In less than a week’s time, either Andrew Gillum, Democratic Mayor of Tallahassee, or Ron DeSantis, Republican former congressman, will be the Governor-elect of Florida. Both men have given no quarter to the other in this tooth-and-nail race, and the tension between them when they met for their final debate on Oct. 24 was palpable. The passions were so high that even the moderator’s requests to withhold applause did not stop the live audience from bellowing their favor throughout the spectacle.
Moderator Todd McDermott, a local news anchor wearing a pale purple bowtie, tried to shepherd the candidates through a number of questions dealing with topics such as political civility, healthcare, guns, personal corruption and the economy. In many dimensions, the candidates were sharply divided.
On immigration and immigration enforcement, Gillum reiterated his support for the abolishment of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the transfer of immigration enforcement from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Justice. DeSantis claimed that if Gillum is elected “sanctuary cities” (defined by Attorney General Jeff Sessions as cities that willingly refuse to share information about individuals’ immigration status with federal authorities) will arise in Florida.
The candidates also depicted two dramatically different pictures of the economy. DeSantis’s message centered around continuing the “momentum” of Governor Rick Scott’s administration, while Gillum seeks to raise corporate taxes by over $1 billion in order to provide for programs such as raising funds for teachers and implementing a $15 minimum wage.
On gun control, DeSantis and Gillum differ about as much as their respective “A” and “F” rankings from the National Rifle Association (NRA) would lead one to suspect. DeSantis believes in maintaining Florida’s firearm-friendly laws and suggests increased school security and stricter enforcement of laws that would bar specific individuals from possessing guns.
“Our proposal is simple,” Gillum said. “If you want to fire a weapon that shoots multiple rounds of ammunition in 60 seconds, you join the military.” Gillum supports the ban against private ownership of “assault weapons.”
Healthcare was another major point of contention between the two. During his time in the House of Representatives DeSantis voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (often called “Obamacare”) over a dozen times, on the principle that increased state involvement in healthcare leads to higher prices for everyone. Gillum has said that he would like to immediately expand Medicaid to cover an additional 800,000 Floridians and advocates for a federal-level ‘Medicare for All.’
But any account of the debate would be lacking if it failed to recount the personal attacks used by both candidates.
Gillum accused DeSantis of a poor race record throughout the debate, drawing upon DeSantis’s comment urging voters not to “monkey up” the state by electing Gillum, his attendance of the right-wing conferences held by conservative firebrand David Horowitz and his support from sources, such as a $20,000 donation from a man who referred to former President Barack Obama as a “Muslim n—–.”
DeSantis was particularly incensed by criticism of his attendance at Horowitz’s conferences.
“How in the hell am I supposed to know every single statement someone [Horowitz] makes?” DeSantis said. “Let me just say this straight up … When I was down-range in Iraq we worked together as a team, regardless of race. We had the American flag on our arm. We wore the same uniform and we fought for the country. When I was a prosecutor I stood up for every race, color and creed. That is the only way to do it in this country …”
Additionally, Gillum raised concerns over DeSantis’s travelling expenditures of over $140,000 in taxpayer-funded travel because he has not produced an itemized list of receipts.
DeSantis’s criticism of Gillum was just as choleric. Throughout the debate, DeSantis accused Gillum of corruption. These accusations centered around a pair of gifts that Gillum had received during his tenure as mayor, including tickets to the Broadway musical Hamilton, worth over a thousand dollars, and a luxury trip to Costa Rica. Both of these gifts are under investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics.
Gillum dismissed these accusations, saying that, “I take responsibility for not having asked more questions,” in regards to how the Hamilton tickets were purchased, but that Florida “got 99 issues and Hamilton ain’t one of them,” to the applause of the crowd.
Student reaction at New College was decidingly pro-Gillum.
“Everytime DeSantis would go on a long rant about Gillum or Tallahassee, Gillum would say one word and dismantle his argument,” first-year Carlos Gonzalez said.
“DeSantis got his butt handed to him,” first-year Nicholas Warming said. “He lacked clear policy and just attacked Gillum’s policy the entire time.”
Among those that did not watch the debate, a certain exasperation for the volatile process was present. Thesis student Harvey Andrews justified not watching the debate with the simple sentiment: “Self care is important.”
The election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 6.