TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A two-term state House member looking to move to the Senate is battling with a personal-injury attorney in a Democratic primary in a redrawn Palm Beach County district.READ MORE: Migrants Come Ashore In Bay Harbor Islands
Rep. Bobby Powell, an urban and regional planner from West Palm Beach, is going up against Michael Steinger, an attorney from Palm Beach Gardens who anticipates spending up to $1 million in the race for the Senate District 30 seat that covers northeastern Palm Beach County.
Both consider education, the environment, health care, jobs and the economy as vital issues to voters. But the tone of the campaign has turned more personal.
Powell, 34, has been an advocate for criminal-justice reforms, with an emphasis during this year’s legislative session on law-enforcement body cameras following the 2015 fatal shooting of musician Corey Jones by a then-Palm Beach Gardens police officer.
Powell believes he can be more effective in getting reforms passed in the Senate, where lawmakers appear to work more across party lines than in the conservative House.
Steinger, 46, running for his first elected office, said he entered the contest as a means to further an “obligation” to give back to the community.
“I’ve done a lot of good here in the county, and I could do a lot more good fighting for the people,” Steinger said.
Steinger said his “real work experience” in being a founding partner in the law firm Steinger, Iscoe & Greene separates him from Powell.
“I started a business without any employees, and we’re now up to 150,” Steinger said. “I’ve been creating jobs, providing health care, providing for families for 20 years.”
But Powell said the negative tone of recent mail pieces may be a sign that Steinger sees the contest slipping away.
A mailer in support of Steinger has portrayed Powell as getting little accomplished. Also, Steinger said the sitting lawmaker is too in touch with special interests in Tallahassee.
“I think that Mr. Powell seems to be very influenced and has been supported by special interests,” Steinger said. “There are a lot of contributions from outside of Palm Beach County.”
Among the $189,536 that Powell had raised as of July 29, $55,700 came from political action committees, with additional contributions coming directly from a variety of major companies.READ MORE: Celebrating Progress In The Battle Against HIV/AIDS
Powell, the Democratic ranking member of the House Transportation & Ports Subcommittee, disputed the ineffectiveness claim and countered that much of Steinger’s $239,610 in contributions came from people in the legal and health-care industries.
“To say that I’ve got outside money and he hasn’t is disingenuous,” Powell said. “He has raised a lot more money than I have and he has a lot of money for chiropractors, doctors, lawyers. I’d say that is special interest group as well.”
The chiropractic industry accounted for $26,300 of Steinger’s contributions, while doctors and other health care providers have collectively given him $82,750.
Steinger had also put up $340,000 of his own money for the race, as of July 29.
Steinger, who reported a net worth of $15.1 million as 2016 began, said he envisions spending up to $1 million in the primary and general elections.
Powell has a net worth of $128,224.
The seat became open through court-ordered redistricting and a decision by Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, to run in House District 81. Abruzzo won the House seat without opposition.
Powell said he decided to run for the Senate as the new district lines were drawn and as he was the only sitting legislator to reside within the boundaries. About one-third of the Senate district comprises his House seat.
With areas heavy in senior voters and gated communities, the Democratic-leaning district is 20 percent black and 17 percent Hispanic.
The district includes the wealth of Palm Beach and Royal Palm Beach and the economic challenges confronting Lake Park and Riviera Beach. It also covers the rapidly expanding communities of Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter.
The district voted 57.3 percent to 42.7 percent for Democratic President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, while 56.9 percent went for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink in 2010 when she was defeated by Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
The Democratic primary winner will face Palm Beach Gardens Republican Ronald Berman in the general election.
Berman, a co-founder of the company that became Quicken Loans, is unopposed in the primary and had loaned $125,000 to his campaign as of July 29.MORE NEWS: Workers Rescued From Partially Collapsed Scaffold In Hallandale Beach
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.