Democratic candidates spar in live debate
Democrats Jim Davis, a congressman from Tampa, and Rod Smith, a state senator from Alachua, faced off in a live debate Saturday night. The primary election is scheduled for Sept. 5, with the general election Nov. 7.
By ALEX LEARY and JENNIFER LIBERTO
Published July 22, 2006
FORT LAUDERDALE — After months of waiting and increasing tension between their campaigns, Democratic candidates for governor Jim Davis and Rod Smith met in a first televised debate Saturday night, offering differences — mostly subtle — on education, property insurance and health care.
“Both of these men are ready to lead Florida in a better direction,” Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Thurman said at the outset of the hourlong debate, shown live on Bay News 9 and cable on demand. “And while there may be differences in how they approach the issues, they share our party’s vision for a better Florida.”
But Smith and Davis did clash over property insurance and cleanup of the Everglades.
Davis accused his opponent of voting for a bill he says hurt consumers stung by hurricanes and for weak Everglades pollution standards.
Smith said Davis’ ideas would only drive up insurance rates and he scoffed at Davis and other “Washington politicians” for inadequate funding for the Everglades.
Supporters of both candidates promised a sure victory, and claimed as much afterward, but no clear winner emerged and the men hewed closely to their rehearsed stump speeches — right down to the laugh lines.
Moderator Troy Kinsey first asked how they would deal with teacher pay. Davis, a congressman from Tampa, said he would take money the state uses to reward top performing schools and provide teachers with an average $4,000 increase next year.
Smith’s plan would be more gradual and calls for reinstating the intangibles tax that the Republican-controlled Legislature repealed during the 2006 session.
“We’ve had the money,” said Smith, a state senator from Alachua. “What we’ve lacked is the political will.”
Another difference arose in their plans to deal with the state’s property insurance problems, brought on by a slew of hurricanes in recent years.
Davis said Smith and others created a “loophole” in state law that allows wind and flood insurers to blame each to the detriment of homeowners. “We are one storm away from an economic disaster,” Davis said.
“There’s not a loophole. … there never was,” Smith shot back.
He said marrying the wind and flood coverage again would only increase rates.
As Smith set out on a bus tour across the state this week, Davis launched a series of attacks on his environmental record, including calling into question a vote, he said, weakening pollution standards for the Everglades.
“Your opponent says that’s not true. Who is right?” Kinsey asked.
Smith turned the attention to Davis, saying Congress has not done its part to fund the cleanup.
Asked what he could do to encourage more 20 and 30 year olds to vote, Davis said the state could do more to help people buy homes and offset high college costs. In doing so, he turned yet again to an attack on the Legislature.
Smith, taking the same question, said “We’ve got to make sure we give our young people and students a reason to believe they are the part of the system.” He said the state should also de-emphasize the FCAT.
The rivals arrived at the Broward Convention Center shortly after 6 p.m. to the boisterous applause of their supporters. On the second floor of a convention center, the Broward Boys & Girls Club drumline thumped for Davis. “When I say Jim, you say Davis,” a young man shouted into a bullhorn.
Davis, was accompanied by U.S Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar. “We’re ready for the rumble in the jungle,” Hastings shouted. Turning to Davis, he said, “As we say in the vernacular, “He the man.”
About the same time, Smith’s “Straight Talk” tour bus pulled up. The state senator gave a thumbs up and headed upstairs with several dozen supporters in tow, chanting “Rod. Rod. Rod.”
The primary election is scheduled for Sept. 5, with the general election Nov. 7.