The Polk and Osceola County Republican Executive Committees hosted a candidate forum tonight. Normally I would not blog about that, but – thanks to Bay News 9 – I watched it.
My overall impression is that Gallagher obviously a policy wonk. He sprinkled details throughout his answers, but he often bogged down in the minutae a little bit. Crist is clearly more polished and charismatic, but he was able to hit some details here and there.
I must say that I was surprised at the pathetic questions asked of these candidates:
immigration, global warming, off shore drilling, English as a national language, changing dates of the primary elections, gun rights. Many of these questions are really federal issues, or the candidates really didn’t have much to say that set them apart.
The only really good questions were on property insurance, smaller schools, and coping with growth. What about some of the red-meat Republican issues: taxes, abortion, gay marriage, public safety??
Man talk about a wasted opportunity here.
Okay, so how did the candidates do on the three good questions? Here is what I got from them — I might have inadvertently missed something.
Charlie Crist was a bit more general here. He did talk about two specific proposals: First, we would force companies to sell property insurance here if they a) sell it other places and b) sell other policies here in Florida. Second, he would work with the legislature to reduce the level that will allow insruance companies to access the catastrophe fund. He did pledge that, if nothing is done before the election, he would bring a panel of experts from all over the country to provide solid recommendations before the 2007 Legislative Session.
Tom Gallagher game some specific detials, “$30 billion in 15 months” and talked about his experience with insurance, all the way back to Hurricane Andrew. His ideas were to activate a “Commerical JUA” to help businesses get insurance and reduce the level that will allow insruance companies to access the catastrophe fund. Gallagher closed by saying that we need more competition.
The question was really would smaller schools help kids, but it was a way to get the class size discussion started.
Tom Gallagher said we would like to see smaller classes and schools, but the amendment as established is a “major problem”. It’s $20 billion cost between now and 2010 is a problem. He said that Gov. Bush, incoming Senate President (Ken Pruitt) and House Speaker (Marco Rubi0) also agree that the amendment should be amended. There are only two ways to get that money cut something or increase taxes. Gallagher has asked Crist, Smith, and Davis what will they cut, what tax will they add?. Finally, by talking about his son, Gallagher mentioned that the amendment will have an impact on teacher quality.
Gallagher was able to return to this topic, thanks to a weak question. He thinks they would reconsider if they knew the facts, and used the bullet train as proof
Charlie Crist said he was opposed to class size amendment when it first came up, even voted against it as a voter. But the people voted for it. He believes that since the legislature was unable to do anything, it may be time to accept the voters and move on. However, he is willing to talk about an innovative plan to put before the people; and wouldn’t oppose such a plan if someone brought it before him.
The question was how would you control growth until the infrastructure was in place, and there isn’t much of a difference.
Tom Gallagher said that with 1,000 people a day moving to Florida, it’s hard to keep up. He said we must work to get roads built, that there should not be development without water, and that growth needs to keep up with schools. He also said we need to maximize the dollars we have by offering more public/private partnerships, allowing private sector to own and build toll roads.
Charlie Crist corrected Gallagher, the Governor told him it was 1,200 per day, which is a curse and a blessing. Growth is good for economy – state budget grew from $7 billion to $74 billion in 30 years – and growth means government doesn’t have to raise taxes (jab at Gallagher with “I have never supported tax increase.”). On roads, Crist woul give more authority to local expressway authorities (Greenway, Sun Coast Parkway) and work for more public/private partnerships.
Gallagher closed by poking Charlie’s “I’ve never voted for a tax increase” commercial by pointing out that Crist voted for the sugar tax (which Charlie calls a fee), a rental car tax, and is in favor of repealing some exemptions. To be fair, both the sugar tax and rental car tax required action by voters or local governments, so Crist’s vote did not actually increase taxes. Crist also pointed out that Gallgher supported a “pennies for prisons” tax in 1994 that would have been the largest tax increase in Florida’s history.
Gallagher also talked about his family and Crist talked about the anti-murder bill in their respective closing statements.
In all, it was not that thrilling of a debate. I don’t think it swayed anyone, primarily because of the terrible questions. I hope that a future debate is televised and actually gets into some real issues.
I will also be interested to see what other bloggers think about the debate.
(NOTE: Bay News 9 has said both this debate and the Democratic debate will be available on the Tampa Bay on Demand – Channel 340 on Bright House networks – starting tomorrow.)