Democratic candidates for Florida Governor may have differences on some issues, but on Monday night they all agreed that the state should increase salaries for teachers, take more action on sea-level rise, support Puerto Ricans moving to the state and push for the immediate resignation of Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam for his office's failure to complete background checks for concealed gun permits.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Former U.S. Representative Gwen Graham, Orlando entrepreneur Chris King and Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine participated in the event. Billionaire Jeff Greene is also a candidate for governor but did not qualify for this debate because he announced his candidacy too late.
The so-called Florida Freedom Forum debate was co-moderated by WLRN’s All Things Considered and Sundial host Luis Hernandez and PBS NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor.
You can watch the full debate here. Here are some excerpts of the candidate's answers:
- Andrew Gillum: Tomorrow we will commemorate the people who died at the Pulse Club shooting. Laws like Stand Your Ground have no place in Florida.
- Chris King: This is one of the toughest issues we have in our state ... I have an ambitious plan that includes a tax on bullets that would fund programs that prevent gun violence.
- Philip Levine: We'll ban assault rifles in the state of Florida, we'll make sure we have better background checks and those with mental health issues aren't able to buy weapons in the state of Florida. We'll create an Education Security administration because no one should go to school afraid.
- Gwen Graham: It's not enough but I am glad it was something ... I propose an Executive Order, there's a statute in Florida that allows the governor, whoever she is, to ban the sale of high capacity magazines and investment in mental health resources and schools.
Minimum wage and cost of living in Florida
- Gillum: We should be very clear...I don’t know anyone who wants to earn minimum wage. We need to do better.
- King: The problem is when a family is paying 60 or 70 percent of their income on rent and mortgage. That's no way to make a living.
- Levine: As high as we can get it. I’d love to see the highest we can get it [minimum wage].
- Graham: I am running for governor because I care about the people of Florida. We have got to raise the minimum wage to $15 or more. When I hear Rick Scott say jobs, jobs, jobs -- yes we need to have 3-4 jobs in Florida now just to get by.
Changes in tax legislation
- Gillum: We have to raise the corporate tax rate here in the state of Florida, it's now lower than Alabama and Florida. It can't be that the only way for Florida to grow its economy is to be a cheap date.
- King: The question is how to come up with new income. We need to reduce mass incarceration.
- Levine: The basic things we want to do we'll do it without raising taxes. You cannot bribe your way into becoming a 21st-century economy so we need to stop giving away tax loopholes.
- Graham: I'll pull in the budget experts the day after the election. Democrats haven't had the chance to see the budget under 20 years of Republican rule in Florida.
Teacher salary increases
- Gillum: We are going to make sure everybody pays their fair share, including corporations. I propose raising salaries for support staff and giving teachers a starting salary of $50,000 in the state.
- King: Reversing the school-to-prison pipe. Money spent on mass incarceration should be spent on teachers and education. We need to legalize marijuana, tax it and spend the $500 million dollars in raises for students.
- Levine: We are going to stop investing in charter schools and start investing in public schools. To become a 21st-century economy we must have 21st-century education.
- Graham: Nine out of 10 school-aged children in Florida go to public school but our teacher salary is $10,000 below the national average. We need to realign priorities, redirect resources. Lottery dollars should be used to fully fund education again.
Rising sea levels
- Gillum: If you elect me governor you'll have a governor that actually believes in science. That's an improvement over the current governor. We will appoint a state task force to look into what would make Florida more resilient. We are known as the sunshine state, why don't have more solar panels? why don't we make it mean something for us? Let's have more green jobs. These are jobs that pay well.
- King: We haven't been able to impact climate change or Everglades restoration because one industry controls everything. Sugar has a vise-grip control over environmental policy in Florida. We have to stand up to sugar and have the political courage to not only not take their money but educate folks that are standing in the way of progress.
- Levine: I don't have to think of what I would do because, as the former mayor of Miami Beach, I already did it. I raised roads, put in pumps, seawalls and invested in infrastructure. We'll have a State Resiliency Officer and our state will voluntarily comply with the Paris accords.
- Graham: We'll convene a commission on day one to bring the smarter people across the state of Florida to talk about this problem. I'll demand every building built with state fund is built with solar panels on the roof. I'll make sure we have power stations, I'll make sure we break the hold power companies have over the state to make solar energy cheaper. I'll make sure we appoint people that understand this issue to water management districts across the state.
You can watch the whole debate here or in the video below: