Democrats running for governor talk Trump, guns and weed
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The five major Democratic candidates for Florida governor appeared together for possibly the last time before the Aug. 28 primary at a town hall sponsored by WJXT and Jacksonville University. They came on stage together, and then took questions individually as the others went offstage. Here are the highlights listed in the order they appeared.
FORMER MIAMI BEACH MAYOR PHILIP LEVINE
Levine said Florida should legalizing marijuana, and that he decriminalized it during his recent tenure as Miami Beach’s mayor.
“We did it because we did not want to ruin people’s lives,” he said. “We need to regulate it, we need to tax it, but one of the things we don’t need to do is fill up our prisons.”
Moderator Kent Justice also asked him about a recent ad that features the father of a student killed during a mass shooting at a Parkland high school and questioned whether it politicized the attack that killed 17 people.
“These parents that have been with us, we’ve been with them,” Levine said. “We will ban assault rifles. We will make sure that we have better background checks.”
REAL ESTATE INVESTOR JEFF GREENE
Greene repeatedly criticized Florida’s public education system, saying that 20 years of Republican control has put the state behind most other states in the country. He said that schools were leaving Florida students at a competitive disadvantage.
“Look, they declared war on public education. The statistics can show us they have won the war,” Greene said. “We have to begin a new war and the war has to now be to educate our kids.”
He said if he were elected he would boost spending on teacher salaries and expand the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program from one year to two years. Greene said that the state could spend more on education without raising taxes. He said that the state should slash existing business incentive programs and expand Medicaid eligibility in order to draw down additional federal money available under the Affordable Care Act.
Greene, a billionaire and member of President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago club, was asked why, when he is in a state race, he has run ads focusing on Trump.
“He’s a national embarrassment, I’m ashamed to have him as our president,” Greene said.
FORMER U.S. REP. GWEN GRAHAM
Justice noted that other candidates Graham is running against have touted their experience running businesses and he asked if she’s ever served as a chief executive.
“Well, I ran my household as a chief executive,” said Graham, who often points out that she’s a mom whose worked in her local school system. “I worked as a congresswoman representing 600,000 north Floridians. So I’ve done a lot that makes me prepared for this office.”
She was also asked about criticism that she sometimes voted with Republicans while in Congress.
“I voted with the Democrats over 80 percent of the time, but my commitment to everything I do is going to be fact-driven. Every vote that I cast, I was informed,” Graham said.
She said she was disappointed in colleagues who would take a sheet from party leaders and vote the straight party line.
“We could elect robots to Congress and save a lot of money if that’s what we want to do,” she said.
TALLAHASSEE MAYOR ANDREW GILLUM
Gillum called himself the “most progressive” candidate among Democrats and said he was the only candidate who was not a “millionaire” or “billionaire.”
Gillum said he backs “Medicare-for-all,” a government run health care overhaul being pushed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders has endorsed Gillum in the governor’s race. He also noted that he is proposing a hike in the state’s corporate income tax to help boost spending on education.
But Gillum sidestepped questions from the moderator on whether he would call himself a “socialist” or a “Democratic socialist.” He also declined to answer if he viewed himself as a “socialist” or a “capitalist.”
“I am a Democrat and an individual in this state who believes that we have had a rough ride these last several years,” Gillum said.
ORLANDO-AREA BUSINESSMAN CHRIS KING
King pointed out several areas in which he’s different from the other candidates, including his proposal for a tax on bullets to raise money for school safety, his push to get rid of the death penalty and his call for eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences for non-violent crimes.
“The NRA (National Rifle Association) is flooding our state with ammunition and guns and I think they bear responsibility,” he said. “It will raise in the neighborhood of $30 to $40 million.”
King also said he wouldn’t want to sign death warrants if elected.
“I am the only candidate on this stage that wants to end the death penalty because I believe it is wrong, and we get it wrong here in Florida more than anywhere else,” he said. “The death penalty is illustrative of my candidacy, which has been a candidacy that has been willing and aspiring to show the political courage to take on hard issues in this state that traditional politics and politicians have been unwilling to touch.”
Fineout reported from Tallahassee.