A handshake kicked off the only debate between Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democrat Charlie Crist on Oct. 24 in Fort Pierce. After that, the two dropped the gloves on issues of the economy, education, immigration and health.
Moderated by Liz Quirantes of CBS 12 News, questions posed to the candidates were submitted by Florida voters. DeSantis and Crist had a minute to respond to questions and 30 seconds for a rebuttal. But in true political fashion, the candidates didn’t always answer the question that was asked.
Solving a housing crunch and rising living costs was the first question on the docket for the candidates. Crist, who was first to answer, said the flocks of people coming to Florida are what’s causing a housing crunch and a lack of affordable housing. Crist was critical of DeSantis for cutting into the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund, which he said he would restore.
“We have a housing crisis in our state. Good luck buying a home. Good luck renting an apartment,” Crist said. “And it’s because governor DeSantis took his eye off the ball. He’s focused on running for president in 2024 and as a result we lost things in our state budget, specifically a housing trust fund and hundreds of millions that he and the legislature have cut.”
DeSantis said Crist voted alongside President Joseph Biden 100% of the time, which he said ultimately drove up costs in the country. Over the last two years, he said the nation’s seen record inflation, while Biden’s energy policies made gas and utilities more expensive. DeSantis went on to say that people wouldn’t be flocking to Florida if Crist had his way.
“He wrote me a letter in July of 2020 saying you need to shut down the state of Florida. You need to force people to shelter in their own homes. That would have destroyed Florida,” DeSantis said. “That would have caused our tourism industry to go into the toilet. I rejected Charlie Crist’s lockdown letter. I kept this state open and I kept this state free.”
DeSantis and Crist were questioned on Florida’s crumbling home insurance industry and specifically the next steps to address the crisis. DeSantis criticized Biden policies that caused the worst inflation in 40 years and forced rising costs to replace roofs. The governor also highlighted the state’s litigation issue with respect to homeowners insurance.
“We have 8% of the policies but 78% of the litigation costs. Some policyholders will get a $20,000 settlement and the lawyers will get $400,000. We called a special session, we addressed part of that,” DeSantis said. “We also created a reinsurance backstop that’s serving us well now that Hurricane Ian hit. We created a program where Floridians can get grants to make improvements to their homes and then lower rates. We need to build off what we did with reinsurance and we have to address rising costs of litigation.”
Crist alluded to a Forbes article that placed Florida as the most expensive state. He said it’s the result of utility rate increases approved under DeSantis. As for property insurance, Crist said rates have doubled under DeSantis’s administration, and it’s only been exacerbated by the hurricane.
“Gas prices are up as well under your lack of leadership. You slipped in something to drop the price of gas, but only in October right before the run-up to the election,” Crist said.
In response, DeSantis said fuel and natural gas prices are up because of what he called the Biden-Crist energy policies.
“They’re waging war on American energy. They are not producing what we need to do. They’re begging Maduro and OPEC for more oil. That’s why your costs are going up there,” he said.
Crist was questioned on whether students in kindergarten through third grade should be taught sexual orientation and gender identity. Crist responded by stating that it’s important to educate students about science, math and history — and “true history and facts.” Crist said 9,000 teachers and staff left Florida due to the way DeSantis treated public schools.
“His administration is paying (teachers) 48th out of 50 states. That’s embarrassing. We can and we should and we need to do better than that,” Crist said.
DeSantis defended the Parental RIghts in Education bill signed into law earlier in the year. He said he’s defending the choices of parents and students. He said it’s inappropriate to tell a 6-year-old they were born in the wrong body.
“We need to do the basics. We need to teach them how to read, write, add and subtract. If we do that we’ll continue to lead in fourth grade reading and fourth grade math,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis also touted legislation that prevents a male who once competed on a men’s team to switch and compete in women’s sports. DeSantis said Crist would have vetoed it.
“I’m going to protect women’s sports in the state of Florida,” he said.
Crist said it’s all about culture wars and dividing the state for DeSantis.
“I’m a uniter. I think we need to be giving our state a chance to unite again,” Crist said. “You love dividing our state whether it’s blacks versus whites, whether it’s gay against straight (or) whether it’s young versus old.”
In response, DeSantis said denying girls and women athletes the right to compete fairly is divisive.
“I think it’s divisive to rip opportunities from our girls in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “You want to talk about divisive? The day after Charlie Crist won his primary, he said anyone who supports the governor you have hate in your heart and I don’t want your vote. Think what that means. I’m endorsed by every police group in the state of Florida. I’m endorsed by the fire fighters. I’m endorsed by truckers.”
In light of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, a legal challenge to Florida’s 15-week abortion ban is making its way through the courts. The Florida Supreme Court previously found the state constitution’s privacy clause guarantees abortion access. Candidates were asked after what week of pregnancy should abortion be banned. DeSantis thought back to a poor woman over 40 years ago in Jamacia who found herself pregannt, didn’t think there would be much opportunity and was urged to get an abortion. DeSantis said the abortion didn’t happen and she had a daughter. A few months ago, DeSantis appointed that woman as the first Jamaican justice in the Florida Supreme Court.
“I just think we’re better when everybody counts. I understand not everyone’s going to be born in perfect circumstances. But I would like to see everybody have a shot. I’m proud of the 15 weeks we did,” DeSantis said.
Crist said he doesn’t want to ban abortion. He said he wants to make sure the state keeps a woman’s right to choose.
“I want to make sure that we don’t have a governor in the future who won’t allow exemptions for rape and incest,” Crist said.
With an ongoing border crisis, Crist was asked whether he believes Florida should be a sanctuary state. Crist acknowledged that the country has an immigration problem and that the border must be secure. But he said it doesn’t mean that DeSantis should use taxpayer dollars to charter two jets with Venezuelans from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
“That’s not the way to change policy. You can change policy and do what’s right to secure the border by having comprehensive immigration reform. That’s what I voted for in Congress,” Crist said. “When you were in Congress, you wouldn’t do it because you want to keep this issue alive, you want to keep it a wedge issue.”
DeSantis said Crist is for the secure border, yet the border crisis is happening under the Biden administration and the policies Crist supports. DeSantis said millions have poured across the border illegally. He also highlighted the record level of fentanyl flowing over the border and ravaging communities.
“I didn’t hear people like Charlie expressing outrage about that. We’ve had criminal aliens come into the country. We just had a sheriff’s deputy from Pinellas County killed from a twice-deported illegal alien who came across the border illegally six months ago. I didn’t hear any of the outrage about that,” DeSantis said. “It’s only when they go to D.C., New York or Martha’s Vineyard. We have elites in this country who want to impose policy on you but they don’t want to have to suffer the same consequences you have in your own community.”
Crist said efforts to secure the border start with comprehensive immigration reform
“When you were in Congress you wouldn’t do it because you like having it as an issue for political scoring in points you want to have for a future campaign. Let me remind the viewers he wouldn’t even answer you if he would stay four years if you re-elect him governor. You’re running for governor, you’re asking them to vote for you for governor. At a minimum you ought to be able to tell them if you get re-elected you’ll serve as governor.”
In response, DeSantis criticized the reversal of immigration policies by the Biden administration that led to the flood gates at the southern border. DeSantis also went on to say that Crist only showed up to work in Washington, D.C. for 14 days. Crist made $174,000 as a congressman.
“Imagine that deal for you. You show up for 14 days and you make over $100,000. That’s the type of effort he puts into actually doing his job.”
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