Democratic candidates for Florida governor hold 3rd debate
MIRAMAR, Fla. (AP) — Democrats seeking to replace Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott mostly played nice during their third debate Monday, largely avoiding direct attacks on each other while talking about ideas such as raising the state’s corporate income tax and legalizing recreational marijuana.
The candidates largely agreed on many issues, like raising the minimum wage, immigration policy, climate change and restricting access to assault style rifles. But some differences stood out, like Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s proposal to raise the state’s corporate income tax by a billion dollars so Florida can capture what companies are saving through the federal tax cut President Donald Trump signed into law.
He said Florida’s corporate tax rate is lower than Alabama’s and Georgia’s.
“We have bought into this belief that the Republicans have been selling that the only way to grow this economy is by being a cheap date. This has not worked,” Gillum said.
Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said the state’s current 5.5 percent corporate income tax is fair. Instead of raising taxes, he said he wants to close loopholes in the tax laws.
“The various things that we want to do, we’re going to do without raising taxes,” he said. “I understand how we’re going to create a 21st century economy. We’re not going to do it by scaring people away; we’re going to do it on making sure they pay their fair share.”
Orlando-area businessman Chris King said he wants to legalize recreational marijuana and use the money from that to boost public education spending.
“We need to legalize marijuana, we need to tax it and we need to spend the $500 million it raises toward raising teacher salaries and public education,” King said.
While the candidates agreed lawmakers should stop raiding the state’s affordable housing trust fund, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham said the same should apply to all trust funds, except one: The concealed weapons permit trust fund.
“There is only one trust fund that the Legislature is not allowed to sweep, and that is the concealed weapon trust fund. That’s the NRA and the gun lobby at work. So why don’t we reverse this?” she said. “Let’s take some of that money out of that concealed weapons permit (trust fund) for the funding of other needs in Florida.”
Unlike the first two debates, when candidates sniped at each other, Monday’s exchange stayed mostly positive. The only moment that came close to an attack was when Gillum referred to a campaign contribution Levine made to Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2010 campaign. He didn’t mention Levine or Rubio by name, but sneaked in the jab while answering a question about protection abortion rights.
“I’ve never given a political contribution to an elected official who has sought to strip Planned Parenthood of their funding,” he said. “There is one such candidate on the stage who has, and I’d like him to apologize for it.”
When it came time to answer the same abortion question, King smiled and mentioned Gillum’s remarks.
“I’m not the candidate on the stage that did what he’s talking about,” King said as the audience roared in approval. Gillum laughed, turned and shook King’s hand.
Democratic billionaire Jeff Greene entered the race 10 days ago and didn’t participate in the debate.
Republicans running for Scott’s seat include Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. Putnam and DeSantis will participate in their first debate June 28.
Scott, who can’t run for re-election due to term limits, is running for U.S. Senate.
Farrington reported from Tallahassee.