TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The November midterm elections are just two weeks away and Florida’s two candidates for governor, incumbent Republican Ron DeSantis and his Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, will duke it out in a Monday night debate.
Both candidates have political backgrounds and say that their vision for Florida is what’s best for voters.
Floridians will have the ultimate say on Nov. 8 but before that, they’ll be able to watch both DeSantis and Crist weigh in on the big issues, brought to you in real-time on WFLA.com.
On the economy
The Florida gubernatorial debate kicked off with a focus on the Florida economy and the migration of residents to the Sunshine State. Due to how many are moving to Florida, housing is a big economic issue.
Having won the coin toss, Charlie Crist spoke first. He said DeSantis had focused on running for president instead of taking care of Floridians, and that by doing so he “had dropped the ball” when it came to affordable housing in Florida.
“Along with that goes so many things. The price of gas, the price of utilities, these things are through the roof, we have inflation in Florida that’s unique to any other state,” Crist said. “And the problem is, the inflation’s too high under this leadership.”
In response, DeSantis drew attention to Crist’s vote record in Congress, “voting with Joe Biden” on everything and pointing out the record levels of inflation, putting the blame squarely on the president’s economic policies.
“I’ll say this,” DeSantis said. “People are flocking to Florida? That would not happen if Charlie had his way. He wrote me a letter in July of 2020, saying you need to shut down the state of Florida, saying you need to force people to shelter in their homes. That would have destroyed the state of Florida, that would have caused our tourism industry to go into the toilet, it would’ve locked out millions of kids from school. I rejected Charlie Crist’s lockdown letter, I kept this state open, I kept this state free, and we have the biggest budget surplus in the history of the state of Florida.”
DeSantis continued, pointing out how Florida policy had led to tax cuts and low unemployment levels. Crist hit back, saying that DeSantis had shut down schools and businesses, and was the only one in state history who had.
“You’re the only governor in the history of Florida who has shut down our schools, you’re the only governor in the history of Florida that shut down our businesses. I never did that as governor. You’re the one who is the shutdown guy,” Crist said. “We need to have somebody at the helm that understands it’s important to listen to science, to do what is right, to utilize common sense. We don’t just shut down at the outset and then when it’s political, you want to open back up.”
DeSantis pushed the topic to how Florida had fared regarding education and lockdowns, pointing out how reopening schools had helped the state have high marks on a recent survey of school improvements and grades.
Asked about property insurance and the current crisis facing Florida residents, DeSantis said that the previous special session on property insurance had helped solve some problems, but a new insurance session coming in December would continue that work.
“We have the number one, we’re number one in the nation in litigation with respect to homeowners’ insurance,” DeSantis said. “We have 8% of the policies but 78% of the litigation costs. Some policyholder will get a $20,000 settlement and the lawyer will get $400,000. So we called a special session, we addressed part of that, we also recreated a reinsurance backstop and that is serving us well now that Hurricane Ian hit. And we created a program where Floridians can get grants to make improvements to their homes and lower rates.”
DeSantis said the issue was about making a competitive market and address the costs of litigation.
Crist said the real problem was that Florida was the most expensive state to live in, according to Forbes magazine, and blamed DeSantis for “taking his eye off the ball.” He said the state was more expensive than places like California and New York.
“Look at the utility rates in the state of Florida. Since you’ve been governor, every single utility rate increase has been granted, for Florida Power & Light, Duke Power, TECO, you name them,” Crist said. “They’ve all gone up and up and up. You name them, they’ve gone up. When I was governor, they went down. Property insurance under you has doubled, in the state of Florida. Doubled, Ron. That’s not good for the people of this state.”
Crist said costs exacerbated by both Hurricane Ian and DeSantis’ policies, saying the gas tax reduction in October was “purely political.”
“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. “It’s so political, it’s disgusting. We need to have a governor who will do what’s right for the people of Florida every day, all year long, not just when it’s right before a reelection.”
DeSantis rebutted, asking why prices for fuel and natural gas were up and blaming it on “Biden-Crist energy policies.”
“They’re waging war on American energy, they are not producing what we need to do, they’re begging people like Maduro and OPEC for more oil,” DeSantis said. “That’s why your costs are going up there. But Charlie Crist’s plan for homeowners insurance is to dump, chase the private insurers out, dump millions of Floridians on Citizens Property, it’s undercapitalized. Here’s why that matters for you. Citizens has mandatory assessment authority. So there could be a storm that hits Tampa Bay, maybe you’re renting a place in Miami with a car, they can assess your homeowners’ insurance, your auto insurance, and your renters’ insurance, his plan would end up capsizing the state of Florida if we had a real storm.”
Crist hit back at him, saying it was “incredible” that DeSantis was talking about the insurance while insurance costs were up “under him.”
“Everybody watching tonight knows that your property insurance is up under him, that’s the problem,” Crist said. “He could’ve addressed it in the regular session, he didn’t. He could’ve addressed it in his first special session, he didn’t. He’s now calling a third special session, and I don’t think the third time’s going to be the charm because his focus is not on Florida, it’s not on you. You deserve a governor who has your back, I always did, I always will.”
The debate moderator asked the audience to stop cheering so they could get through every topic and asked them to end applause until the end.
Focusing on Hurricane Ian’s damaged, the moderator asked if reform was needed regarding building code and regulation as far as building along the coast, saying that homes and businesses built there are subject to devastating losses that Floridians end up paying for.
“Hurricane Ian was a disaster storm, a nightmare frankly,” Crist said, answering first. “We had the structure go up, for all of the buildings in Florida, right after Hurricane Andrew, years ago. And thank god that happened. In this part of the state, where the storm hit after Hurricane Charlie, even more so, so I think we have addressed that. What needs to be addressed is how we treat the storm before it makes landfall.”
Crist said DeSantis was “AWOL for 24 hours,” before the storm and had gone to a football game, instead of preparing more.
“He was AWOL for almost 24 hours. Didn’t encourage Lee County to evacuate. And as a result, 100 people lose their lives? That’s not a good record, that’s not good leadership. Florida deserves better,” Crist said. “We have to be prepared when the storms are coming in. He had access to all of the modern technology you could have, all of the modern radar available, and he still failed to have them evacuate. That’s unbelievable.”
DeSantis said that the 42,000 lineman stationed and record response times helped get rescues underway and restore power “in record time” for millions of people.
“When the bridges got wiped out in Pine Island and in Sanibel, people thought those islands were going to be severed from the mainland for six months to a year,” DeSantis said. “We did the Pine Island restoration in three days and the Sanibel Causeway restoration in two weeks. Now those islands have the ability to recover.”
DeSantis said Crist was “hiding out in Puerto Rico” instead of being in Florida and helping the community.
“When he got back, what did he do? His campaign was soliciting campaign contributions from storm victims, that is unacceptable, and that’s not what a leader would do in a time of despair,” DeSantis said.
Crist said that claim was untrue.
“Let’s face what the facts are in this situation, whether it comes to COVID or comes to the hurricane, Ron ignored science,” Crist said. “He doesn’t think they know what’s right to apply to. And he thinks he knows better than anybody. Look at any issue we’re facing in the state of Florida. He thinks he’s the only one that has the right answer. Whether it’s usurping your local school board, whether it’s doing anything else in education. Banning books for example, I mean it’s unbelievable what’s happened. You have to apply science to do what’s right for the people and protect them.”
DeSantis said that Crist was politicizing the hurricane response, and that he rejected it.
“These local communities did mobilize. If you looked at that track, everyone was focusing on Tampa Bay, the Monday night before the storm” DeSantis said. “We woke up Tuesday morning, the models had shifted into Sarasota, all the folks in Southwest Florida were activated, Lee County did issue evacuations, a number of residents who had been through hurricanes, and it looked like it was going north.”
DeSantis said it was ultimately a local decision, but that he stood by every county who “stood up and made a decision” with the information available.
Focusing on how to handle inflation, DeSantis said it was the worst inflation in 40 years and that Crist voted in lockstep with the president, whose policies had made the inflation increase.
“Here’s what we’re going to do. One, we have the fifth lowest gas prices in the country,” DeSantis said. “Because we did do a gas tax holiday. We’re proud of that. What we’re going to do for Floridians who commute is we’re going to reduce tolls by 50% statewide for all commuters.”
DeSantis also said they’d be permanently taking off taxes on items for childcare like baby clothes, cribs, and wipes, among others, tax-free “so you can raise kids and get by.”
Referring to his three young children, he said his wife, Casey, had asked why that policy hadn’t been done earlier, and also promised to make pet food tax free in Florida, what he called the largest tax relief plan in state history.
Responding, Crist said he agreed with the First Lady, that he should have done the policy earlier.
“You should’ve done that the first year you were in office,” Crist said. “Aren’t you supposed to be helping us all four years instead of just the last year? Ron. You talk about Joe Biden a lot, I understand. You think you’re going to be running against him. I can see how you might get confused, but, you’re running for governor.”
Crist said that running for governor, why can’t he promise Floridians to serve a full four year term in office if reelected.
DeSantis did not respond directly, but said that to make things clear, the “only worn out old donkey” he’d be “looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.”
Pointing to Crist’s record, DeSantis said that when he was governor as a Republican, he ran on keeping taxes down but took office and signed off on the largest increase on tax and fees in state history.
Crist said he knows DeSantis likes to bully people but that he shouldn’t do it when children stand behind him at a press conference wearing a mask.
“But apparently it’s your nature and that’s too bad,” Crist said. “So what we need to do on the economy is make sure we’re focused on Florida. He keeps talking about the Biden administration this, the Biden administration that. This is the DeSantis administration. And under the DeSantis administration, the middle class is getting crunched in Florida. You can’t get an apartment, you can’t afford a house, you can’t pay your property insurance because he’s taken his eye off the ball over and over.”
The next question was over education and parental involvement. Referencing House Bill 1557 and House Bill 7, the Parental Rights in Education Act and Stop WOKE Act, both candidates were asked their beliefs on what is important to be included in Florida education and about education involving gender identity topics.
Crist answered first, saying it was important to educate on science, math, and history, “true history.” Crist referred to low teacher pay and that it was embarrassing that Florida ranked 48 out of 50.
“We need to have a focus on education, and not politicize, make political warzones out of our schools,” Crist said. “We need to support our schools, support our teachers, have our parents involved, that’s absolutely essential. That’s what we need to get back, it’s basics, instead of having all of these culture and political wars like Ron wants to do. As I said, that’s because he wants to run for president. And he’s out of state raising all this money all the time.”
DeSantis hit Crist back for opposing HB 1557, which he said prevents 6, 7, or 8 year olds having sexuality and gender ideology “injected in their curriculum,” accusing Crist of waging a culture war and that he as governor was defending students.
“It’s inappropriate to have that in elementary school,” DeSantis said. “It’s inappropriate to tell a 6 year old they were born in the wrong body, to tell an 8 year old that they may have been born a girl but maybe they’re really a boy. That’s wrong, we need to teach them the basics. We need to teach them to read, write, add and subtract.”
DeSantis referenced the NAEP education scores again, saying that he signed legislation to “protect the rights of women athletes,” referring to a law banning transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports.
Crist said that was just further proof of DeSantis’ focus on culture wars and that unlike the current governor, he was a uniter not a divider.
“I think we need to be giving our state a chance to unite again, you love dividing our state,” Crist said. “Whether it’s Blacks against Whites, whether it’s gay against straight, whether it’s young versus old.”
Crist said DeSantis had made it harder to vote, and that he was anti-democracy. DeSantis instead said that denying women and girls the right to compete fairly was more divisive instead.
“You wanna talk about divisive? The day after Charlie Crist won his primary, he said anyone that supports the governor, you have hate in your heart, and I don’t want your vote,” DeSantis said. “Well think what that means. I’m endorsed by every police group in the state of Florida, I’m endorsed by the firefighters, I’m endorsed by the truckers, nurse anesthetists, retail federation, Farm Bureau, the whole cross section of the state of Florida is backing me. They do not have hate in their hearts.”
He said they were backing him because they wanted a free Florida, not Charlie Crist.
Critical Race Theory
The next education question was focused on the state’s Critical Race Theory ban.
DeSantis answered first, saying that Florida law required teaching all of American history, including slavery, Civil Rights, and segregation, but that scapegoating students based on skin color or distorting American history was wrong.
“…to distort American history by saying that the American Revolution was fought to defend slavery, which is not true,” DeSantis said. “I think we should have a history like Abraham Lincoln, believed in our founding. Like Frederick Douglas. These are great eternal principles, we have a great Constitution, and people have used those principles to make great progress over the course of our country’s history. I’m proud of our history. I don’t want to teach kids to hate our country, I don’t want to teach kids to hate each other, and the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
Crist responded, saying that how DeSantis talks about not teaching the history of America that might offend ” some people,” instead saying that we should teach the facts.
“We oughta teach the truth in our schools. There’s an old expression, Ron, those who don’t know history may be condemned to repeat it,” Crist said. “Usually people use that in reference to the Holocaust. It could just as easily be reference to slavery in our country. It happened, it’s a fact, we shouldn’t have a white washed approach to educating our children. That’s not right. How are they going to do well in life if they don’t even know their own history. And we’re not going to teach them to hate each other in our schools. I don’t know where you get that idea. I don’t have hate in my heart and I don’t think we need to be doing that in our schools.”
Crist said we should apply common sense and do what’s right to get back on track, moving the focus to the abortion debate. The moderator cut him off when he got over the time limit.
DeSantis fired back about CRT education.
“They do have programs, unfortunately, where they’ll look at their race and they’ll say ‘you’re white, you’re an oppressor, if you’re Black, you’re oppressed,'” DeSantis said. “Think about what that does to a 6 or 7 year old kid. That’s wrong and you’re seeing that. You have people that are teaching, his running mate has said this in the past. Teaching the United States was built on stolen land. That is inappropriate for our schools and it’s not true. I’m happy that we’re going to be able to have accurate history and that we honor those who have sacrificed so that we can be free.”
Crist said DeSantis kept going back to the same outrageous, radical comments.
“He says they’re teaching this in other schools and other states, this is Florida. You’re the governor of Florida right now, you won’t even say if you want to be the governor of Florida after this election,” Crist said. “But you are right now, and you need to be focused at what’s happening in our schools right now. They’re not teaching hate, they’re teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. They’re doing that with good teachers but you don’t respect them and that’s why they’re fleeing our schools.”
Asked about teacher recruitment initiatives, and how politics in schools is affecting retention, the moderator asked if salaries were the way to fix the issue.
“Money does help, you invest in what you care about, you prioritize by how you spend your money. This governor as I said before is spending for our teachers,” Crist said. “They’re 48th out of 50 states in America. We’re the third largest state in America. He’s got a budget surplus. Why can’t you treat teachers better than that? That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Crist said investment in other parts of the state were important, things he had voted for in Congress like infrastructure.
“You make sure we have infrastructure, that’s why as a member of Congress I voted for the infrastructure that got the Sanibel Bridge built back up as quickly, that you took credit for,” Crist said. “But it’s important to invest in things that matter to the people of our state. Like actually regulating our utility rates, and you’re not. Like actually bringing down the price of property insurance. And you’re not. Like actually making sure our taxes are lower, not higher. You raised them a billion dollars on every consumer in the state, you did that. You raised the highest taxes, ever.”
DeSantis said Crist as governor had done nothing to help teacher pay for four years.
“In fact, he cut education by $300 million. What have I done?” DeSantis said. “We’ve done the largest increase in teacher compensation in the history of Florida.”
He said the state ranked higher on minimum salary because the state leadership was important, for a 20% increase.
“I created with the legislature a categorical budget item where the money has to go to teacher salaries,” DeSantis said. “Because what happens is we send the money to school districts, you know his running mate is a teachers union boss. She makes almost $200,000 a year. The teachers down in Miami don’t make that.”
DeSantis said he didn’t want money going to unions, but in the pockets of teachers, and promised a $1 billion categorical in the next budget to make sure teachers were paid more.
Crist responded by saying that while governor they had paid teachers more per dollar than they are now, even with DeSantis’ budget surplus, even during a recession while Crist was governor.
“We prioritized it because it was the right thing to do, that’s how you need to lead. You need to lead by uniting people, not dividing them,” Crist said. “He talks about dividing us all night long. It’s what he does, it’s who you are. It’s what he’s about. You deserve a better governor who cares about women and your freedom. Your right to choose and your right to vote.”
DeSantis said they’d do more for teachers, but said he opposed school districts forcing students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying it was something Crist supported.
“We passed a bill to prevent that, he opposed it, the bill, when we did it. I think it’s a parent’s decision, I think it’s wrong to force this on these kids,” DeSantis said. “As long as I’m governor, as parents you’re going to have the ability to make that decision. We are not going to subcontract out your parental rights to Charlie and his special interest buddies.”
Crist tried to respond but the moderator moved to the next topic.
When asked what week abortion should be banned, DeSantis said, “I just think we’re better when everybody counts. I understand not everyone is going to be born in perfect circumstances but I would like to see everybody have a shot. I am proud of the 15 weeks that we did. I know Charlie Crist opposes that.”
DeSantis claimed Crist supported sex-selective abortions, dismemberment abortions and taxpayer funded abortions “all the way up to the moment of birth.”
In response, Crist said, “Ron, that’s just not the truth and you know it.” He added, “I don’t want to ban abortion, I want to make sure we keep a woman’s right to choose available to the women of the state of Florida. And I want to make sure that we don’t have a governor in the future who wouldn’t even allow exceptions for rape or incest.”
Crist went on to call DeSantis opposition to woman’s choice, “callous, its barbaric, and its wrong.”
DeSantis fired back over an eruption of applause saying, “You know what’s callous, Charlie Christ has not only supported abortion up until the moment of birth, he even voted against the Infant Born Alive Act, which would have had medical care for an infnat that survives an abortion attempt and was born alive.”
DeSantis then called Crist “a chameleon” for once supporting a federal constitutional amendment that outlawed all abortion regardless of any type of exceptions.
“Now he’s taken the other extreme position,” DeSantis said. “The question is, is this an honest change of heart or is this a guy who is going to shift with whatever wind he needs to try to keep his political career alive? I think we all know the answer to that question.”
Crist said those statements were not true.
Next, the gubernatorial candidates squared off on the topic of COVID-19 recovery, which affected the lives of millions of Floridians across a variety of industries from entertainment to education.
When asked if he was satisfied with his approach to the COVID-19 response, Crist made a quick jab saying he would have listened to scientists “unlike the governor.”
“He wants to talk about how we reopened this, we reopened that,” Crist said. “You can keep things reopened, but you have to do it with an eye toward what healthcare providers tell you.”
Crist added that DeSantis should have taken a “common sense approach” to the pandemic and enforced mask mandates in high-population areas which he estimated could have saved the lives of 40,000 Floridians.
“We’ve lost 82,000 of our fellow Floridians,” Crist said, “and if we only had the standard of other states in the United States, 40,000 of those people would still be alive.”
DeSantis was quick to fire back, saying Crist called for “harsh lockdowns” that would have “destroyed the state of Florida,” throwing millions of Floridians into a state of “turmoil.”
“As Charlie Crist and his friends in congress were urging you to be locked down, I lifted you up. I protected your rights, I made sure you could earn a living, I made sure you could operate your businesses and I worked like heck to make sure we had all our kids in school in person, five days a week.”
In response, Christ said the state had one of the highest death rates in the country, adding that over 6 million Floridians had been infected with COVID-19.
“That’s not something to be boastful and proud about,” Crist said. “I’m pro-business. I want to make sure we keep our businesses open…You’re the most anti-business governor I’ve ever seen.”
DeSantis burst into laughter, saying “yeah, except for all the businesses that are moving down here and leading the nation in net-in migration.
DeSantis circled back to the issue of COVID-19 recovery saying his administration focused on the vulnerable populations without “locking down the rest of the people.
“We’ve thrived as a result,” DeSantis said. “That would not have happened if Charlie Crist got his way and locked down the state of Florida in 2020.”
Gender-affirming care for minors
Moving on to gender-affirming care and transition surgery, both candidates were asked about the medical practices.
DeSantis responded first.
“When they say gender-affirming care, they mean giving puberty blockers to teenage girls and teenage boys, doing double mastectomies on young girls, they mean chemically castrating young boys, that is wrong,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to allow that to happen in the state of Florida. A lot of kids go through a lot of different things. A lot of the dysphoria resolves itself by the time they become adults.”
DeSantis said the state policy on gender transitions had support, including from some who had undergone the surgery.
“To say you should not mutilate minors, and they went through this when they were minors,” DeSantis said about the supporters. “Now they’re adults and they regret it. Other countries in Europe that went down this road have now backtracked, and we’re doing the right thing. It’s inappropriate to do what’s basically genital mutilation.”
Crist pushed back on DeSantis, saying it was a similar position to the governor’s take on abortion.
“You think you know better than any physician, or any doctor, or any woman, in a position to make decisions about their own personal health,” Crist said. “You want to be the judge, you want to decide what people should do with their own physical being, with the betterment of their health. With whether or not they can practice their right to choose as a woman. It’s just not right. I don’t believe in that. I believe that we need to do unto others as we would do unto us. It’s called the Golden Rule. And Ron, if you ever knew the Golden Rule, clearly you have forgotten it.”
Crist said DeSantis did not have the temperament to be kind and decent to people who were not like him.
“But we are all children of god, and that doesn’t mean that you’re the one who’s supposed to judge about what other people are supposed to do, particularly women with their body,” Crist said.
DeSantis rebutted, saying it was about teenagers.
“They are not in a position to know whether they can undergo a radical procedure that physically alters their body,” DeSantis said. “If you’re a 15 year old, you can’t get a tattoo in the state of Florida, but we’re saying you can get a double mastectomy? Of course not. It is inappropriate to do this for minors and in Florida, we are not going to let that happen here.”
Crist said these issues were difficult and deserved “mature leadership,” that Florida needed a leader who understood a woman’s right to choose and respects that type of decision.
“It just doesn’t sound to me like Governor DeSantis wants to do that, to respect some other family’s decision about what they want for their child,” Crist said.
Moving on to immigration, the first question was about migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., using taxpayer dollars.
Crist answered first, saying that while there was a border security problem, and an immigration problem, it didn’t mean you use Florida tax dollars to fly people from Texas to Massachusetts for a lie.
“One of them’s a one year old baby, another is a pregnant woman, you’re willing to use people like that?” Crist said. “In this case they’re Hispanics. Venezuelan in particular, and have them as props for your political game? That’s not how you 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. When you were in Congress, you wouldn’t do it.”
Crist said DeSantis wanted to keep the issue alive as a wedge issue and pull political stunts.
“It isn’t funny, it’s not right, and you were inhumane with how you treated these people,” with taxpayer dollars, according to Crist.
DeSantis said that while Crist claims to be for border security, current policies from the president he supports.
“We’ve had millions and millions of people pour in across illegally, we’ve had record numbers of fentanyl come in, we now see it ravaging our community like never before,” DeSantis said. “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 in Pinellas County killed by a twice-deported illegal alien who came across the border illegally six months ago.”
DeSantis said he didn’t hear outrage when that happened, but that when he had sent migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, it showed a different response.
“They go to DC, New York, or of course, Martha’s Vineyard, then all of a sudden, this is,” DeSantis said. “You know why? Because we have elites in this country that want to impose policies on you but they don’t want to suffer the same consequences that you may have to in your community. What we did, it’s sad that it comes to this, but what we did puts this issue front and center.”
DeSantis said they should reimpose Remain in Mexico and that the surge of fentanyl over the border was getting out of control. Crist hit back, saying that DeSantis didn’t actually want to solve the border problem and would not support an actual policy that secures it, like a reform of immigration.
“You like having it as an issue for political scoring, and points you want to have for a future campaign,” Crist said. “And let me remind the viewers he wouldn’t even answer you, if he would stay four years if you reelect him for governor. You’re running for governor, you’re asking them to vote for you for governor, at a minimum you oughta be able to tell them that if you get reelected you’ll serve as governor.”
Instead of responding to Crist’s critique, DeSantis ignored the comment and said the border was better when Biden took office than now. He said that the Biden administration had reversed most policies at the border from when Donald Trump was president, and the “floodgates” were opened, causing the border issue instead of “a phantom piece of population.”
Then DeSantis criticized Crist’s time in Washington, saying he only showed up to the nation’s capital for 14 days, critiquing him for what could happen if he was Florida’s governor.
Drugs and overdoses
The governor responded to a question about handling the overdose epidemic afflicting the United States. He pointed out programs used by the state to provide Narcan and create treatment programs, as well as new policies to add penalties for those trafficking fentanyl.
Crist instead said it was about enforcing existing laws and having leaders who had laws on the books for good reason. He said crime was up in Florida under DeSantis and that when he was governor previously it was down. Crist said common sense leadership was needed and that he supported securing the border and stopping the flow of drugs.
DeSantis criticized Crist for endorsing a policy to reapportion some police funding in favor of social workers, but that residents wanted police coming to their doors instead of social workers when they get robbed. DeSantis said Crist wanted to defund police and that he’d be soft on crime.
Crist said he had voted to further fund police while in Congress and reiterated that crime had increased while DeSantis was governor.
Discussing public safety, questions turned to death penalty sentences and the verdict in the trial of Nikolas Cruz, who was the killer at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students, staff, and faculty died.
It’s the one issue where both Crist and DeSantis had the same opinion, that Cruz should have gotten the death penalty.
“What I would do in this case, listen, these are not easy decision, I served as governor, I signed death warrants, Gov. DeSantis has as well,” Crist said. “It’s not a fun day, but it’s an important thing to do. As I told you earlier, you need to carry out the law. As it applies to this particular case, this is one thing we actually agree on.”
Crist said you had to do what’s right, and sometimes it’s tough, but you need to do whatever it takes to enforce laws and have consequences for actions.
DeSantis said Cruz deserved the ultimate punishment.
“When you murder in cold blood 17 innocent people, there’s no other punishment that meets the gravity of that crime,” DeSantis said. “To have one juror hold out on that was a travesty, so yes, I’m going to ask the Florida Legislature to amend that statute so that one juror doesn’t have veto power over appropriate punishment.”
DeSantis said that while the Parkland shootings had occurred before he was governor, but since taking office he had focused on improving school safety and removed a sheriff and school board members from office to hold them accountable for their failures and for being “derelict” in their duties.
Crist took that point and criticized DeSantis for using that same power to remove 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Andrew Warren from office. He said that DeSantis needed to study the Constitution for removing people from public office over free speech.
The governor rebutted him, saying that it was an important issue, and that prosecutors did not have the authority to “veto duly enacted statutes” and were not above the law.
After both candidates aid their pieces, the moderator moved to let them provide closing statements.