Desantis, Gillum Trade Blows On Taxes, Immigration In First Gubernatorial Debate
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum's meeting in Tampa Sunday night turned into more of a brawl than a debate.
The candidates spent most of their first debate broadcast nationwide on CNN trading jabs on each other's records, Gillum as mayor of Tallahassee and DeSantis as a congressional representative for Northeast Florida. Both candidates provided wildly different visions of Florida's future, which host Jake Tapper said "reveals just how divided the nation is right now."
But with toxic algae and red tide blooms ravaging Florida, the debate began on a topic that DeSantis and Gillum largely agree on: environmental protection. Touting his new endorsement by the Everglades Trust, DeSantis told the audience he was the only candidate with a plan to stop the flow of blue-green algae out of Lake Okeechobee and restore the Everglades.
He also highlighted the need to shore up the state's coastal infrastructure against the impacts of climate change.
"The fact is you look at South Florida and we need to do resiliency," DeSantis said. "You have more flooding, you have more water and that's something that, as governor, I'm going to take on full throttle."
When the questions moved on to climate change, DeSantis argued he’d been mislabeled as a climate change denier and said he just doesn’t want to be an “alarmist.” He said Gillum, the supposed alarmist, wanted a "California-style energy policy" that would cause power bills to skyrocket.
Gillum, who is the mayor of Tallahassee, responded that he would be a Governor who believed in science and would make Florida a leader in solar energy.
"I'm proud that in the same week that President [Donald] Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord, I broke ground in my city on a 120-acre solar farm, tripling the amount of solar that we produce," Gillum said.
The biggest contrast between the candidates for governor is in their economic plans, specifically taxes and wages.
While DeSantis vowed not to raise taxes, Gillum told the audience he wanted to tax the largest corporations to better fund schools and expand health care to all.
Asked what they believed the state minimum wage should be set at, Gillum said he supported a wage increase to $15 an hour, which has become a large piece of his economic platform.
"When working people get a wage, they go out and they buy groceries, they pay their rent and they pay their mortgage, they maybe save up enough to take a vacation every once in a while,” Gillum said. “That shouldn't be too much to ask in the state of Florida.”
DeSantis refused to say what he thought the state minimum wage should be. Instead, he accused Gillum of wanting to create a state income tax, even though that is not currently allowed under the state constitution.
DeSantis has run as a "law and order" candidate and on Sunday night he repeatedly hit Gillum on crime in Tallahassee.
"This is a mayor who presides over one of the most crime ridden cities in our state," DeSantis told viewers, using a statistic that PolitiFact ruled as 'Mostly False." "They had a record number of murders last year in Tallahassee."
Despite Gillum's insistence that crime in the city is at a historic low, DeSantis continued to paint him as someone who was soft on crime and immigration. During a question about what should happen to Florida's estimated 850,000 undocumented immigrants, DeSantis pushed Gillum to commit to working with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) on deporting undocumented immigrants that commit crimes.
Gillum, who has backed abolishing ICE in its current form, only said that he would dutifully carry out existing laws.
DeSantis also pivoted to a FBI investigation into corruption within Tallahassee city government at a number of points throughout the night. He repeatedly called on Gillum to make public all of the receipts from a New York City trip he took with an undercover agent that was posing as a developer and a trip Gillum took with a lobbyist to Costa Rica.
In his closing argument, DeSantis called back to those attacks, promising voters he wouldn't "use my office to feather my own nest."
Gillum meanwhile used his final minute to talk about his childhood in Miami and frame the upcoming general election as a referendum on Trump.
"In Trump's America we've been lead to believe that we've got to step on our neighbors’ shoulders and their face and their backs to get ahead," Gillum said. "Well I reject that. We have an opportunity on November 6, as a collective, a state, to say we deserve better, we want better."