The fist bump said it all. It didn’t take long for the name-calling to start in the gubernatorial candidates’ final debate. With pipe bombs being mailed to prominent Democratic leaders this week, both Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis managed to agree that extremism in American politics is pushing some people over the brink. That’s about the only thing they agreed on, though. After that, the jibes and insults began.
Gillum called DeSantis a liar, and DeSantis called Gillum corrupt, pointing at Broadway tickets to “Hamilton” that were supplied by an undercover FBI agent investigating corruption at Tallahassee City Hall.
Gillum admitted taking the ticket, but said he received it from his brother and he thought his brother swapped it out for concert tickets. Saying he should have paid more attention to what was going on, he pointed out that he is not a subject of the FBI probe. Gillum then fired back – to the delight of supporters – that “in the state of Florida, we’ve got . . . 99 issues and Hamilton ain’t one of them.”
Gillum subtly brought up the issue of racism, reminding the audience that on the day after the primary DeSantis made a racially charged remark that Florida voters shouldn’t “monkey this up” by supporting Gillum. He also made it a point to paint DeSantis as a Trump wannabe.
“My opponent … has run this race very, very close to the Trump handbook, where we call each other names, where we run false advertisements,” Gillum said.
DeSantis refused to let go of the ticket issue, bringing it up several times during the debate.
“He wants you to believe that he’s not under investigation,” he said. “Why would an undercover FBI agent posing as a contractor give him a $1,000 ticket to ‘Hamilton?'”
Gillum stood solidly behind his proposal to raise corporate income taxes, saying it would only impact the top 3 percent of the richest corporations who received a $6.3 billion tax cut from the bill Trump signed into law.
“All we’re simply saying is that they can keep $5.3 billion but we deserve a billion of that to come into this state” for education, he said.
DeSantis had a different point of view, saying: “Businesses will leave the state, people will lose jobs and we’ll stop people from investing in Florida. It will be a historic mistake.”
DeSantis said Republican Gov. Rick Scott was wrong in responding to February’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre by signing the bill that raised the age limit to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 and imposed a three-day waiting period on rifle purchases.
Not favoring additional gun restrictions, DeSantis said tightened school security is the answer, and he blamed the massacre on local and federal officials who did not stop suspect Nikolas Cruz despite warnings he was dangerous.
Gillum said Scott did not go far enough.
“If you want to own the power of God at your waist belt, you should have a background check. If you are a domestic violence abuser, convicted, you should not have a gun where you could snuff out the lives of your loved ones,” he said.
Gillum said he would push for an expansion of Medicaid to bring 800,000 low-income Floridians into the program.
“If we do that, we will pull down $6 billion from the federal government that will go into this state’s health care system, so we can hire more doctors, more nurses, more nurse practitioners,” Gillum said.
Gillum pointed out that DeSantis voted more than a dozen times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and told a cancer patient to go to an emergency room to get health care.
DeSantis responded by saying Gillum’s proposal will put Floridians into a government-run health care system that would destroy Medicare and decimate private and employer-provided insurance programs.
DeSantis was clearly irritated by questions about his associations with far-right groups, and completely lost his composure when moderator Todd McDermott asked him about his decision to speak at events organized by a person who has made public, racially inflammatory comments. The candidate’s entire demeanor immediately changed.
“How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?” DeSantis said angrily. “I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness.”
Gillum responded, “My grandmother used to say a hit dog will holler, and it hollered through this room.”