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Florida governor’s debate: Gillum, DeSantis get personal in verbal slugfest

Democrat Gillum offers a new explanation for”Hamilton” tickets provided by undercover FBI agent

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

Watch full debate on C-SPAN

DAVIE, Florida (CFP) – On a day when bombs arrived at the doors of political leaders across America, the two candidates vying to be Florida’s next governor made little effort to cool the political temperature, engaging in a personal, verbal slugfest that included allegations of lying, corruption and was capped off by the spelling out of a racial slur on statewide television.

DeSantis, Gillum meet for second debate (Courtesy WPBF)

In their second and final debate at Broward College, Democrat Andrew Gillum was forced to explain how he wound up accepting a pricey Broadway ticket from an undercover FBI agent investigating corruption in a community redevelopment agency in Tallahassee, where he is the mayor.

Republican Ron DeSantis later got into an argument with the debate’s moderator when he tried to ask a question about appearances DeSantis made before a conservative group whose members have expressed anti-Muslim and racist views.

“How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?” DeSantis snapped, drawing boos from the crowd. “I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness. I’m not going to let the media smear me like they like to do with so many other people.”

At that, Gillum pounced.

“(DeSantis) has spoken at racist conferences. He has accepted a contribution and would not return it from someone who referred to the former president of the United States as a Muslim n-i-g-g-e-r,” Gillum said. “Now I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”

DeSantis responded in kind: “I’m not going to sit here and take this nonsense from a guy like Andrew Gillum, who always plays the victim … who’s aligning himself with groups who attack our men and women in law enforcement, attack our military.”

During a previous debate on Sunday, Gillum refused to answer DeSantis’s repeated questions about who paid for his ticket to the hit musical “Hamilton.”

He attended the play in New York in 2016 while traveling with an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer as part of an investigation into alleged kickbacks at Tallahassee’s community redevelopment agency.

Before the second debate, emails released as part of an ethics probe showed that Gillum had been told that the tickets had been arranged by the FBI  agent – a revelation which DeSantis said showed that Gillum had lied during the first debate.

“He wouldn’t accept responsibility from getting a $1,000 ticket from an FBI agent at the last debate. We now know that he lied about that,” DeSantis said. “At some point, you’ve got to demonstrate leadership and accept responsibility for what you’ve done.”

While Gillum’s campaign had previously said that he thought his brother had paid for their tickets, he told the debate audience that he was aware that the agent and a lobbyist friend who was also on the trip had arranged for the tickets.

However, he said his brother repaid the men who arranged the “Hamilton” tickets with tickets to an upcoming Jay-Z/Beyoncé concert.

“I understood that to have solved whatever the issue was with regard to the expenses associated with it,” Gillum said. “I take responsibility for not having asked more questions.”

After insisting that he is not under FBI investigation, Gillum sought to downplay the “Hamilton” issue by saying it was a distraction from the real issues in the campaign.

“In the state of Florida, we got a lot of issues. In fact, we have 99 issues, and ‘Hamilton’ ain’t one of them,” he said.

DeSantis was also asked by the moderator, Todd McDermott of WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach, about how he could maintain that Gillum was unfit to be governor due to the FBI investigation in Tallahassee while remaining a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, who is the subject of investigations with the FBI, special counsel Robert Mueller and Congress.

DeSantis did not answer the question, choosing instead to defend his role in efforts by House Republicans to investigate FBI agents for alleged improprieties in the Russia probe.

As he did in the first debate, DeSantis continued to hammer Gillum on immigration, saying that his unwillingness to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement if he is elected governor would put Floridians at risk to indulge his “hate” of Trump.

“Say you’re convicted of child molestation. You’re here illegally. You’ve served your sentence, state prison. Are you going to hand them over to ICE or not?” he said. “He will not commit to doing that. That means that child molester convicted gets released back on the streets after serving the sentence. And guess what? That child molester will re-offend, and someone’s son or daughter in Florida will end up paying the price.”

At that point, the audience booed, and Gillum replied, “Shame on you.”

At another point in the debate, after DeSantis criticized Gillum for not doing more to bring down Tallahassee’s murder rate, Gillum retorted, “I would suggest the congressmen might want to reconsider whether he wants to be governor. The governor’s mansion is in Tallahassee. I’d hate for you to be hurt.”

The debate in Davie is the last scheduled face-to-face meeting for the candidates before the November 6 vote.

DeSantis, 40, served six years in the U.S. House representing a Jacksonville-area district. Gillum, 39, has been mayor of Tallahassee since 2014.

Recent public polling has put the race within the margin of error, which means neither man has a statistically significant lead. However, the most recent poll has shown some movement toward Gillum in the race.

Democrats have not won a governor’s race in Florida since 1994.

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Florida governor’s debate: Gillum, DeSantis joust over Trump, racism and corruption

Gillum calls Trump “weak,” accuses DeSantis of injecting race into the campaign

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

TAMPA (CFP) — Meeting in their first face-to-face debate, Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis disagreed as expected on hot-button issues such as immigration and taxes — but they threw their sharpest elbows over charges of racism and very divergent views of President Donald Trump.

In the October 21 debate in Tampa, televised nationally by CNN, Gillum, who is African American, accused DeSantis of trying to make his race an issue in the campaign, beginning with a comment on the day after he won the Republican nomination that Floridians shouldn’t “monkey up” their future prospects by electing Gillum.

Gillum and DeSantis meet for first debate in Tampa (Courtesy CNN)

“The congressman let us know exactly where he was going to take this race the day after he won the nomination. The ‘monkey up’ comment said it all. And he has only continued in the course of his campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin,” Gillum said.

“And the truth is, you know it, I’m black. I’ve been black all of my life. So far as I know, I will die black.”

If elected, Gillum would become Florida’s first African American governor.

But DeSantis insisted that his public record, including his service in the military and as a Navy prosecutor, demonstrated racial tolerance.

“Floridians can know that I’ll be a governor for all Floridians,” he said.

When it came to Trump, DeSantis — one of the president’s staunchest allies in Congress whose campaign benefited in the GOP primary from a Trump tweet — noted that Gillum has said publicly that he would support Trump’s impeachment, which would hinder his ability to get things done in Washington as governor.

“Andrew wants to lead the Trump impeachment from Tallahassee,” DeSantis said. “You need to be able to work with the administration to get the dollars we deserve … I think I will be better positioned to advance Florida’s priorities because I have a productive relationship with the administration.”

At that, Gillum doubled down on his biting criticism of Trump, who carried Florida in 2016.

“Donald Trump is weak, and he performs as all weak people do – they become bullies. And Mr. DeSantis is his acolyte. He’s trying out to be the Trump apprentice at every turn,” Gillum said.

“You shouldn’t have to kiss the ring of the president of the United States for the president to see to the good and the goodwill of the third-largest state in all of America.”

DeSantis, 40, served six years in the U.S. House representing a Jacksonville-area district. Gillum, 39, has been mayor of Tallahassee since 2014.

DeSantis took Gillum to task for his stewardship of Florida’s capital city, noting that it has an historically high murder rate. He also tried to associate the mayor with an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption that has ensnared a Gillum associate.

“Andrew’s a failed mayor. He’s presided over a crime-ridden city. He’s involved in corruption,” DeSantis said. “He’s not the guy to lead our state.”

But Gillum insisted that overall crime has actually dropped in Tallahassee and that neither he nor his administration are under investigation by the FBI.

DeSantis responded, “You went to a Broadway show with an undercover FBI agent,” a reference to a photograph that has emerged of a trip Gillum took to New York with an FBI agent who was investigating the corruption case.

When DeSantis repeatedly pressed Gillum on who had paid for tickets to the Broadway play “Hamilton,” the mayor did not answer. Instead, he tried to turn the tables by asking DeSantis to produce receipts for his travel as a congressman, which Gillum said about to become subject of an ethics investigation before DeSantis resigned in August.

“That’s a lie,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also hit Gillum for wanting to raise taxes, pointing to his support for higher sales and property taxes as mayor. He also insisted that Gillum’s plans for expanding state spending would lead to a sharp increase in the state sales taxes or perhaps even imposition of an income tax.

“Andrew has a lifetime of supporting higher taxes,” DeSantis said. “If you believe with that record that he ain’t gonna raise your taxes, then I’ve got some ocean front property in Arizona that I’d like to sell you.”

Gillum quickly shot down any suggestion of an income tax, which would be politically explosive in the Sunshine State. He said his plan is to increase taxes on the wealthiest 3 percent of Florida businesses, who he charged had reaped a $5 billion windfall from the Republican tax cut plan that DeSantis supported in Congress.

“We’re going to take a billion of that and invest in public education in this state,” Gillum said.

The candidates also disagreed sharply on immigration, with DeSantis charging that Gillum and Democrats supported open borders, abolishing Immigration and Customers Enforcement and turning Florida into a sanctuary state, which DeSantis said would be “a wet kiss to the drug cartels.”

“Andrew during the primary said he wanted to abolish ICE, said he would not cooperate with the Trump administration vis-à-vis illegal immigration,” DeSantis said. “That means you’re going to have more crime in Florida.”

Gillum denied that he was for open borders and said he supported enforcement of immigration laws. But he took issue with the Trump adminsitration’s hard-line stance on immigration enforcement.

“What I’ve simply said is that what we’re not going to become here in the state of Florida is a state where basically become a show-us-your-papers state based on the color of somebody’s skin, the language that they speak, what neighborhood they live in,” he said. “That’s not the American way. That’s not who we are as Floridians.”

Gillum also criticized the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying “we should not be terrorizing people who are here in this country who are babies that are nursing with their parents, with their mothers.”

Despite campaigning for the same office for nearly a year, Gillum and DeSantis had not actually met until just before the debate.

They are scheduled to meet for a second and final debate on October 24 in Davie.

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