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The complete transcript

Jeb Bush vs. Buddy MacKay

    Gubernatorial Debate October 20, 1998 - 7:00 p.m. St. Petersburg, Florida

Realtime Captioning by AmeriCaption, Inc. Sarasota, Florida

TIM RUSSERT: Good evening from St. Petersburg Mahaffey Theater. Tonight, the Florida gubernatorial debate. Two candidates who want to lead this state into the next millennium. Republican Jeb Bush, Democrat Buddy MacKay. Tonight's debate is made possible in part by the St. Petersburg Times. Here is the executive editor, Paul Tash.

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PAUL TASH: Thanks, Tim. Four years ago the St. Petersburg Times began this series with a debate for governor. That night, Lawton Chiles was on stage. Tonight Governor Chiles joins the audience to hear the two men who want to succeed him. It's good to have you back, Governor.

The St. Pete Times is also delighted to have with us tonight America's favorite mother and former First Lady, Barbara Bush.

Indeed, the St. Pete Times is honored to welcome voters from all around our state. We hope this exchange helps you decide for yourselves who should be Florida's next governor. So with that, Tim, let's get started.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you, Paul. This is the final televised debate during the 1998 campaign and a valuable opportunity to hear what the candidates have to say about Florida's important issues. Let's bring out the candidates, Jeb Bush and Buddy MacKay.


Each of the candidates has 90 seconds for an opening statement to tell us what they hope to accomplish tonight and over the next two weeks left in this campaign. A coin toss determined Buddy MacKay will go first. Mr. MacKay.

BUDDY MACKAY: Thank you, Mr. Russert. I thank the sponsors. Welcome all of you. And thank you for tuning in tonight.

Lawton Chiles and I have fought hard to put Florida back on track, and we have been successful in a big way. We are creating more jobs than anytime in our history. Crime is down for six straight years. But now I'm in a campaign where Jeb Bush has raised millions of dollars from out-of-state interests, big oil, big tobacco, casino owners, and used it to run a barrage of negative ads distorting the truth about our record. He's running these ads because he doesn't want to talk about the real issues: his opposition to a woman's right to choose, and his voucher scheme that would undermine public education. And he doesn't want to answer serious questions about his business deals and his lack of experience.

I have been raising those questions, and I intend to keep on. The people of Florida deserve straight answers. You know, I feel like Harry Truman must have felt. He wasn't a slick media candidate bankrolled by big money. But you know what? He hung in there and he won. He won because people saw he was willing to ask the tough questions, he was willing to tell the truth, and he was willing to stand up for the little guy against the big money.

I love this state. And I trust the people of Florida. I know they will choose a governor who will stand up to the interest groups and who has got the experience to keep Florida on the right track. I look forward to the debate. Thank you.


JEB BUSH: Thank you, Tim. Good evening. I would like to thank the sponsors of this debate, the audience here tonight, and of course everybody watching television at home. Over the last years I have taken the time to listen, and I have learned. I helped set up a public school and I have seen firsthand what children can do, how they can grow when parents and teachers work together. I have listened to the men and women of law enforcement. And they have told me how we can reclaim our streets against the gangs and against the drug dealers. I've listened to many of you all here in St. Petersburg and all across this state tell me how we need to unshackle the small businesses so they can create the jobs of the future.

While Floridians are finding solutions in their communities, they think that the politicians in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. just don't get it. Think about it. All the partisan bickering. All of the negative personal attacks. The gridlock in government. Let me ask you something. Aren't you all tired of the negative attacks? Let me see a show of hands in the audience, if you want us to stay focused on the issues tonight and put the mudslinging aside. Well, I agree with you all as well. I think that you can tell how a candidate will govern by how they campaign. I truly believe that. Ours is a campaign of hope, of optimism, of positive ideas, of bringing people together in ways that haven't even been tried. I hope that you will join our campaign over the next few weeks, and I hope that you will vote for me on November 3rd. Thank you.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you Jeb Bush and Buddy MacKay. When we come back, answers to questions that may be on the minds of Florida voters right after this.


TIM RUSSERT: We are back live in St. Petersburg. In this first segment I will ask the candidates questions. They will have 90 seconds to answer. The other candidate will have 45 seconds for rebuttal. I reserve the right for follow-up questions if it is appropriate. By coin toss, Mr. MacKay gets the first question.

In order to reduce class size of our schools here in Florida, you have said you wanted to vote 40% of the state budget to education, up from 35%. And you said you can do it without tax increases or offsetting cuts in other social programs. You have had many critics about your proposal. One said that it was irresponsible and that you were not being honest with the voters. His name is Rick Dantzler, your now running mate. How can you convince Mr. Dantzler and other Floridians that you can do what you say without being irresponsible?

BUDDY MACKAY: Well, Mr. Dantzler is sitting right behind Tim Russert, and Mr. Dantzler is convinced. Let me try this so the rest of the State of Florida can understand what I'm saying. It's incredibly important that we straighten out and improve public education in the State of Florida. I propose to put the level of funding back where it was before the lottery so we can reduce class size, so we can make our schools safe again. That will require about $1.3 billion, and I propose to do that over a four-year period of time. Half of that money is available today in recurring surfaces that have not yet been budgeted. The other half I propose to get by reducing the overhead. And let me tell you what I am talking about doing. I'm talking about cutting the overhead in the State of Florida by one half of one percent per year for four years, and I'm saying I believe I can talk a Republican legislature into joining a Democratic governor in reducing the overhead in the State of Florida's government by one half of one percent for four years in order to do for schools what we did for prisons earlier in this decade.

By contrast, let me say, Mr. Russert, my opponent's proposal, my opponent's proposal is to use vouchers to take money out of public schools and put it in private schools. As governor, I would veto any such voucher plan.


JEB BUSH: Tim, over the last week, Lt. Governor MacKay and I have been together I think on now this is our fourth occasion, and he has advocated increased spending, juvenile justice programs, seniors programs, child welfare programs, early childhood development programs, and apart from that, of course, he thinks he can get to the 40% of the budget without raising taxes.

First of all, it will cost billions of dollars to lower class size where he wants to do it. And if he had this plan, why would he hold it back? Why wouldn't it be able to be implemented during the seven and a half years that he has been lieutenant governor? I just don't believe that you can have an election-year conversion like this and expect people to believe it. The Florida legislature, led by Republicans, have invested more in public education in the last three years than what the Chiles/MacKay administration has presented in the form of a budget to them. That's the way to go. Common sense. Continue to fund public education adequately, and we can get there.

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Bush, you have advocated vouchers using public money to pay for private tuition for students to leave low-performing public schools. As governor, how much would you designate for that voucher program, and would it not be better to use that money to reduce class size in public schools?

JEB BUSH: First of all, the voucher amount, Tim, would be less than what the child that is currently in the public school would be spent on. So as the child left, that voucher or scholarship amount would be less, money would stay in the public school system. My guess is that when you have chronically failing schools and there was a consequence, that parents would actually have a choice, that you would find there would be a command focus on these inner-city schools where by and large the chronic failure occurs. And if it's part of a larger strategy, of raising the bar up high and having high expectations of our children, of rewarding success, meaning that children when they have a year's worth of knowledge in a year's time, that there's improvement, that you have that part of it, that you eliminate social promotion, that you focus on discipline in the classroom, that you do what we are proposing, Frank Brogan and I, who, by the way, is by far and away the best education commissioner this state has ever had, building on the reforms he has implemented, the voucher plan will improve our public schools.

You know, in Milwaukee where the voucher plan is in existence, do you know what happened? There's been more money spent on public education in those areas. The education results are better for both the private and public schools. Competition in a modified way, in a controlled way, will improve the chance for children that aren't gaining the power of knowledge that we are leaving behind today to get that. It is a tragedy to me that we are leaving kids behind, particularly in the inner city, we are leaving them behind, and they are going to be creating tremendous demands on our juvenile justice system and social welfare system later on in life.

TIM RUSSERT: Buddy MacKay.

BUDDY MACKAY: Well, we had a plan for the past three years, and it was a bipartisan plan to help inner-city schools. It was called the critically low-performing school plan. The governor and I supported it. 158 schools were singled out designated as critically low performing and given three years to clean up their act. But they were given the resources in order to do that. And guess what. Over the course of the three years, every one of those schools got off the critically low-performing list.

I favor choice in schools, also. And you can have choice programs where you have got magnet schools, where you have unitary school systems, which is what is happening here in St. Pete, and where you have got charter schools. And I favor charter schools. But the idea that you will allow some students out of public schools with public dollars is an idea that will destroy our public schools.

TIM RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue of abortion. Mr. MacKay, you raised it earlier in your presentation. Why do you support partial birth abortion when the American Medical Association says it's bad medicine and not necessary? And what's wrong with notifying the parents of a young teenage girl about her receiving an abortion?

BUDDY MACKAY: Well, I don't support partial birth abortion. The governor and I vetoed a bill which provided for -- which prohibited partial birth abortion, but the veto was because there was no exception at all for situations where the life and the health of the mother were at stake.

So make it clear. I do not support partial birth abortion. But I would insist on those conditions. Now, the question of notifying parents of a minor, the Florida Supreme Court has already set the rules. If the Constitution of the State of Florida is amended to take care of the right of privacy, which is very significant in the State of Florida, that's a different issue. But that issue has not been presented to the governor's office in a way thus far that's been constitutional. I see no problem with notification of the parents of a minor, provided that when the parents of the minor are the problem themselves, when the parent is himself the problem, there has got to be some way that there can be a stand-in friend of the court, as it were, to stand in to give the permission in lieu of the parent.


JEB BUSH: I think the lieutenant governor's position on these questions is out of the mainstream of Florida thought. Lt. Governor, partial birth abortion, the bill did allow for when the life of the mother was in danger, not health, because the health, as you know by Supreme Court rulings, opens up to all sorts of reasons why a woman would be able to use this horrific procedure. I would have signed that bill. It is not unconstitutional to suggest that a parent be notified of their 13-year-old daughter's having an abortion. It is, I think, appropriate for parents to be actively involved in something that sensitive. And then during the course of the campaign, now, you have advocated increasing Medicaid funding for abortions, putting us on a list of one of the fewest states -- at least I read it in the paper now -- is that incorrect? If it is, I'm happy to hear it. Do you want to change your position?

BUDDY MACKAY: My position on that is I support the existing law of the State of Florida which is that Medicaid funding should be available where the life, health of the mother is at stake, or where rape and incest --

JEB BUSH: So maybe you and I have something in common, a newspaper article where something was not quite reported accurately. (Laughter and applause)

BUDDY MACKAY: Mr. Bush, I'm mighty sympathetic.

TIM RUSSERT: Let me pose the next question to Mr. Bush. Do you believe life begins at conception? And would you therefore support a federal constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade and outlaw all abortion?

JEB BUSH: I do believe that life begins at conception. My moral architecture, my faith, makes me believe that. This is with a lot of prayer, and a lot of consultation with people that I respect. I do believe that life begins at conception.

I do not believe that the question of abortion will be solved until there is a broad consensus on this subject. And until that time, it is inappropriate to be advocating constitutional amendments.

This is a typical wedge issue that politicians use today to strike fear, that somehow people's rights are going to be taken away. Lieutenant Governor MacKay is absolutely right. Our Constitution is actually stronger than the United States Constitution about the right to privacy. The right for a woman to have an abortion, no matter what my view is, is going to be there. And I think we ought to get to the issues where governors actually have a role to play. How do we fund education and reform them? How do we improve our child welfare system? How do we fight against the epidemic of drugs in our community?

So I will not be leading a charge to overturn the Constitution on this issue, but I hope in a thoughtful, loving way that we can have a discussion about the sanctity of life, not just the rights of unborn babies and life that is created at conception, but also our elders. Perhaps the biggest challenge, Tim, we are going to face over the next decade of time is how do we deal with the questions of the end of life? And how do we deal with the developmentally disabled in our state where the federal courts are about ready to take over our program because we have inadequately funded it? There's much to discuss about life, and I think that we can create a broad consensus on it.


BUDDY MACKAY: Well, Mr. Russert, that question poses the issue very clearly. I am pro choice, and Jeb Bush is not. The legislature is Republican, and there is going to be bill after bill after bill sent to the governor's office, and I'll veto any limitation on a woman's right to choose beyond what the law is today, and Mr. Bush will not. And the people of Florida need to be sure that they understand that distinction between us.

There is a lot more to life than this whole question. And in my opinion, the State of Florida has got it right in terms of our law on abortion today. Not everybody is satisfied with that. But it seems to me this is the course of wisdom. Now, the question that has further got to be asked is what are we doing about seniors? And I have to say, we have got about the finest program in America for senior citizens.

TIM RUSSERT: The next question is for Mr. MacKay. You have been quite critical of Jeb Bush, accusing him of sweetheart deals, trading in on his family name. Why are you making that such a central part of your campaign? And could you also address whether or not there is any inappropriateness in you receiving 13,000 shares from your brother in 1995, within 21 months making a $500,000 profit while he was an insider to a telecommunications company?

BUDDY MACKAY: I'll address the second question first. My brother is sitting in the audience. My brother gave a gift of stock in a new company to me. He gave a gift to his other brother and sister, to his children and to his church. And he said some day this may be worth something. It turned out we were fortunate and it was. He was not an insider in that company at the time that it went public. And that's all there is to that story.

I'm raising questions about Jeb Bush's background because he has no other background than his business background. And I'm saying, Hey, if you are holding that up as your qualification for governor, there are a lot of stories there that raise more questions than they answer. In the Nigerian water pump deal, where Jeb Bush made $640,000, water pumps were sold to a country that had terrible credit; the pump sale was guaranteed by the taxpayers of the U.S. government. It now looks like we are going to pick up the tab. It looks like Jeb made the money and we are picking up the tab. I think since he has said he had nothing do with that, and yet he was one of the owners of the company, he ought to have to explain how that could be.

I think on the Ideon case where he was on the board of directors of the company, paid $50,000 a year as a member of the board, and the company went in the tank because of mismanagement, there was a lawsuit, $18 million were paid, I think Jeb ought to have to explain his role in that. And I don't think he ought to be able to say to the people of Florida, "You either trust me or you don't."


JEB BUSH: Frank Brogan and I talked about this, and we are going to set up a charter school for people that distort the facts when they run for office, and we are going to give Buddy MacKay the first voucher. (Cheers and applause.) And not one penny will be lost to the public education system if we do that, I promise you.

Look, all of these issues -- I'm happy that the MacKay family made a half million bucks on a good investment by his brother. I don't see anything wrong with that. I applaud you for doing that. I mean, there's questions that could have been arisen. I could have used easily -- you know this -- I could have easily used this in some kind of attack TV ad, could have distorted it and made it appear like, you know, you did something wrong. I don't believe you did. But I didn't do anything wrong either. That's the amazing part of this. Somehow you don't quite understand the symmetry of this.

The XM bank, President Clinton's XM bank, gave the credit. President Clinton's XM bank. Not George Bush's XM bank. And I didn't make a penny off of it because the XM bank was actively involved. And that money will be repaid by the Nigerian government. This is a company that has made pumps for three generations, a small business, manufactures pumps in Deerfield Beach. There's some 200 employees, 250 employees, that depend on their continued success. They have done well without my involvement. They have done well prior to that. They did well when I was there as I helped them expand their markets overseas. I'm proud of what I have done in my business. And the press has looked at all this stuff, Tim, and found no wrongdoing.

TIM RUSSERT: We have to take a quick break and be right back with information you can use when you vote for governor on November 3rd.


TIM RUSSERT: Welcome back. We are live in St. Petersburg with Jeb Bush and Buddy MacKay. The next question is for Mr. Bush.

Another issue that will come to your desk if you are elected governor, Mr. Bush, Governor Chiles vetoed a bill which would have allowed school-led prayer at graduations, sporting events, and school assemblies. Would you sign such legislation?

JEB BUSH: I would be much more engaged in the process early on to ensure that it wouldn't be coercive. The bill that the governor vetoed several years ago, I probably wouldn't have signed. I don't know because I didn't go through the whole process. I didn't read the debate. Lieutenant Governor MacKay's running mate, for example, a man who I enormously respect, a fine guy, voted for that bill. People can differ on these things. But let me tell you what a bill in the future should look like. It should be in extracurricular activities. It should not be part of the mainstream of the schools. It should not be coercive where people feel isolated and left out. It should be non-sectarian prayer, and it should be wholesome. It should be something that people recognize. It's awesome power. Prayer is something we shouldn't be throwing into the political realm. It's something that we should be totally respectful for.

So I would be deliberative in my approach to this, and I would work with the legislature to make sure that all people were included. Where people of minority faiths may feel that they felt isolated, I wouldn't allow it to happen. I would not support that bill. I would veto it.

TIM RUSSERT: Buddy MacKay.

BUDDY MACKAY: Well, this is the closest we have come to an answer yet. This is the fourth debate, and it sounded to me like in the first part you said would you support it, and at the last part you said would you veto it.

JEB BUSH: I didn't say that.

BUDDY MACKAY: All right. Let me just say this. If the bill that came on Lawton Chiles' desk three years ago comes back, which it will because the same Republican legislature will put it back again, will you sign that bill or will you veto it?

JEB BUSH: You see, I would have worked with the legislature earlier, because I have a relationship with them. See, your problem, Lt. Governor MacKay, is that you're left out. You're not part of that process up in Tallahassee. I would have a relationship with these guys and build the best possible bill.

BUDDY MACKAY: And that's the scariest thing you have said all night, because the job of the governor is to be the check and balance against the legislature.

JEB BUSH: And if it was coercive, as I said, I would veto it.

BUDDY MACKAY: Government-mandated prayer by its nature is coercive. I am opposed to government-mandated prayer. I favor prayer in the school, private, silent prayer in the school. I do not favor prayer where a student will be coerced. And you have basically said "I would under certain circumstances sign a bill with government-mandated prayer in the school."

JEB BUSH: For extracurricular activities.

BUDDY MACKAY: Well, so --

TIM RUSSERT: To just be clear, Mr. Bush, the bill that Governor Chiles vetoed, you would also veto because you thought that was coercive?

JEB BUSH: Yes. But I would have worked with them to try to create a broader consensus. So, for example, the Jewish legislators, all of whom voted against this bill, if you can get a situation where all of one faith votes against it, because they are scare of the coercive power, that sends a pretty strong signal. And I would have worked with them early enough to see if there was the possibility of a consensus. If there wasn't, I would have vetoed the bill. I don't know how I can get any clearer than that.

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. MacKay, the next question is for you. When Lawton Chiles was elected last term as governor, more than 90% of African-Americans living in Florida voted for him. Your campaign has not met with the same kind of response from the black community. Why?

BUDDY MACKAY: We had a problem in the earlier part of this year in the House Democratic caucus. It has caused a re-thinking within the Democratic party of our relationship. We are now back strong in a relationship with the black caucus in Florida and with the African-American community in Florida. Our party is coming together with great energy and great strength. And the reason is that we stand for the issues that concern black legislators and concern their constituents. We stand for jobs in inner-city neighborhoods. We stand for inner-city schools, not vouchers. We stand for getting guns out of the hands of criminals. In the inner cities, they have bigger fear than they have in other places on that issue.

We are the party that stands for affirmative action for fairness, for nondiscrimination. Mr. Bush, on the other hand, in 1994, was asked by an African-American, "What will you do for our community?" And his answer was, "Not much." And I want you to understand, if you want to know where a Jeb-come-lately is, it's Jeb-come-lately to be a supporter of the African-American community.

African-Americans in Florida are sophisticated enough to understand what's going on. This is coming back together very quickly. I will do well in the African-American community. I have the support of our entire African-American congressional delegation and a majority of the black caucus, and a great majority of the grass roots African-American leadership in Florida.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you, Mr. MacKay. Mr. Bush, I ask you to respond. And in your response, if you could also allude to a comment by State Rep Willey Logan who endorsed your candidacy saying: "Over the last four years I have seen a lot of moderation in Jeb Bush's views."

JEB BUSH: Well, here's the deal, Tim. Republicans have ignored the black vote in this state. And I was part of that. And it was a mistake. It was an incredible mistake. And I have seen it time and time again. It was wrong for to us do that.

Democrats have ignored the black vote. They have taken it for granted. And that vicious cycle has kept a large segment of our population totally out of the mainstream of political thought. And if we are going to improve our public schools, if we are going to lessen the crime that is still so pervasive in our state, in we are going to create economic opportunity for everybody, everybody has to be included.

So I wanted to break that cycle by campaigning aggressively in the black community. And during that process, before I was a candidate, through the creation of a Liberty City charter school and being involved in inner-city activities, I have learned a lot, and I have grown through that process, and I think Representative Logan may have hit on something. And I'm going to do pretty well in the black community because of that.

I'm proud that Representative Rudy Bradley, Senator Jim Hargrett, who is in the crowd here tonight, have endorsed me and many other people, because they see what can happen if we come together, put aside the party labels and focus on the things we have in common.

TIM RUSSERT: The next question is for Mr. Bush. It involves gun control, another important issue here in Florida. There's a constitutional amendment that says guns purchased at gun shows or flea markets would now also have to have a waiting period. You have said you oppose that constitutional amendment but prefer to let the state legislature deal with the issue. Critics said the state's legislature would never approve such an issue, so you are taking a pass on the issue.

JEB BUSH: Well, the critics, I think, are probably wrong on that. But first let me say what the referendum says. The referendum gives counties, all 67 counties, the chance to create whatever strategies they want about instant background checks, as well as waiting periods. And they put some constraints on that. But it's a county-by-county option. The possibility is that we will have 67 different gun loophole problems. I believe the way to solve this is to have a simple bill, which hasn't been tried in the legislature. The other gun control measures have been so broad that they have included many other things that have taken away people's constitutional rights, people that haven't broken the rules of the game, of society, taking their rights away. A simple rule would simply say that anybody that buys a gun at a gun show should get an instant background check. And so you will take out the criminals, which is what the objective of this should be. And the second thing we ought to do costs eight bucks, no one's rights are being taken away. The legislature has -- I have talked to the leaders. They will support that.

The second thing we ought to do is punish people who commit crimes with guns. It's kind of an old-fashioned idea. But the more you do it, the more people don't commit crimes with guns. In California, they have a plan called 10-20-Life that I will fight to pass through the Florida legislature which says that ten years minimum mandatory sentence, if you commit a violent crime with a gun; 20 years if you use the gun in the commission of that violent crime; and 25 to life if you hurt somebody. There's been a 60% reduction in violent crime in California in the major cities in the first six or seven months because of that. That is a far better, more thoughtful approach to deal with gun violence in our streets.

TIM RUSSERT: Buddy MacKay.

BUDDY MACKAY: Well, as a matter of fact, in the last legislative session, there was legislation introduced by Representative Les Miller whose son had been shot in a random violence type shooting. It was a legislation that would have provided for closing the gun show loophole on a statewide basis. Jeb Bush was known as the shadow governor in the last legislative session. That bill never got out of committee. Why do you think this is in the constitutional amendment process? It's because the gun lobbyists have controlled the Florida legislature, and no one has been able to deal with this issue. I support the gun show loop hole amendment. I think that counties ought to be able to make their own decisions. And I believe that anybody that says I'm taking it back to the legislature is copping out.

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. MacKay and Mr. Bush will be right back. When we come back, questions directly from the voters in Florida.


TIM RUSSERT: We are back in St. Petersburg, the final gubernatorial debate in the Florida election. Jeb Bush and Buddy MacKay will now take questions directly from the voters of Florida. They will have one minute to respond. Our first question.

RUSSELL ALLEN: Good evening. We are Russell and Andrea Allen from St. Petersburg.

ANDREA ALLEN: Good evening. Our question to the candidates deals with education. Whatever you think about vouchers, how can we broaden choices parents have about which public schools they send their children to?


BUDDY MACKAY: Well, St. Petersburg is working on a choice plan where parents will have a cluster of schools within their region of the county. And they will have a choice of what school they want to send their child to. It will be done, in effect, by a lottery drawing. But that is one way you can do it. You can do it with magnet schools. You can do it with charter schools. In fact, there are a lot of ways you can give people a choice of schools without vouchers. I think it's very important that we experiment with that. I don't disagree with the idea. The choice in competition helps clean things up.

All I'm saying is when you have a school in trouble, the answer is not to stigmatize that school and to give resources to the school that is making the "A" or the school that's not in trouble. The answer is to hold that school accountable, but to put the resources and the support there, which we have done with the critically low-performing school program so that that school can succeed. How can you straighten up an inner city neighborhood if you allow their schools to fail? That's all I'm saying. This is all part of a bigger picture. You have got to give those choices in the inner city.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you, Mr. MacKay. Mr. Bush.

JEB BUSH: I set up an independent public school, a charter school, in Liberty City, with the Urban League of Greater Miami, and in that school, people, parents, chose to send their children to that school, 180 kids, all African-American are going to that school today. The focus is on parental involvement, character development. We have 20 kids per class, although we get less money than the traditional public schools. We can do this because we are freed from the mind-boggling rules and regulations that have been imposed by the Florida legislature and by people in Tallahassee and by school boards on schools.

I don't think we ought to be busing people all over the place to provide choices. We could provide choices closer to their own neighborhoods and give them much more say and how they are involved in their children's education. And by a vibrant education system would give options for magnet schools, for traditional public schools, charter schools. And when we have chronic failure, when we fail and fail and fail again, we ought to trust parents to make choices for their parents, and that's why my modified scholarship plan or voucher plan, I think, would improve all schools.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you, Mr. Bush. Next question, I believe, is from Ken Dowling of Tampa.

KEN DOWLING: Good evening, gentlemen. I'm Ken Dowling of Tampa, Florida. My question is in regards to Florida's recent award in the tobacco lawsuit. If you had complete control of the money, on which aspect of the budget would you predominantly focus on?

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Bush first.

JEB BUSH: Well, I applaud what Governor Chiles has done as it relates to the expansion of child insurance programs. Commissioner Gallagher's plan was the initial part of this, and it's now been expanded with broad support among Republicans and Democrats, and we will continue to do that. But there's more to this as well. We ought to be looking at the impact of tobacco. What group is the one that is hurt most? In my opinion it's the elders. The elders are the ones where the chronic health care costs because of smoking, and I think it is appropriate that we spend more money to provide more choices, get rid of the waiting lists that occurs right now for community-based care for the elders.

One thing is for certain. Ten years from now, everybody here, if we are up and taking nourishment, we are all going to be older, aren't we? We are all going to be requiring different kinds of government services. And it's appropriate to use some of that money to begin to prepare for the new Florida. We want people to be healthy and have the adequate choices that will allow them to make choices for themselves as they age in place.


BUDDY MACKAY: Well, the first thing that needs to be said is they wouldn't have any of that money if it had been up to Jeb Bush because he spent two years touring this state arguing that it was immoral to sue the tobacco industry.

Now that we do have the money, I agree that there has to be part of it set aside to deal with the problems that our elders have. Many of whom have been ravaged by smoking over the years. But that is one of the sources of dollars that I would use to reduce class size. I would use $300 million a year out of that $13 billion which is going to come to the State of Florida over the next 20 years. I would use $300 million a year of that toward reducing class size and making our education system work better for all of Florida's children.

TIM RUSSERT: The next question is from Jay Magner of Tampa.

JAY MAGNER: Hello. I am Jay Magner from Tampa. Everyone is always asking politicians what they are going to do for this group or that group. I believe our country was built on the principle of personal responsibility. What specific policies will you initiate that will ensure that citizens take responsibility for themselves?

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. MacKay is first.

BUDDY MACKAY: Governor Chiles and I initiated one of the first welfare reform pilot projects in America. It was highly successful. It has led to the program that is known in Florida as the WAGES program. And what that program does is it gets people off of welfare and back to work. Florida has now reduced our welfare roles by 50%. Among the major states, we are leading in the success of that program.

What I will do is continue that effort, putting pressure on people who are on welfare, if they are able-bodied, to get work, but also be compassionate and helping them with their daycare problems, with their transportation problems and their health care problems. I think that's got to do with personal responsibility. And I think when other people see that, other people are less likely themselves to consider welfare. And I think that's the first step toward a much healthier and a much more accountable America.


JEB BUSH: First of all, it's pretty hard to be personally responsible when the first thing you do in January is to start to work for government until May. 40% of the median family in this state goes to government at all levels.

We are putting so many burdens on people that no wonder it is hard for them to be responsible for their own actions. I think first and foremost we need to limit government. We need to make sure that there is reasonable regulatory reform so people can pursue their dreams freely.

We have a system in our state which is very troubling. We have a child support system where computers don't talk to each other. You know, all of this government experience bothers me a little bit when we can't figure out how to have the Department of Children and Families talk to the Department of Revenue. 1.2 million children are expecting child support and they don't get it. We ought to make sure that fathers are responsible for their actions as well. We should have a responsibility agenda all across every government service to ensure that we protect our freedoms.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you, Mr. Bush. Emily Green has the next question.

EMILY GREEN: Hi. Good evening. My name is Emily Green. I'm a student from the University of South Florida. I would like to ask both candidates, what is your position on the death penalty for convicted murderers?


JEB BUSH: Emily, I'm supportive of the death penalty. It is used in rare cases. We have about a thousand murders, a little bit less than that now, and only 30 are considered egregious enough to be capital punishment, and many of those are overturned, and we have two or three executions a year. I think that we can reform the system in a thoughtful way so that it could be used as a deterrent. But I do support the death penalty. I think it is appropriate to use it. And there's a constitutional amendment this year that will allow for us to have the flexibility, should the courts call -- if the current means of execution is considered unconstitutional, that in place we will have a means to continue that, and I would support that as well.


BUDDY MACKAY: Emily, I also support the death penalty. I have been part of the Chiles/MacKay administration for the past eight years. There have been more people executed during this administration than any time in the history of Florida. That is not something I say with great pride. But it is something I say to make it clear that Governor Chiles and I have been carrying out the law as the law is written.

One needs to be very careful with this awesome responsibility and make sure that everything has been done to be sure there has been no miscarriage of justice, and if there is any doubt, one needs to take the extra time to eliminate that doubt.

The system can be made to work more effectively, and it can be a bigger deterrent than it is by making it more rapid subject to the rights of the criminal always. If there is a question of a miscarriage of justice, to go back and eliminate that doubt. I support the death penalty. You can count on me to continue that support.

TIM RUSSERT: Before we take a break, we have one last question. Florida, as you know, is the fourth largest state in the nation. People look to the governor of Florida for leadership. Each candidate will have one minute.

Mr. MacKay, how should Floridians look at the current situation involving President Clinton? And should he remain in office?

BUDDY MACKAY: What President Clinton did in his personal life was wrong. I don't condone it. It's a bad example for our young people. On the other hand, he has been a good president. He's been a good friend of the State of Florida. He is even to this last week doing a good job for the people of America. The idea that we would get 100,000 new school teachers to help us with the classroom overcrowding came about because of Bill Clinton and the class that he has.

I believe that Congress ought to do its duty. They are now in the middle of an impeachment process. They ought to go forward with it with a minimum of politics and a maximum of doing their job. This country will be better off if that decision is made as quickly as possible so that we can go back, all of us, all of us go back to paying attention to the real problems facing this country.


JEB BUSH: I support the Congress, the congressional action to begin the impeachment process. It is more than appropriate when the president betrayed the trust of the American people as he has. But it should be done with sobriety and with thoughtfulness and without the politics, and it ought to be doing in Washington, D.C.

My mom put it best when she said that what goes on in your house matters a lot more than what goes on in the White House. The problem with this is that we used to look up to the White House and say, This is how it should be when we try to live our own lives better. And that's the troubling part, is that the White House today is no longer a place, a symbol of righteousness, a symbol of something good. And we have to restore it one way or another so we can live better in our own lives.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you, Jeb Bush and Buddy MacKay. When we come back, closing statements from both the candidates.


TIM RUSSERT: We are back live at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. Before we hear from the candidates, we want to say we hope we did our best in asking the questions that will help you make a choice, who will be the next governor of Florida. Now it's up to you to do your job and vote on November 3rd.

We now have closing statements from both the candidates. By a flip of the coin, it was determined that Buddy MacKay will go first followed by Jeb Bush. Each has 90 seconds to close. Mr. MacKay.

BUDDY MACKAY: Thank you for staying tuned in. Thank the sponsors and the audience tonight. I think you have seen that we have a clear choice. Florida in the 1990s is a real success story. We have created more jobs than anytime in the history of this state. We have reduced crime six years in a row.

I have been a partner in the leadership team that has accomplished this. The choice in two weeks for the state of Florida is who can best build on this success? I have lived here all my life. I know how to keep Florida moving ahead. The way to do it is to focus on strengthening Florida's families, not the rich and powerful but the regular everyday working families of the state of Florida. That's who's holding the jobs. That's who's paying the taxes. That's who's holding our communities together. If they succeed, the state of Florida succeeds. And I know what their concerns are. They are concerned about good jobs and good pay. They are concerned about safe schools, schools that aren't overcrowded, and schools that will give their kids a good education.

They are concerned about keeping their families safe from crime and drugs, quality health care, and a strong environmental protection program. And they are concerned about keeping government out of their personal choices. The issue that connects the dots for the state of Florida is education. As governor, I commit to restore the quality of our public schools, and I'll do it without raising taxes. And as governor I'll veto any voucher plan that takes money out of our public schools.

Florida needs a governor with proven experience to stand up to the special interests, whether it's big casinos, big tobacco or big oil. We need a check and balance to stop the legislature from going too far. With your help I'll be that governor for Florida's families, for our kids, for our seniors, and for our future. Thank you very much.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you, Mr. MacKay. Now the closing statement from Jeb Bush.

JEB BUSH: Thank you, Tim. I really appreciate all of you watching on television, and you all that were here in the audience as well. It's been a great debate.

About three years ago, I had the opportunity to meet a young man named David Levitt, who is in the audience here tonight. David, at the age of eleven, decided that he wanted to find a way to get the surplus food of his middle school given to the Tampa Bay Harvest where he was a volunteer. He went to the principal of the school. The principal gave him all sorts of reasons why it couldn't happen, because we have a school system burdened down with so many rules. But David asked the "why not" question. You all know what that is, don't you? Why not? When it's a good idea, why don't we try it? Why don't we keep persisting until it happens? And he did that for two years. He kept asking a "why not" question with perseverance. And then it happened. The Pinellas County School Board now allows all of the surplus food of their schools to go to the Tampa Bay Harvest.

My question for you tonight is, I wonder what it would be like if a governor asked the "why not" question. Don't you think we could get better schools? Don't you think that we could improve our child welfare system instead of abandoning and neglecting children in record numbers? Don't you believe our streets could be made safer and there could be economic opportunity for all? I believe so. But it will require a new style of leadership, a leadership that's based on listening first, and then creating a shared vision where everybody is included. And then with energy and passion to serve others, build the new Florida so that we can reach our potential as we move into the 21st century.

I ask for your vote on November 3rd. And should I be privileged to serve you as your next governor, I ask for your continued involvement to make it happen. Thank you very much.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you Jeb Bush. Thank you Buddy MacKay. And, once again, two weeks from tonight, the people of Florida will decide who will be the next governor. Vote on November 3rd. Good night from St. Petersburg, Florida.

Realtime Captioning by AmeriCaption, Inc. Sarasota, Florida


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