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Vero’s first great debate set for Emerson Center

(Week of September 30, 2010)

Vero Beach will be the site of a bona-fide political debate on Oct. 14 centered on proposed changes to the Florida Constitution -- at least one of which could change the course of the Sunshine State’s future.

The State Candidates Debate, as the event is called, will begin at 5:30 pm at the Emerson Center.

Sponsored by The League of Women Voters, the Harvard, Princeton and Yale Clubs of the Treasure Coast, and a broad-based, politically diverse debate committee, this is the first debate of its kind ever held in Vero.

The debate was the brainchild of auctioneer and Realtor Ron Rennick Sr., whose original idea when he approached beachside resident and Harvard alum Steve Dorrance about organizing it was to bring Florida’s gubernatorial candidates here to Vero.

Rick Scott and Alex Sink were booked solid, however, so Dorrance sought an alternative.

As he spoke to people and groups around town about hot-button issues and attempted to decipher the amendments on the November ballot, Dorrance discovered that there were lots of opinions flying around -- but a dearth of objective or balanced information on these measures.

“My role is to get the electorate as much information as they can have in order to make the decisions and I’m insistent about making this nonpartisan,” Dorrance said. “This is really about sharing information.”

The “main event” of the debate will feature the verbal sparring of the author of the controversial “Hometown Democracy” Amendment 4, attorney Lesley Blackner, and the amendment’s most vehement opponent, Ryan Houck.

This debate will help flesh out the convoluted issues regarding Amendment 4, along with the other amendments relating to public school class size and the upcoming reapportionment of Florida’s legislative districts.

Amendment 4 pertains to issues of growth and taxation and whether or not Florida voters should be asked to go to the polls to decide certain questions that are now in the hands of their elected representatives.

Dorrance said he’s looking forward to the debate to become more informed about Amendment 4 himself.

“With my 56-year-old eyes, I could barely read the amendments printed in the paper, let alone comprehend them,” he said.

Locally, the Indian River Neighborhood Association is advocating for Amendment 4 and core members of the Indian River County Tea Party have come out against it.

Neither one of these groups has stepped forward to help foster this nonpartisan debate on the issue.

In fact, the Tea Party scheduled a Vero Beach City Council candidate debate for the same night at a competing venue – but since has moved that forum to Oct. 12.

But Fulbright Scholar Frank Alcock, Ph.D., who is associated with the Collins Center for Public Policy will present the “pros” and “cons” of all six proposed constitutional amendments.

Dr. Alcock also will serve as the debate moderator.

One of the coups Dorrance said he’s most proud of is booking David M. Smick as the Keynote Speaker.

Smick is a global financial strategist, magazine editor and author, most recently, of the national best-seller “The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy.” Dorrance said Smick will present a lively and thought-provoking lecture about the tentacles and unintended consequences of global commerce.

Dorrance was also able to secure debate commitments from both candidates for the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services position -- Republican Adam Putnam and Democrat Scott Maddox.

There is a $10 per person charge for tickets to this Emerson Center event, but Dorrance said every dime will go to benefit the Treasure Coast Food Bank, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the American Red Cross.

The event will be held from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at 1590 27th Avenue, Vero Beach.

Tickets are available online at or by calling (772) 778-5249.