Finally – Florida Governor’s Debate at Nova

Wow. I spent last night and this morning watching and rewatching the Florida Governors debate between Attorney General Charlie Crist and Congressman Jim Davis. I was equally flummoxed and amused over the course of the debate. In some ways, it was almost a rerun of the Davis/Smith debate – just with a taller opponent against Davis and no Big Sugar references. From the debate – if you read the papers – you’ll hear:

Crist: Empty chair. People’s governor. You have the worst record. Rhetoric has to stand up to your record. You can see it on my website.
Davis: 40% reduction in insurance premium. Not just show up, you have to stand up. Stay the course or change course. $1B down payment. Special interests have to pay their fair share.

My favorite moment was Davis’ showing his insurance premium statement to Crist – totally surprising, but Davis looked kind of stiff, where Crist looked fluid. The laugh was well needed.

My biggest disappointment regarding this debate was that there was lots of political policy talk, and little in the way of explaining nuance or reasons. Both candidates could say whatever they wanted – and, for most viewers, looking into the details is almost impossible to do so. So, you are left with believing the messenger versus the content. Given the format of the debate – and the content – I am not surprised that anyone was able to “stay the course”.

As I did the last time with the Smith/Davis debate, I will try to summarize what each said with each question and give my opinion on success of the candidates. Understand, your mileage may vary since I am not a talking head for any major television network…

  • Opening
    TOSSUP – Davis issues the first “Crist is for staying the course – I am for changing course” statement. Uses the five paragraph essay rule – state the premise in the beginning – “as a parent, will fight to improve our schools, reduce property taxes and reduce insurance premiums”. Crist responds with “responsible plans for lowering insurance, property taxes, homestead exemption, protect the children, improve education”. Very congenial in his thanks – and comments on the fact he is the last candidate in the race who graduated from a FL high school.
  • FCAT: if elected, would you end the use of FCAT?
    TOSSUP – Davis wants to end the punative aspects of FCAT testing, use it as a supportive tool. Evokes Lawton Chiles – FCAT is a measure of what is going on the education. Useful for identifying problem schools. Crist feels the measurement is more important (“should students pay for the shortcomings of schools?”) and that A thru F is good for identifying problem schools – take a look at his website for more. Schools should be accountable – the FCAT should not punish, rather help improve the education. Davis responds with Crist “staying the course because teachers will be paid according to the students scores. Ed note: to me, it feels like Crist is trying to say we need to police the schools and the teachers, whereas Davis is saying putting a measure on teachers constrains their creativity by focusing on passing a test.
  • Taxes and Schools: how could Florida schools get more money into their program if Floridians do not want to raise taxes?
    DAVIS – he answers the question (would stop the tax giveaways to special interests) which would not raise taxes, just divert money. Has plan to increase teachers salaries by $4K. Crist gives a “mushy” answer, rather harps on Davis wanting to bring back the intangibles tax.Ed note: not sure, but could be that Davis wants to get money from both pots – special interests and intangibles.
  • Insurance Rates: how can you impact private businesses?
    TOSSUP – Crist suggests overcoming the “shell game” from insurance companies – “stop the cherry picking”. Moderator asks how can the Governor enforce private companies to do what he wants (meaning insurance companies). Crist answer: “Governor is not king” and then turns it into a slam on Davis and his poor voting record in the past 18 months. Davis turns it around with the “not just showing up, but standing up” retort. Responds with Crist just “stood around”. Reiterates the 40% reduction in premiums and that he will say something no one else has said in Tallahassee to the insurance companies – “No”. Ed note: amused at the harping on Davis’s record in the past 18 months, but if you look at his record before running for Congress, you would see his voting/attendance record is stellar.
  • Save Our Homes: will you support making the home insurance cap portable?
    CRIST (for style) – Davis responds with going to make four points, but only gives two. Says yes to portability, but explains how Crist will wait four years. Crist does not answer the portability question, rather he responds with the fact that while his plan might say four years, he can work on it for next year – if they put an amendment into place. Then, he paryies with “I am the People’s Attorney General. If you want someone to be the Government’s Governor, chose Davis. If you want the People’s Governor, choose me.”
  • Doubling the Homestead Exemption
    DAVIS – at this point, my opinion, people are confused. Both want to double the homestead exemption – Crist says Davis is protecting government, Davis says Crist is staying the course and allowing special interests to not pay their fair share. Davis repeats the 40% pledge and also describes how Crist’s plan will reduce the burden on homeowners while increasing the burden on renters and small business owners.
  • Upcoming health care costs: Florida growing with boomers, elderly and low wage earners. How will we address the issue?
    TOSSUP – Davis and Crist will negotiate to get prices down and allow for importing drugs. Crist accuses Davis of doing nothing (“empty chair”), Davis accuses Crist of not “standing up”. Davis will put small business aggregation into place for pools insurance costs. Crist offers a perscription drug discount card plan like WalMart and Target. Both counter the inaction arguments. Crist lands a punch by converting the topic to the Pitts/civil rights issue. Ed note: I did not think they answered the heart of the question – how will they handle the low wage staffers and the increasing cost of infrastructure for supporting the growth
  • Schivo case: was it handled correctly? How would you do it differently?
    DAVIS – lands the “standup, not just showing up” line – and comments that Crist did not even show up. Crist counters with “I stayed out because government should not be involved”. “Some decisions should be for G-d and family.” And then returns to the “you missed 300 votes” theme. “You violated a public trust”. Ed note: this time, Davis is right, and Crist uses his inactivity to prove he keeps govt out of the way. Davis fought to keep government out of the way in Congress – tough fight at that time.
  • Abortion: do you favor the current laws? How would your office stand?
    CRIST – Crist has the most nuanced answer “it is not about changing laws, about changing hearts” and says he favors pro-life (check out his website for his adoption plan). He says he will not change Florida law, but Davis counters with Crist statement on his support for a South Dakota law that removes a woman’s life to choose and that Davis would not. Davis fights the earlier comments on voting record with 93% lifetime voting record in Congress and that he will “stand up”. Crist delivers the line “I am a happy warrior”. Davis responds with “change is coming” and that he will “stand up”. Ed note: at this point, it seems as though the candidates are using the time to push their negative points on the other candidate and push their positives, at times avoiding the question. Davis does not answer directly, rather indirectly.

  • Florida growth: do we continue with the same urban planning/infrastructure plans or???
    DAVIS (by a hair) – neither really answers the question. Davis talks about “managing our growth and protecting the environment (plug for Sierra Club here). Then goes back to special interests not paying their fair share. Little people pay, need to give everyone a chance to live out the American Dream. Crist evokes Ronald Reagan and how we need to make sure our infrastructure is ready (but does not answer the question). Then uses a Smith slam about how the US government has not paid it’s fair share in the Everglades cleanup.
  • Illegal immigration: how will we handle the increased costs? What will you tell the President and others on how to handle the issue?
    CRIST (by a hair) – Crist answers on securing the borders, path to citizenship, supports Martinez’s plan and evokes his father’s journey to America (“he shined shoes”, “good honest work”). Ends with needing to make this work because the “promise of America keeps hope alive – and in Cuba tonight”. Davis agrees with Senator Martinez’s plan, but slams Crist on giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. “I want a strict, fair path”. Ed note: roles have switched since Crist is being soft and Davis is being the policeman.
  • Question – Davis to Crist: why did you pick your running mate who is against stem cell research?
    CRIST – not only does Crist turn around the question (both running mates are good men, but what matters is at the top of the ticket) but makes it a double slam “Need someone who is positive, someone who shows up, listens and learns.”
  • Question – Crist to Davis: why did it take a Governor’s race to make you admit your mistake from 1990 (Pitts case)?
    DAVIS – again, turnabout is fair play. Not only turns it into the most poignant part of the debate (“I made a mistake”) but also shows that Pitts not only forgives, but also endorses Davis. Then turns the question into a Crist/Harris connection by discussing Crist lack of defending voter rights for blacks when he had the chance to stand for free and fair elections.
  • Question – Davis to Crist: Four year for tax breaks?
    CRIST – Crist says that he is advocating for next year, not four years from now. And then he evokes the Mondale word – “you want to bring back the intangibles tax”.
  • Question – Crist to Davis: Cubans are troubled. Jews are troubled. Blacks were troubled. Are you going to also apologize to the Cubans and Jews now?
    DAVIS (slightly) – slam by Crist almost works, but Davis explains and handles the question with aplumb by supporting the embargo six times, going to see what was happening in Cuba to get an even greater understanding of the issue. Israel trip was with Congressman Robert Wexler where they both went to pressure Arafat for peace. And then lands the “standing up” and “fighting the fight”.
  • Middle class: how will the government help stop the hollowing out of the middle class?
    DAVIS- neither really answer the question. Crist talks about savings he accomplished via FPL and telephone companies. Davis counters with his insurance premium statement and slam on Crist getting millions from insurers for his campaign.
  • Campaign Finance: most expensive campaign in Florida history. How can we change this?
    DAVIS (by Crist mistake) – Davis kid of answers since it is a slam against special interest financing of other campaigns (“$2M campaign against me”). Crist does not answer the question – moderator has to reask the question. Instead offers a “you did not show up” line against Davis. On reask – answers with “accountability” and the fact he did not take money from FPL.
  • Closing
    CRIST – Davis starts with slamming Crist, not offering vision until the end “I will fight for change”. Crist offers positive message, then adds cut to Davis, then ends positive.

Sad to say – not much to hold onto
After the debate – there was not much said – and very little that you could see where one slipped up or said anything different. I wish candidates would understand that people want to understand that they mean and spell it out simply. Davis is saddled with being a Congressman – he has a small staff (no more than six staffers, most under 30) and can only do so much. Running for public office across the state of Florida is a lot different than running across a district. Crist has a much larger, more professional staff, so he could campaign and amass a record without having the attendance “hit”. The shame of it all – all I got out of the debates was that Crist is a great public speaker and that Davis is the thoughtful, albeit stiff, Democratic candidate. Jim – please get more media training – and learn to emote more.

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