Democratic Debate, Redux


Like the second Republican debate, this second debate between Demoratic candidates Rod Smith and Jim Davis was more interesting than the first one. Davis didn’t sound as angry, so both men came off almost affable.

It is harder to analyze this debate, as this (new) editor is also a Republican. However, it would appear that Rod Smith won this one. He was more articulate than Davis, who kept reminding us that US Sugar has pumped a million dollars into Smith’s campaign.

Here is a breakdown of the positions on issues asked by the panelists, taken out of order:

Public Schools & Class Size
Both feel the FCAT should only be a diagnostic tool. Smith was able to hit the bumber sticker line that Florida schools have become “FCAT prep centers,” and that the state needs to do a better job of helping kids that fall behind. Smith also said the state has the money if it had the will to implement the class size amendment. Davis said that he has led the effort to reduce class size since his bill in the Legislature in the mid-90’s that created a pilot program for K-3rd grades. Davis said that public schools give kids the chance to experience diversity. To pay for class size reducation, Davis would veto tax cuts and end privatization contracts.

Higher Education
Both disagree with the abolition of the Board of Regents (Davis’ only mention of Bob Graham’s endorsement). Smith said that Florida needs to invest more resources in universities, research and development, and professors salaries. Davis said that it’s about investing in our students.

Gun Control
While it will be a surprise to many, both Jim Davis and Rod Smith would support a “carefully-defined assualt weapons ban.” Davis would need to study a bit further with community leaders to see if recent spikes in gun violence are related to Florida’s gun laws. Smith says that part of the problem is the lack of adequate prevention and intervention programs before criminals escalate their crimes.

Property Insurance
Smith was able to tout his plan and claim that it would lower rates by ending Citizens as it exists now, use the new tax dollars generated by post-hurricane spending as a trust fund for future rate relief, increase competition for re-insurers, and create an independent commission. Davis would appoint an “Advocate General” to be a consumer watchdog over insurance issues. Davis would also work to reinstate the a provision that would prevent insurance companies from denying claims because the damage was from flooding in a hurricane not wind. With this “loophole,” Smith and the Legislature ended a 100 year practice.

Historic Preservation
In response to a questions submitted by a voter, Rod Smith said he would ensure his appointments to local growth management boards had knowledge about the negative effects of growth on Florida’s historical and archeological resources. Davis would reinstate the historic preservation board to leverage public and private funds to preserve Florida’s history.

Elections & Voting
Both want a paper trail. Both want to allow felons who serve their time to have their civil rights automatically reinstated.

Immigration
Both feel the current policy (‘wet-foot, dry-foot’) is too discriminatory. Both would work to change that policy. Both support earned citizenship. Davis noted that we need a national policy to supercede actions being undertaken by local governments (like Avon Park and “Palm Harbor” – um, you mean Palm Bay). Smith noted that Florida’s open border is our shoreline and we need to secure it.

Working With Republicans
The question was asked how would you pass intangibles tax reinstatement (Smith) or close insurance loophole (Davis) given the Legislature will be overwhelmingly Republican. Smith talked about how he has done that ever since he was first elected, and touted a number of votes that brought Republicans and Democrats together (most notably the class-size repeal in 2006). Davis basically side-stepped the question, but did infer that he would use public pressure to compel the legislature to act.

Everglades Cleanup & U.S. Sugar
Smith said the legislature acted not to delay the cleanup, but provide a more realistic schedule. He noted that Florida has provided $2.3 billion, while the federal government has not. Davis implied the federal government is not happy with the legislature’s act to delay clean up. Davis also mentioned, one time among many, that U.S. Sugar has pumped $1 million into Smith’s campaign. Smith pointed out that U.S. Sugar is acting independently. Davis claimed that U.S. Sugar wrote the Everglades clean-up bill.

This issue also came up in the portion of the debate where the candidates were able to quiz each other. Unlike the Republican debate, this portion was actually dual-sided.

Smith’s questions of Davis:
• Why have you missed so many votes?
• Why did you oppose President Clintion’s effort to get 100,000 teachers into the class room?
• Why did you vote against a claims bill for Wilbert Lee and Freddie Pitts?

Davis’ questions of Smith:
• Why won’t you condemn the U.S. Sugar, who put $1 million into your campaign, advertisement?
• Why did you vote twice for a bill that would raise telephone bills then vote to repeal it?
• Why won’t you support efforts to end abuse by developers of Florida’s Greenbelt law?

Okay – these may be some hyperspecific questions, but they raise some interesting issues:

Missing Votes
Davis said that he didn’t miss many votes before running for Governor, but even so – he hasn’t been avoiding the work; Davis touted his efforts to find a solution to the oil drilling legislation in Congress. Smith said that missing votes is not what the constituents wanted.

Independent Expenditures
Davis noted that Smith had condemned 3rd party ads in his first Senate race, but won’t do so now. Smith countered that the ads in that race were personal and untruthful. He said that from what he and his staff could see, the U.S. Sugar (they put $1 million dollars into my opponent’s campaign) advertising was not personal or untruthful. Smith would condemn any third-party ad against Davis that was personal or was untruthful.

Developers vs Agriculture
Davis claimed that some developers are “renting cows and putting them in parking lots” to get property tax breaks provided under the Greenbelt law. He said Smith would not bring a bill to end this abuse in front of the committee Smith chaired. Smith countered that he did bring the bill before the committee and even asked for an interim project to study the issue in greater detail. When the project was denied, Smith sent a stern letter protesting the denial. Davis countere that property owners don’t want projects or letters, they want action; inferring that failure to end this abuse is causing higher property taxes.

Telephone Rates
Smith noted that the bill referenced by Davis didn’t actually raise rates, but it allowed the Public Service Commission to approve rate increase requests that were revenue neutral — raising basic rates must be offset by a reduction charges elsewhere. Davis used this question to say that he would fight special interests, inferring that Smith is not only tied to phone companies, but U.S. Sugar (Everglades bill) and insurance industry (flood/wind loophole) as well.

Like Lt. Cdr Joanne Galloway, Davis pushed a little too hard on the U.S. Sugar (they put $1 million dollars into my opponent’s campaign) issue. Yes, he needed to mention it once get it on the record, mention it three times and his efforts look like “fancy politician tricks” [Side bar: Who doesn’t love the movie A Few Good Men??]. Interesting that someone who is supposed to be the front runner had to go on the attack so hard.

Smith also seemed to have more specific answers to the questions. He clearly understand issues from a Tallahassee perspective. Davis seemed to talk in broader generalities, and doesn’t seem interested in trying to work with Republicans (although he didn’t say they needed adult supervision this time).

In the end, Rod won this one. Will it be enough? Will Democrats turn out? Stay tuned and watch what happens on September 5th.

About Jim Johnson

Editor and publisher of The State of Sunshine.
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