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Florida governor candidates trade barbs in final debate

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Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (R) and Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis fist bump at the end of the 2018 Leadership Florida Gubernatorial debate at Broward College, Davie, Florida on Wednesday. Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI

By Daniel Uria, UPI

Florida gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis exchanged barbs during their second and final debate on Wednesday.

Gillum, the Democratic candidate, said his Republican opponent DeSantis was a liar who was unfit for the office of governor, citing more than a dozen false statements noted by PolitiFact during their last debate on Sunday, while DeSantis continued to press on records suggesting that Gillum knowingly received tickets to the musical Hamilton from an undercover FBI agent.

The hour-long debate -- held at Broward College in Davie, Fla. -- opened with a question about divisive political rhetoric in the wake of the explosive devices delivered to Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who was in attendance, as well as others.

DeSantis noted he was present at a Republican congressional baseball practice last June, in which House Republican Whip Steve Scalise and others were injured.

"I know firsthand when we start going down that road that can be very, very deadly. So I condemn that, I condemn what happened today," he said.

Gillum cited a "collapsing in of our political discourse" under President Donald Trump referencing comments made by DeSantis on Fox News on the first day of the general election campaign that "the last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state."

"My opponent, endorsed by him, has run this race very, very close to the Trump handbook, where we call each other names, where we run false advertisements," Gillum said.

Hamilton Tickets

When asked about receiving the Hamilton ticket from an undercover FBI agent in 2016, which DeSantis has said indicates he is the subject of an FBI investigation for suspected corruption during his time as mayor of Tallahassee, Gillum downplayed the incident saying he should've "asked more questions" about where the tickets came from.

Gillum said he believed his younger brother had traded Jay-Z and Beyoncé tickets in exchange for the tickets to the musical and pleaded to focus on the debate state's larger issues.

"I take responsibility for not having asked more questions," Gillum said. "But let me tell you, I'm running for governor. In the state of Florida we have many issues. And tickets to Hamilton ain't one of them."

Health Care

Gillum asserted his fight to expand Medicaid in Florida under the Affordable Care Act, which he said would extend health care access to 800,000 Floridians and pull down $6 billion in federal funding for the state's health care system.

"This means something to me," Gillum said. "I remember having to wait for the free dental clinic to come through my neighborhood so I could have my teeth cleaned. I would expect that the elected representatives in the House and in the Senate would do the work of the people of this state, suspend with the philosophical differences and go and act on their behalf."

DeSantis defended his record of voting in favor of the Republican replacement for the ACA, the American Health Care Act, over criticism about concerns it would discriminate people with pre-existing conditions.

DeSantis said he supported the bill in an effort to lower insurance premiums, but he would pass legislation for people in the state if it didn't properly protect those with pre-existing conditions.

"I will happily sign a bill to help folks with pre-existing conditions here in Florida," he said.

Economy

Gillum denied being in favor of a state income tax, saying his tax plan would focus on taxing 3 percent of the "wealthiest corporations in the state" in order to raise $1 billion to fund education salaries for teachers and apprenticeships.

He also said DeSantis' support of a tax cut for the wealthy a belief money would "magically" trickle down to working class people.

"They have drilled a deep hole into the national debt and working people haven't seen an appreciable rise in their wages," Gillum said.

DeSantis said Gillum's tax plan would adversely affect working class people in Florida, by causing businesses to leave the state.

"What I'm going to do, is I'm going to welcome more investment in Florida," he said. "When I'm elected people will know Florida's going to continue to have a low tax climate, we're going to be open for business."

Education

The two candidates sparred over funding for private charter schools versus the state's public schools.

Gillum pledged to focus funding on public schools in order to raise wages for teachers in the public school system.

"They deserve a wage that they can live on and when I'm governor, we're going to fight for it," he said.

Gillum also said DeSantis took $200,000 dollars in contributions from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and accused them of having an agenda to "completely defund the public school system" in order to fund the "for-profit charter school industry."

DeSantis said he advocates for choice in school selection and was focused on "results" rather than equating the school systems with bureaucracies.

"These are students whose parents are making this decision and who are performing well," he said.

He also pledged to pass legislation requiring charter schools to purchase insurance for the entire cost of the first year to shield tax payers from the cost.

Immigration

While outlining his policy on immigration, Gillum noted no so-called sanctuary cities exist in the state of Florida and said he would cooperate with all demands from the federal government on immigration issues.

"Under no circumstance would I let someone who has committed a crime in our community, in our state, get away with the commital of a crime. They would be adjudicated through the normal judicial process and held fully responsible," he said.

He also suggested that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should be absorbed by the U.S. Department of Justice in order to more effectively combat human and drug-trafficking.

"Immigration and Border Control has an important job to do and we ought to empower them to do that job," Gillum said.

DeSantis accused Gillum of political posturing, saying he would seek to implement sanctuary cities if elected and said his opposition to immigration efforts was fueled by his opposition of Trump.

"Why would you allow your dislike for the president to knowingly put communities at risk?" DeSantis said.

Voting rights

DeSantis said he believes it is wrong to automatically restore voting rights to felons who committed "very serious crimes," stating they must prove they have been reformed.

"Many felons reoffend and I think it's wrong to automatically give them a free pass to be able to vote without them showing they can be back in our community," he said.

Gillum countered by stating restoring voting rights can reduce recidivism rates.

"If they don't have the opportunity to make a living for themselves you often find people reoffending," he said.

Gillum also asserted felons who have completed their sentences should have their voting rights fully reinstated.

"If you have done your time and you have paid your debt to society, you ought to be able to re-enter society and have your constitutional right to vote and your right to work here in the state," he said.

Gun Control

When discussing the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, in which 17 people were killed, DeSantis said working with law enforcement to identify individuals unfit to own firearms would be more effective than "blanket bans" on weapon purchases.

"That is what I will do focus on these people and make sure that they're off the streets," he said. "The problem that I saw with Parkland was a failure at multiple levels of government, at the local level at the federal level with the FBI."

He also said Gillum was one of the "most hostile" candidate toward Second Amendment rights and suggested Gillum would engage in firearm confiscations.

"He will not protect your rights. I'll stand with law abiding citizens, but public safety is No. 1," he said.

Gillum said he would push for even stronger gun restrictions than those presented by Congress.

"When we win this race it'll be simple -- it's not a threat to the Second Amendment -- if you want to own the power of God at your waist belt you oughta have a background check. If you're a domestic abuser, convicted, you shouldn't have a gun that you could snuff out the lives of your loved ones," Gillum said. "When our parents drop our kids off at school, we should have an expectation that we're able to pick them up alive."

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