a huge amount of District 35. Republicans who controlled the once-a-decade redrawing of district boundaries put the bulk of her territory in the new district — and placed her Plantation home four blocks away. She’s now renting a home in Davie.

The new 35th District is the southwest quarter of the county, mostly south of Interstate 595 and west of Florida’s Turnpike. It also includes territory around the hockey arena in Sunrise formerly known as the BB&T Center and the Sawgrass Mills shopping mall, along with vast unpopulated territory in the Everglades.

The district includes all or parts of Cooper City, Davie, Hollywood, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Sunrise and Southwest Ranches and Weston.

Better Democrat

The two even disagree over who’s the more loyal Democrat.

Many Democratic Party leaders, including most of the party’s state senators, are furious with Sharief over her candidacy, which they argue is damaging to Democrats.

The challenge means Book has to spend time campaigning in Broward, and raising money for her own re-election, instead of spending the summer traveling the state to raise money and help other Democratic candidates for the Florida Senate.

Many Democrats have said they don’t understand why Sharief didn’t wait until 2024 to run for Senate, when Book couldn’t run again because of term limits. “I live in America and it’s a democracy,” Sharief said.

Sharief contends that Book is too accommodating to the Republican majority that controls Tallahassee. Book said that’s nonsense, pointing to what Republicans did to her in redistricting and that she lost a committee chairmanship when she spoke out against the idea of Florida imposing Texas-style abortion limits.

On Tuesday, Book lambasted Sharief for appearing at a news conference in support of Miami-Dade state Rep. James Bush III, who many Democrats regard as a renegade they’d like to see defeated in his Aug. 23 primary.

“We must stop politics as usual,” Sharief said.

“My opponent is at a press conference supporting a [Democrat In Name Only] who voted ... AGAINST every single Democratic value we hold dear,” Book wrote on Twitter. “She has chosen a side.”

Anthony Man can be reached at aman@sunsentinel.com or on Twitter @browardpolitics

©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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