The second debate between Republican candidates Tom Gallagher and Charlie Crist aired tonight. This debate was FAR better than the last one, primarily because the panelists asked relevant questions. Not to mention that the gloves finally came off – from word one Gallagher pounced all over Crist… and Charlie barely held on.
In the end, while the State of Sunshine generally supports (but has not endorsed) Crist, this was a solid win for Gallagher.
Here is a bit of a summary of their answers on important issues – taken out of order from the debate. These were brought up by the panelists during the first and third parts of the debate:
Both want to reduce the level for triggering the catastrophic fund. Crist wants to eliminate the ability for national companies to set up Florida-only subsidiaries that use Florida losses to justify significant rate increases. Gallagher said the subsidiaries were Nelson’s fault and we are stuck with them. Gallagher also mentioned that, while reducing the cat fund treshhold does make all homeowners liable for the higher risk properties along the coast, it is the less expensive than buying reinsurance on the international market.
Gallgher wants to reduce taxes by forcing budgetary constraints local governments, thus giving relief to all property owners – helping small business and apartment renters in addition to homeowners. Crist wants to allow the exemption to be portable state-wide and allow counties to double the exemption by referendum. He also mentioned he would revisit the impact on new residents as the inequity is shifted to first-time homebuyers. Gallgher pointed out that Crist’s plan transfer the burden to commercial and rental properties.
Class Size Amendment
In their standard answers, Crist said he opposed it at first and supported early efforts to repeal it – but now its time to continue implementing the plan, pointing out that $7 billion has already been spent. He also said the cost is $1 billion per year, not the $5 billion per year Gallagher claims. Gallagher updated his standard answer, that the amendment needs to be repealed or amended to give districts more flexibility and pay teachers more, by saying that he would go the initiative route if necessary to repeal it.
Both oppose oil drilling. Gallagher would support a permanent 125-mile boundary, as first proposed by Jeb Bush. Crist doesn’t want to jeopardize Florida’s coastal environment because of it’s link to the tourism industry.
Both want to secure the borders. Both oppose illegal immigration. Crist, who’s grandfather was a legal immigrant, believes people should be able to earn citizenship. He supports the position of President Bush and Senator Mel Martinez. Gallagher believes we should close the borders first.
Both agree that adoption should be by traditional family – Gallagher used the term ‘normal homes’ at first. Crist gave more specifics about his plan to promote adoption by creating an office within the Governor’s office. Gallagher talked about working with faith-based organizations.
Stem Cell Research
Gallagher opposes all stem cell research, but would not act to prevent private sector research. He believes that because taxpayers have varying opinions, tax dollars should not support such research. [Interesting side bar here: if taxpayers have varying opinions of vouchers, should tax dollars support vouchers? But we digress...] Crist supports stem cell research to cure diseases like diabetes or macular degeneration.
However, when the two candidates had the chance to ask each other questions, Gallagher talked about the main issues where he and Crist differ while Crist lobbed softballs to Gallagher.
• How would you reinvigorate the Space program?
• Why do you oppose doubling the homestead exemption?
• Will you unify the party after the primary?
• If you support civil unions because they are just contracts, what is the difference between civil unions and gay marriage? Why not just allow for contracts for health and funeral arrangements?
• You voted for a rental car tax similar to a bill Jeb vetoed. Would you veto such a bill in the future?
• If Roe v Wade is overturned, would you sign a bill banning abortion?
That is quite the difference in the approach each candidate took… and Crist fumbled. Let’s look at the main issues raised during this part of the debate:
Gallagher is clearly pro-life, and endorsed by Florida Right to Life. Crist, on the other hand, professed to be pro-life without specifically about abortion. His answer was basically (paraphrasing) we should change hearts and minds, not the law. Crist wants to promote a culture of life and support the adoption process.
Civil Unions & Gay Marriage
Gallagher both opposes gay marriage and civil unions. Crist signed the petition to ban gay marriage, but is okay with civil unions because they allow people to form a ‘contractual relationship’ to visit a hosptial or make funeral arrangements. Crist’s philosophy is not truly support, but one of tolerance – he quoted Abraham Lincoln: “With charity for all, with malice toward none.”
Crist’s claims that he never supported a new tax were explained in better detail in that a “new tax” would be one imposed directly through legislative act. Legislation that included a referendum would not, in and of itself, be a tax. Also, it would appear that surcharges paid by a select group of people are fees and not taxes. Incidentally, Gallagher pointed out that the tax he supposedly supported, Pennies for Prisons, was also by referendum – so Gallagher has also never supported a tax. (Crist later commented that Gallagher supported a ‘payroll’ tax, without giving any details).
The one saving grace for Crist is that he was able to point out that Gallagher was on the attack, raising these issues, because he knows he is way down in the polls. Crist held on, but could not really fend off the efforts of Gallagher. But Gallagher was not able to deliver a real knock out blow. The places where the candidates differed were the same issues on which Gallagher has been hammering away — so there was really nothing new Gallagher can use in commericals or mail pieces.
In the end, the State of Sunshine can not say for certain if this debate will have any real impact on the election. The 20-30 point lead Crist had in many polls was always far larger than anyone can expect on September 5th – so it may not be fair to say that this debate made the race closer. That was going to happen anyway.
Less than two weeks now. Remember you can vote early!!