Florida’s Democratic candidates for governor face off in 1st debate

TAMPA, Fla. — Four Florida Democrats aiming to replace outgoing Governor Rick Scott met in their first debate Wednesday afternoon at a Tampa television studio.

No clear frontrunner yet among candidates Group weighed in on range of issues Democratic primary in August

The group included former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Graham, and entrepreneur Chris King. The candidates weighed in on several issues facing Florida, mostly agreeing on raising the minimum wage, increasing teacher pay, medical marijuana use, an assault weapons ban and strengthening education.

The group broke ranks, however, when it came down to exactly how to accomplish the latter.

“It’s about stopping corporate loopholes,” said Levine. “It’s about making sure that we collect fair taxes from everybody.”

Gillum went further, calling for a 7.75% tax increase on corporations.

“Only three percent of corporations pay the corporate tax rate in this state,” Gillum said. “And we’ve said they’ve got to share in creating the type of state that more corporations want to come to.”

King, a political neophyte, called for free community college and trade school, and also said he would make affordable housing and health care a priority.

“We have to address the affordable housing crisis in this state,” he said. “We have to provide health care to the two and a half million Floridians who don’t have it.”

Graham, who referred to herself as the primary race’s “frontrunner,” said her leadership style included bipartisanship and making tough decisions. Her strongest remarks came in response to Gillum saying her voting record in Congress wasn’t progressive enough.

“You don’t have to agree with every single decision,” Graham said. “You just have to support and recognize that we’re good leaders, and that’s what I’ll be for the state of Florida.”

Republican response

Taryn Fenske, Communications Director for the Florida Republican Party, issued the following statement following the Democrats’ debate:

“The Florida Democratic Gubernatorial debate showed Floridians exactly what we already knew, that the Democrat gubernatorial candidates know nothing about Florida and what matters to voters. Philip Levine couldn’t answer simple Florida related questions, like who Janet Cruz is, Gwen Graham couldn’t remember the size of the education budget, Chris King sounded like a character from SNL, and Andrew Gillum stuck to reiterating Bernie Sanders-like talking points. This debate was embarrassing for Florida Democrats. I’m willing to bet the only people watching were Tampa Bay Lightning fans, gearing up for the playoff game tonight.”

The democratic primary is in August, ten weeks before the general election.

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