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Debate transcript: Graham vs. Crist

Graham Crist
Sen Bob Graham on taxes: "We don't want (a flat tax) that would say all our charitable givings... would no longer be deducted... What Americans want is a simplified system." [Times photo: Cherie Diez] Charlie Crist on taxes: "What I propose... is to abolish the IRS as we know it. I have traveled the state for almost 2 1/2 years now. The people of Florida are sick and tired of the IRS... It has got to stop." [Times photo: Bill Serne]

Monday, October 19, 1998 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Transcript by Realtime Captioning by AmeriCaption, Inc.


TIM RUSSERT: Good evening from St. Petersburg Mahaffey Theater. Tonight the debate for the Florida seat in the United States Senate. Two candidates who want to represent this important state in our nation's capital: Republican Charlie Crist; Democratic incumbent Bob Graham. Tonight's debate is made possible in part by the St. Petersburg Times. Here is the Executive Editor of the Times, Paul Tash.

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PAUL TASH: Thanks, Tim. This is getting to be a habit for the St. Petersburg Times. We have presented debates for state and national office in the last three elections. It's another way to help voters make informed choices about the candidates. The St. Pete Times is delighted to extend that series tonight and tomorrow night. The Times offers a particular welcome to viewers from beyond our home base in the Tampa Bay area. We appreciate the support of our partner, Florida NBC, and, Tim, it's especially nice to have you back in Florida since you helped to start this series four years ago.

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. Now let's bring out the candidates: Charlie Crist and Senator Bob Graham. (Applause)

Welcome both. Each of the candidates have 90 seconds for an opening statement to tell us what they hope to accomplish tonight, over the next two weeks left in this campaign. A coin toss determines Senator Bob Graham will go first. Senator.

BOB GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Russert. And good evening. We are here this evening to talk about our positions on issues that will be important to Florida and America. But you need to know more than just where we stand. You need to know who we are. You need to know who will bring the combination of experience, judgment, vision to help lead Florida and America into a new century. So let me tell you who I am.

Over 100 years ago, my mother's parents settled in north Florida. Dad came to south Florida in 1920. I grew up on our farm. From them I learned values -- values of honesty, hard work, respect for others, and a deep pride in our Florida heritage. Those values have been strengthened by my family. Forty years of loving marriage to Adele, our four beautiful daughters, and now nine wonderful grandchildren. Those values I have found to be the same values as Floridians. I have worked on 340 work days side by side with the people of Florida. They share those values, values that I have honored in service as a state legislator, as governor, and in the United States Senate.

Again, Mr. Russert, thank you. Thank you to the St. Petersburg Times, to Florida NBC, to Mr. Crist, to my friends who are here in the audience, and especially to those of you who have invited us into your homes to give us this opportunity to discuss our views of Florida's future.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you, Senator Graham. Charlie Crist.

CHARLIE CRIST: Thank you. My name is Charlie Crist, and I'm running for the United States Senate because I think we need a change in Washington. But before I talk about the issues, I want to welcome you to my hometown. Senator Graham, Mr. Russert, it's a pleasure to have you here. This debate is being held in my hometown.

I have served in the state Senate for the past six years and I have dedicated my time in public service to trying to make Florida a better place to live, to improve the quality of life that we enjoy that I believe should be second to none. That's why I have always fought off-shore oil drilling. That's also why I fought to keep orimulsion from being brought into Florida by Florida Power & Light. It's also why I have sponsored the net ban to try to save our sea life for future generations, to make Florida the beautiful place that she should always be.

I have always enjoyed Florida water sports, hunting and fishing here in this state. It's a great place to do that. I believe that we need to protect our wetlands and the great Everglades that we enjoy as a national treasure in south Florida.

I believe in less government and more freedom. I think it's awfully important that we understand that you work very hard for your tax dollars and that we ought to spend them very wisely and not tax you any more than necessary. I have guarded against increased taxes during my six years in Tallahassee. I would like to guard against that in Washington, too. I am most proud of my sponsorship of the stock bill, to keep criminals locked up at least 85% of their sentences to make Florida a safer place to live, safer for our seniors, our children, and our families.

Thank you for listening. I look forward to the debate.

TIM RUSSERT: Charlie Crist, Senator Graham, thank you both. And when we come back, answers to questions that are on the minds of Florida voters.

(Break)

TIM RUSSERT: We are back live in St. Petersburg. In this first segment, I will ask each of the candidates questions. They will have 90 seconds to answer. The other candidate will then have 45 seconds for rebuttal. I reserve the right as moderator for follow-up questions, if appropriate. Senator Graham, the first question.

As you know, current projections are Medicare will run out of money by the year 2008. Over the next few decades the number of Americans on Medicare will increase from 40 million to 60 million. What changes must be made in Medicare to guarantee that program's survival?

BOB GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Russert. The first thing we have got to do is cut out the fraud and abuse which is ripping off more than 10%, in some places in Florida up to 20% of our Medicare funds. I'm pleased that I have worked hard to strengthen the laws against fraud, against Medicare, and now the enforcement of those laws. We also need to change Medicare from being a program that only intervenes after you're sick to one that has the goal of maintaining the highest level of wellness. I am proud that I sponsored provisions such as those that made mammographies available, prostate testing, osteoporosis, other important diseases which, if identified early, can be arrested; if not, will lead to fatal consequences.

I believe that we also need to avoid repealing some of those important sources of revenue which have allowed Medicare to be strengthened in recent years. Mr. Crist has suggested that one of the important components of the financing of Medicare should be repealed. If he proposes to do so, I think it's his responsibility to suggest how we are going to replace those funds. Medicare also needs to be looking to the future, which is a future fortunately in which our older Americans will live longer, will have greater needs for prescription medication and long-term care. Those are some of the key reforms that we need to make for American Medicare.

CHARLIE CRIST: I believe that Medicare is a sacred contract that we have with our senior citizens, and I will pledge to always try to protect Medicare as well as Social Security going into the future. My opponent, Senator Graham, felt that one of the ways to try to improve and make Medicare last longer was to raise the age of eligibility of those for Medicare as well as the premium costs for Medicare. I don't think that's the right approach. I don't think that what we should be doing is going after the very seniors that that program is supposed to benefit in order to save it. That just seems like the wrong way to go. And it seems to me what we ought to do instead is prioritize, make sure that we protect and preserve Medicare as well as Social Security by prioritizing those programs so that our seniors can always count on them.

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Crist, I want to stay on Medicare because it's such an important issue to Florida and to this country. The people of Florida heard you say, "I will not vote to reduce benefits, raise premiums or raise the age of eligibility for Medicare." If in fact the number of people on the system will go from 40 million to 60 million and you're not going to change the program, what other programs would you cut, what taxes would you raise, to pay for the additional 20 million people on Medicare?

CHARLIE CRIST: Well, I wouldn't raise taxes. That's a big part of the program and one of the reasons I'm running for the U.S. Senate. I think that our citizens are taxed to death. And, in fact, they are. When you think about it, you are taxed when you make your money. You're taxed when you spend your money. And you're taxed when you save your money. And, in fact, in America we are taxed when we die. I think what we have to do is do what we have been able to do in the Florida Senate.

Awhile ago we had to build up our prison system, frankly, because my opponent didn't do so while he served as our governor. And people were skeptical. They said, you know, you are going to have to raise taxes or do something in order to be able to build up that system. Well, what we did was prioritize our spending. The people work too hard for their money for us not to do so, and by prioritizing, we made sure that we had enough money to do the first things first, and I believe that Social Security and Medicare are first. We have to make sure we take care of them, and prioritizing is the best way to do so.

TIM RUSSERT: What program would you cut?

CHARLIE CRIST: I wouldn't cut programs. I think there are two areas we can look at, however. One of the things I think we can look at is in the area of foreign aid. We spend an awful lot in other countries around the world, and one has to start to wonder what do we get as a benefit for doing so? I think we can reduce that.

In addition, I think corporate welfare is another place that we can start to reduce some of our funding. One of the things that my opponent supports is big sugar. I don't think that we ought to be subsidizing or giving a tax break to big sugar. Quite the contrary, I think we ought to be protecting the Everglades more than we are, not helping big sugar. It seems to me that we ought to be making sure we take care of our seniors before we take care of billionaire sugar barons.

TIM RUSSERT: Senator Graham, is Mr. Crist correct that you can absorb 20 million more people in Medicare with the current premiums, the current payments, without raising taxes? Or where would you cut other programs?

BOB GRAHAM: Mr. Russert, what Mr. Crist has just said is that he will save Medicare by cutting services. With 20 million more people coming into the program, between now and the year 2020, with the escalation in the cost of health care, if you do not look at some of the fundamental reforms such as I have suggested, cutting out the fraud and abuse, moving the program to one that will help keep people well so they will not have to access those very expensive late-in-life services, unless you are prepared to do that, the only way that you can make Medicare solvent is to cut services. That is what I have been working to avoid. I want to assure that Medicare is there for you, for your children, and your grandchildren.

TIM RUSSERT: Let me turn to Social Security. As you know, the cost of living increase was just announced for this year. It was less than 2%. Seniors now will face a 5% increase in their prescription costs. Can anything be done to help seniors offset that cost?

BOB GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Russert. Yes. One thing we can do is look at the cost of living that we are using for Medicare. We should have a cost of living for Medicare that relates to those expenses which older Americans absorb. They are a different set of costs. Particularly a higher cost in health care than is true of younger Americans. Second, we should make it easier for more Americans to access Medicare HMOs. Right now we are going in the opposite direction with many people who are already on a Medicare HMO seeing their benefits terminated. How would we do this? By passing a patient's bill of rights for health maintenance organization beneficiaries.

I have sponsored with Senators John Chafe, a Republican of Rhode Island, Joe Lieberman, a Democrat of Connecticut, a bipartisan HMO patient's bill of rights bill that will provide protections for those covered by an HMO and their Medicare, including protections against arbitrary termination of benefits, protections that will allow them to access a specialist, protections in the emergency room so that if you go to the emergency room with a pain in your left chest, and you come out with a diagnosis that you do not have a heart attack, you don't get a second heart attack by the enormous bill that you would receive later. Those are the kind of changes that I want to see to preserve Medicare for this and future generations.

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Crist.

CHARLIE CRIST: I think in order to make sure, I think the question was directed towards Social Security and how we are going to preserve that.

Senator Graham talked about the fact that I want to cut services. Quite the contrary. It is Senator Graham who in fact already has voted to cut services by raising the age of eligibility for Medicare, and also by raising the premium costs for Medicare. I don't advocate cutting services. He does. So I want to set the record straight on that first.

When it comes to Social Security, as I have stated earlier, I think it's awfully important that we be sure that it is there for our seniors in their later years. I don't think the right thing to do is to tax Social Security benefits. And, unfortunately, Senator Graham did that, too. And people were surprised when he did so. The media came to him and said, Senator, why would you tax Social Security? And his answer was interesting. He said: I think they need a cup of castor oil. I think they need a compassionate senator, and I will be that senator and fight for them always.

TIM RUSSERT: The next question is for Mr. Crist. Let me turn to the issue of taxes. Mr. Crist, you have proposed abolishing the IRS.

CHARLIE CRIST: Yes.

TIM RUSSERT: And said you would replace it with a -- (applause) -- and as you well know, the revenues from the IRS pay for the very programs we are talking about tonight. You said you would substitute for the IRS either a flat tax or a national sales tax. According to bipartisan estimates, a flat tax would have to be 21% of people's income, the national sales tax would have to be 15 or 16% on every item purchased. Is that what you propose for the people of Florida and the United States?

CHARLIE CRIST: What I propose, Mr. Russert, is to abolish the IRS as we know it. I think it's important that we recognize that the first thing that I have learned and traveled the state for almost 2.5 years now is that the citizens of the State of Florida are sick and tired of the IRS, the way that it treats them, that it's got to stop. And the only way we can do so is by proposing new ideas to do away with the IRS. And I do advocate going either to a flat tax or a national sales tax. And I have confidence in the people that they can make the decision as to which of those two is the better way to go. But I am confident they want to get rid of the IRS.

My opponent continues to defend the IRS, says maybe we should change it a little bit. And as I traveled this state, honestly, I have not met one Floridian who thinks we need to keep the IRS, except my opponent. And one other person in the crowd. But I think it's important -- maybe for that person we can keep it.

But it's abundantly clear to me that we do need to change. We really do. We have to have a tax system that's more simple, more fair, and taxes our citizens less.

TIM RUSSERT: Senator Graham.

BOB GRAHAM: Mr. Crist wants to know someone who has already gotten the benefits of the changes that Bob Graham sponsored in the Congress to simplify the Internal Revenue Code. I would like to introduce to you Carl Junston. Carl Junston was a man who the IRS harassed, tried to get enormous penalties and interest from, but who ended up, because of the legislation that I sponsored, getting a refund. Carl Junston is a living example.

My commitment to a simplified, fair, Internal Revenue system that treats all Americans with the same respect that Carl has been treated.

TIM RUSSERT: Let me stay on the issue of taxes, Senator, because it's an important one to people in this state and across the country. Do you believe a flat tax or national sales tax is better than the IRS?

BOB GRAHAM: No. What I believe is that we don't want to have a tax system such as a flat tax which would say that all of your charitable givings to a church, synagogue, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, would no longer be deductible. I don't want to have a tax system which says that the interest that you pay on your home mortgage, which has allowed millions of American families to own their own home, would not be deductible. I don't want to have a national sales tax which would cover everything from the sale of your home with the tax of 15 to 16%. I don't think that's what Americans want.

What Americans want is a simplified system. I have worked hard. For instance, we passed a law in the United States Senate and the Congress that is now the law of the land that says that when you sell your home, you don't pay any capital gains on the gain on that home if it's under $250,000 as an individual or 500,000 as a family. That is real meaningful simplification. That is the type approach that we ought to take to the entire Internal Revenue Code. That is a process by which without injecting unfairness, without injecting instability, we can modify and simplify the tax system towards the goal that every American will be able to fill out their own income tax return. That ought to be the standard, when we reached that standard we can say that we have done the job.

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Crist, I want you to respond to that. 70% of Americans now use the short form for taxes which means their rate is about 15%. A flat tax or national sales tax would mean increased taxes for the vast majority of Americans.

CHARLIE CRIST: Let's talk about taxes. And let's talk about the distinction between Senator Graham and myself. A number of years ago the largest tax increase in the history of America was passed. It was about $240 billion of new taxes on the backs of the American family. Regrettably, that tax passed in the United States Senate by one vote. One vote.

Senator Connie Mack, who I used to work for, and it was a privilege to do so, voted against it. He has a slogan. Less taxing. Less spending. Less government. More freedom. Unfortunately, Bob Graham voted for it. Remember, it only passed by one vote. So but for Bob we wouldn't have all those taxes we have to pay today. We have a fundamental difference on these issues.

TIM RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue of crime. Mr. Crist, the question directed to you. The Brady Bill, which deals with gun control, on November 30th, will begin at the federal level an instant check system, not only for handguns but for rifles and shotguns. Will you vote for the money necessary to provide for that instant check?

CHARLIE CRIST: Let me tell you, you brought up a very serious issue. And it's the issue of an individual's right to bear arms.

I want to tell you a brief story about that issue. I ran for reelection to the state Senate in 1994, and when I did so the gun issue was a big issue in that race, too. And during the course of the campaign I was going to senior centers right here in St. Petersburg. And I had an elderly woman approach me, and she said, "Senator Crist," she said, "I don't want you to take away my right to bear arms. I live alone. And I want to be able to protect myself." And I told her she could count on me. I would never take away her right to bear her arms.

Now, the instant check, I am comfortable with that. I think that's appropriate. I think we have to take a reasonable approach to these things. But I will tell you that from my perspective, what we need to do is get the guns out of unlawful citizens and never abridge of rights of law-abiding citizens.

TIM RUSSERT: Just to be clear, you would vote Federal moneys to provide for instant checks to determine whether or not someone had a criminal record in the purchase of a handgun, rifle or shotgun?

CHARLIE CRIST: I think it's absolutely appropriate to do so, and I would go one step further. It seems to me that in protecting our Second Amendment right to bear arms -- and I hunted and fished in this state, and I want to protect the ability to do that in the future -- but I think that any crime committed with a gun ought to be classified as a hate crime. It is so bad and it is so heinous it's got to stop. We have to protect our citizens. If somebody breaks into your home, with a gun at your face, if that's not a hate crime, I don't know what it is. It's got to stop. By making sure we have tough laws, and we enforce those laws, we can make Florida and America a safer place to live for all of us.

TIM RUSSERT: Senator Graham, please.

BOB GRAHAM: Mr. Russert, the answer to the question is yes. Of course we should provide the funding for the instant check which has precisely the objective of denying to the criminal, to others who are legally prohibited from owning handguns the ability to do so.

While I was a member of the legislature, we passed a minimum mandatory law to assure that people who used handguns in the commission of a felony did spend additional time in jail. I would hope that Mr. Crist would join with me in voting for a constitutional amendment that's going to be on the ballot here in Florida that will close the gun-shop loophole which is allowing people to escape the Brady Bill if they buy their guns at a local gun show rather than through an authorized dealer. I hope Mr. Crist will support that position.

TIM RUSSERT: Before we take a break, Mr. Crist, I will give you a chance to respond. Will you support such a constitutional amendment?

CHARLIE CRIST: Well, Mr. Graham, I think that what we ought to do is leave that to the legislature to make that decision. I think that that would be the appropriate way to go.

TIM RUSSERT: We will take a quick break, be right back with a lot more questions for Senator Graham and Charlie Crist, and your vote counts on November 3rd. Back in a minute.

(Break)

TIM RUSSERT: We are back live in St. Petersburg with Senator Bob Graham, Charlie Crist, both running for the United States Senate from the State of Florida.

Senator Graham, the next question is for you. Does Bill Clinton have the morality and integrity to continue to serve as the President of the United States?

BOB GRAHAM: Bill Clinton committed an immoral act. He debased the office of the presidency. I have said so publicly. I believe that the questions before us now as it relates to our president are two. First, can he rehabilitate himself for the American people sufficiently to provide the leadership that we need at home and abroad? And, second, will the impeachment process which is currently under way in the House of Representatives result in his mandatory removal from office?

As a member of the United States Senate, I will sit as a juror, should charges be brought against the President. I will take an oath just as any of you have ever served as a juror to render justice impartially. I will do so. I will tell you that I will be particularly looking to see if the standards which are set forth in the Constitution -- bribery, treason, other high crimes or misdemeanors -- have been met by the actions based on the evidence that is brought before us.

TIM RUSSERT: Charlie Crist.

CHARLIE CRIST: Regrettably, I believe that the President has shattered the confidence and trust of the American people. And I think he needs to be accountable for that. That's why I believe that the best thing he could do for the country would be to resign the office of President.

I think there are two issues here, though. Resignation is different from impeachment and the inquiry process that's happening in Washington. Senator Graham does have it right. Whichever one of us win this race most likely will have to serve on the jury to judge in the trial of that inquiry. The test for me is if he committed perjury, if he obstructed justice, or if he violated any witness tampering laws, then it's clear to me that he should be impeached, and Senator Graham, I think people of Florida deserve to know what you think.

TIM RUSSERT: Please, Senator.

BOB GRAHAM: If the evidence that is presented, should there be charges brought by the House of Representatives, indicate that the President of the United States has met those standards of having engaged in treason, bribery, other high crimes or misdemeanors, then I will -- those are the standards which 210 years ago our founding fathers set as the standard for the removal of a President.

Those are the standards which I would be honor-bound as a member of the jury of the United States Senate to determine whether they have been met, and, if so, to vote for the removal from office of Bill Clinton.

TIM RUSSERT: Let me see if I can refine this. Mr. Crist, do you believe that lying under oath is an impeachable offense?

CHARLIE CRIST: Perjury, I believe, it is for you and me, Tim. And if it is for the average American citizen, why should we set a different standard for the President of the United States?

TIM RUSSERT: Senator, same question. Do you believe lying under oath is an impeachable offense?

BOB GRAHAM: I think lying could be an impeachable offense if it is found -- if it is found that it was directed against the institutions of our nation. I think the more -- I think the area of greater vulnerability of Bill Clinton, however, is in the area of obstruction of justice.

Has he used the agencies, the Secret Service, his own employees, as a means of covering up his private actions? That is where I would focus my attention in terms of determining whether those constitutional standards of bribery, treason, other high crimes or misdemeanors have been met.

TIM RUSSERT: The next question is for Mr. Crist.

Senator, as a Republican senator, would you support a constitutional amendment to ban all abortion?

CHARLIE CRIST: No, I would not. I think this is a very personal decision. And I think it is a decision that a woman should make and have the right to make after consulting with her family, her physician, and her clergy. But not her government. Having said that, there's another issue that's on the table right now that deals with this sensitive area, and it's called "partial birth abortion." And I must tell you, I think it is wrong. I think it should stop. And I think that as a member of the United States Senate in January of 1999, I would vote to stop it. Unfortunately, my opponent, Bob Graham, has voted not once, not twice, but three times to continue to allow this brutal procedure to go forward. And I just don't think it's reasonable. And I think it's extreme.

TIM RUSSERT: Senator Graham.

BOB GRAHAM: Mr. Russert, while I was governor of Florida, I signed into law one of the strictest laws in the nation on late-term abortion. It said that there shall be no late-term abortions except in two conditions. One, where the life of the mother was at risk, or, two, where the health of the mother was at risk. If that had been the bill before the United States Senate, I would have voted for it.

I have co-sponsored a bill in the United States Senate which is similar to the Florida law, but even stronger, in that it provides that the health of the mother must be the physical health and that there must be a significant risk to that health before an abortion can be performed in late term. That would not just cover the partial-birth abortion procedures but all procedures in the late-term of pregnancy.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you, gentlemen. And when we come back, questions directly from the voters in Florida to our two panelists.

(Break)

TIM RUSSERT: Welcome back to the final senatorial debate. Charlie Crist and Bob Graham will now take questions directly from the voters of Florida. The first question will be to Senator Graham. He will have one minute to answer. Mr. Crist will have one hour -- one minute to respond. (Laughter)

SHANNON SOLANO: Good evening, gentlemen. My name is Shannon Solano, and I'm a resident of Tampa. I would like to ask you both tonight to discuss with us your views on immigration policies to the United States and, more specifically, to Florida.

BOB GRAHAM: Thank you, Shannon. We should have very strong laws against illegal immigration. Immigration should be under the control of the people of the United States. In terms of legal immigration, our state has benefited greatly. We have been a home where people seeking freedom from persecution from countries, from Cuba to Nicaragua to Haiti to Russia, have come to our land, to our state, to find that freedom.

We should continue that tradition of America which recognizes our openness to the refugee-fleeing persecution. We should also, within our immigration policy, make it focus to encourage people with talent and energy to contribute to our growing economy, to come to the United States and to Florida. For that reason, I was proud to support the legislation which has just passed to encourage high-skilled people to be able to come to the United States and add to our economic strength.

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Crist.

CHARLIE CRIST: Thank you. Shannon, I agree with the senator in a lot of that response. I think that it's important that we make sure that we close the door of illegal immigration so that we can keep open the door and the promise of legal immigration. I am the grandson of an immigrant. I understand how new blood and new energy and new ideas have made America a better place to live for all of us. We have an awful lot of Cuban Americans in south Florida that have come in. We have a lot of Asian Americans all over this state that have come in. And I think it's important that we continue to provide the opportunity for that infusion of new ideas and new blood and a better tomorrow. But we have to make sure that we protect our borders, and we have to make sure that we stop illegal immigration, because we can't afford it.

TIM RUSSERT: The next question is from David Jackson of Tampa.

DAVID JACKSON: Good evening. My name is David Jackson. I'm from Tampa, Florida. And my question to each of you, how can we reduce the size of government in Washington? Will you work to that end? And please be specific.

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Crist first.

CHARLIE CRIST: Sure. This is one I enjoy. His question was how are we going to reduce the size of government in Washington? And how will you do that?

I think one of the main ways that we can do that is by reducing the level of taxation that the citizens have to pay. When you realize that right now in America you have to pay more in taxes than you do for food, clothing, and shelter combined. We have got a system that I believe is out of whack. We have got to stop that kind of taxation so that we reduce the burden, all the regulations of government. We have to make sure that small businesses all over our state continue to have the opportunity to begin, to start, to provide new jobs. But we are so heavily regulated, we have so much in the form of taxation, we have all these rules that everybody has to fill out forms. And I think having a philosophy of less government and more freedom is the way to go.

I'm running against a nice guy. But I'm running against a gentleman who has voted for more regulation and bigger taxes and bigger government, and it seems to me it's got to stop. It can stop when you elect me on November 3rd.

BOB GRAHAM: David, thank you for that question. And I think you deserve some specific answers. One.

We ought to send more responsibilities to the state and local communities. There are too many decisions being made in Washington which ought to be made closer to home. Those particularly involve decisions in education and the environment.

Second, we ought to have a standard policy in Washington as we have had in Tallahassee of sunsetting proposals. That is, to have a program not have life ever after but only for a specific period of time. And after that time it has to prove and demonstrate that it is worthy to continue.

We also ought to try to use the private sector as a means of delivering governmental services. We ought to make more use of the private sector in, for instance, our federal corrections programs as we have in our state corrections program. Those are some specific ways in which we can reduce the size of government in Washington while still maintaining the services that the people of America and Florida want.

TIM RUSSERT: If I could pose a follow-up here. Mr. Crist, as you know, the Republicans were elected to Congress in 1994, first-time majority in both Houses, promising Republican revolution, promising specifically to close departments like Education and Energy. Would you close any departments when you got to Washington?

CHARLIE CRIST: I think what we need to look at is not necessarily closing departments but reducing the size and the reach of some of those departments. I would not advocate closing, for example, the Department of Education. I would advocate looking at the Department of Energy and maybe being able to reduce the bureaucracy that exists there. Possibly at the Department of Commerce as well.

One of the things you have an opportunity to do that I have learned as a member of the state Senate is that once you get to the capital, you have a much greater opportunity to review some of those programs and some of those agencies and what they are doing. I have heard from people all over this state as to what some of those agencies are doing to them. So it seems to me that in addition to reducing and abolishing the IRS, which is mission number one, if I have the pleasure to be elected, is to reduce some of those other agencies and their size and their scope.

TIM RUSSERT: Senator Graham.

BOB GRAHAM: An agency that I think could be abolished or substantially reduced is the Federal Highway Administration. That agency is an example of one which was created to meet a specific purpose. In this case, to build the interstate system whose goal has now been realized. We should have a party, a celebration, for the completion of the interstate system, and at the end of that party we should terminate the Federal Highway Administration and let the states make the decisions as to what are the priorities of their people.

I am very pleased that at the last session of Congress, working with Senator Connie Mack and our congressional delegation, we were able to increase the amount of funds that Florida will receive each year for the next five years to do a better job of maintaining our bridges and our roads and dealing with congestion by over $400 million a year. That money ought to be spent by Floridians, for Floridians' interests, with Floridians making the decision.

TIM RUSSERT: A question from another voter.

TAMIKA SMITH: I'm Tamika Smith. I would like to know what you would do to propose to reduce the number of students in classes.

CHARLIE CRIST: To reduce the number of students in classes?

TIM RUSSERT: That's correct. Reduce the number of students in classes. Mr. Crist, you're first.

CHARLIE CRIST: Okay, thank you. I just want to respond to one thing Senator Graham just talked about. He invoked Senator Connie Mack. And I can understand why you would do so. He's a very popular guy. In fact, some people think he's the most popular politician in Florida. But what's interesting, I think, is that Senator Graham votes with Connie Mack only about 50% of the time, yet votes with Senator Ted Kennedy over 80% of the time.

When you talk about the federal highway program, unfortunately, we still are a donor state. It seems to me if we had a little more energy, a little more enthusiasm, and a little harder work in Washington fighting for Florida, we could at least get our dollars' worth of funding for the dollars' worth of taxes our citizens pay.

But I think it's important that we understand that reducing class size is a mission we have worked very hard on here in Florida. And I'm proud as a member of the state Senate we voted for almost $3 billion to do that. I think we have to get the kids out of portables, provide the proper education opportunity for them, and I think we are well down the road to doing so.

TIM RUSSERT: Senator Graham.

BOB GRAHAM: Mr. Russert, I would be pleased to yield to Mr. Crist 30 seconds of my time to answer the question that was asked.

CHARLIE CRIST: I'll take the time. I'll take the time. That's great. I think it's important that when you talk about class size and you talk about our educational system, you talk about new ideas, we have to improve education for all of Florida's citizens, and we have to be willing to have the courage to change the system that we have now. It's not just about having more classrooms and it's not just about having nice buildings. It's about making sure that our children have a better educational opportunity. That's why I'm proud to have sponsored the charter schools bill here in Florida. We have to have new ideas.

TIM RUSSERT: Senator Graham, please take 30 seconds.

BOB GRAHAM: The answer to the question is, one, we should support the recently-adopted proposal for 100,000 new teachers in schools so we can get class size down to 18 to 1.

Number two. We should support the revisions that the federal government will become a new partner with the public schools as it already is with higher education in helping us to build new classrooms and repair our crumbling schools so that every American student will go to school in a quality schoolhouse. We need to see that more of the responsibility for education is moved from Washington to the local school district so that the decisions will be made as close to the children who will be affected by those decisions. Those are some of the things that we can do that will improve our educational system and reduce class size.

My daughter Suzanne taught 38 students in a kindergarten class here in Florida. I don't want any other kindergarten teacher to do that in the future.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you. Mr. Crist, on education, would you support a federal tuition tax credit, in effect, a federal voucher program for students to attend private schools?

CHARLIE CRIST: I think we need to look at it. As I stated earlier, I co-sponsored the charter schools bill here in Florida, and I do think we have to have the courage to be able to change so that we do better for our young people. The goal here is to make sure that they have the best education possible. The sad reality today in public schools -- and I'm a product of the public school system. I graduated from St. Pete High right here. My sister Kathryn is a public school teacher in the middle school, Bay Point Middle School here in St. Petersburg. So I'm a believer in the public school system. But I'm a believer that it's got to be the best it can be for our young people. We have got to do better. Almost two-thirds of our high school graduates right now have to receive remedial or additional education before they can go to community college or university education.

So, yes, Mr. Russert, I believe that a limited voucher system or choice system would be appropriate for those in a lower income bracket.

TIM RUSSERT: Senator Graham.

BOB GRAHAM: Of course, the answer to that question is no.

Even the strongest supporters of the school voucher system who believe in the concept of local control of education wouldn't want Washington to be the place to tell them that they had to institute a voucher system. If the people of Pinellas County want a voucher system or the citizens of Florida want a voucher system, they are perfectly capable of doing it on their own. They don't need Washington to mandate that they would do so with the legislation that Mr. Russert just devised.

Now, I personally am opposed to a voucher system. I believe in the public schools. I think the money ought to be spent to lower class size in the public schools. I believe the public schools not only provide the fundamental education for the vast majority of our children, but it is the way in which we build a sense of community in America. It's the way in which we all get to know one another as common Americans.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you very much, Senator Graham and Charlie Crist. It's very clear from tonight's discussions, two men with two very different views on a variety of subjects. We will be right back with closing statements from Charlie Crist and Senator Bob Graham.

(Break)

TIM RUSSERT: We are back live at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. We now have closing statements from the two men who want to represent Florida in the United States Senate. By the flip of a coin, it was determined that Senator Bob Graham would go first. Senator Graham.

BOB GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Russert. As a state legislator, governor, and now in the United States Senate, I have brought energy, enthusiasm, and effectiveness to my service on behalf of the people of Florida. I have worked hard to bring honor to the trust that you have placed in me. I have worked hard to balance the budget, have taken the tough votes necessary to bring us to a balanced budget and the strongest economy that we have had in this century. I will continue to work to see that we maintain the discipline to maintain that strong economy and balanced budget.

I have worked to see that our Social Security and Medicare programs are strong today and for your children and grandchildren. I have worked to protect Florida's environmental treasures, the Everglades and our coast. But I have not worked alone. I have worked on a bipartisan basis with my colleague Connie Mack and with our other members of the Florida congressional delegation. But the most important members of our team are you, the people of Florida.

We need your ideas. We need your participation to keep Florida the best place in the world to live, to work, and to raise a family.

Again, we appreciate -- Mr. Crist, myself -- the opportunity to come into your home tonight. I would very much appreciate your vote on November 3rd to continue to work for you in the United States Senate. Thank you.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you, Senator. Charlie Crist, please.

CHARLIE CRIST: Thank you, Mr. Russert.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to conclude by telling you a story, a story about a boy, a young boy named Adam. Adam came to this country when he was only 14 years old in 1912. And when Adam came here, he didn't have any money, he didn't know anyone, and he couldn't speak the language. But Adam had a dream. He had a dream about coming to a place called America where he had heard that if you worked hard, lived by the rules and did what was right, you could do better for yourself and your children and your grandchildren.

Well, Adam worked hard when he came here. He shined shoes for a living. And he only made $5 a month shining those shoes. But he saved his money, enough that he was able to eventually open up a small cafe. And that did pretty well. Well enough that he was able to open up a second one. And Adam was starting to live the American dream that he had heard about. Well, he also understood the importance of a good education and made sure that all seven of his children got one. One of those got such a good education they became a doctor. That doctor is my father. And, yes, Adam was my grandfather.

I still believe in that American dream. I believe in the opportunity that America has always stood for. And I am running against a nice man in Bob Graham. But I'm running against a man who everyday he's in the U.S. Senate votes with the philosophy that believes in more taxation and more regulation and bigger government. And if you do that often enough and long enough, that dream goes away.

It's time for a change. It's time for new ideas. It's time for new energy. And I ask for your vote and your support for Charlie Crist on November 3rd.

TIM RUSSERT: Thank you, Mr. Crist. Thank you, Senator Graham. That concludes our debate tonight. We hope we did our job. It's now up to you to make your choice: Who will be the next senator from Florida? Vote November 3rd.

Join us tomorrow night: Jeb Bush versus Buddy MacKay, a governor face-off.

Good night. Thank you, Florida.

(Realtime Captioning by AmeriCaption, Inc.)

 

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