Floridians will get an honest-to-goodness, face-to-face debate over immigration policy and “sanctuary cities” next week as Republican Richard Corcoran and Democrat Andrew Gillum try to boost their poll numbers in the race for governor.
But it doesn’t appear that any other governor hopefuls are clamoring to join them on the TV-studio stage.
Corcoran, the House speaker who is widely expected to run for governor, and Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor who is an announced candidate, have agreed to square off Tuesday night about immigration issues after engaging in a Twitter battle.
The debate comes after Corcoran and Gillum each landed in third place in a new Mason-Dixon poll of the gubernatorial primaries.
The Republican leaders in the poll, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Congressman Ron DeSantis, have not shown interest in joining the debate, possibly trying to lessen attention for the event.
Asked for a comment, Brad Herold, a spokesman for R DeSantis emailed back, “Lol. No.”
Amanda Bevis, a Putnam spokeswoman, simply replied she had “nothing to add.”
Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who will leave the House in November, scored just 7 percent in the Republican primary portion of the Mason-Dixon poll, which was released Tuesday.
Putnam polled at 27 percent, followed by 23 percent for DeSantis, who has been bolstered by frequent appearances on Fox News and a tweet of support from President Donald Trump.
The debate was put together after Corcoran’s political committee, Watchdog PAC, released an inflammatory campaign-style ad targeting “sanctuary cities.” Democratic gubernatorial candidates, including Gillum, attacked the ad.
"Speaker Corcoran's dishonest depiction of violence is a pathetic attempt to intimidate and scare voters,” former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who led the Democratic gubernatorial field in the Mason-Dixon poll, said in an email. “His attempts to demean immigrant families is as false as it is despicable. I'm deeply disappointed, but hardly surprised."
Avery Jaffe, a campaign spokesman for Democratic candidate Chris King, a Winter Park businessman, said Florida needs leadership that moves the state forward.
"I'm not sure what there is to debate --- Richard Corcoran's ad was racist and xenophobic,” Jaffe said. “He was stoking fear and division with a false advertisement.”
Graham received support from 20 percent of Democratic voters in the Mason-Dixon poll and was followed by former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at 17 percent, Gillum at 10 percent and King at 4 percent.
Corcoran and Gillum have agreed to a 45-minute debate on “sanctuary cities” that will be held 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Florida Internet & Television studio in Tallahassee.
A LITTLE ‘LUCK’ IN TIMING?
Chalk it up to ‘luck’ that Gov. Rick Scott made his first big use of a new $85 million jobs program just before the House and Senate considered preliminary budgets that would fully replenish the fund.
At least that’s the opinion of Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is chairman of the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee.
Simpson said Wednesday on the Senate floor it was simply a coincidence that Scott’s announcement of $35 million in awards from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund --- his first big package of spending from the fund --- occurred on Tuesday. Simpson said he expects Scott will dish out the rest of the cash still on hand by the end of the year.
“The governor’s office --- and I have not been through the vetting process with them --- but they are thoroughly vetting these projects to get the biggest bang for the state bucks,” Simpson said after being questioned about the governor’s pace in using the money. “I think his team has done a very good job. And what he’s looking at, I believe, is how does he maximize the opportunities across regions of Florida, which would sometimes be difficult for us to do in our project list.”
Lawmakers created the fund last year after a political battle about economic-development programs. The House and Senate have each included another $85 million for the fund in their initial proposed budgets for the fiscal year that will begin July 1.
Simpson was responding Wednesday to Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat who questioned the need to reload the fund for the upcoming fiscal year when about $50 million of the original money remains available.
“I’m trying to understand, still, why we’re setting aside another $85 million when we’re in 2018 and the first $85 million you have, how much of that has actually been delivered to the people of the state?” Gibson asked. “They have a list of projects, but very few decisions and very few dollars have been released.”
Some Democrats have labeled the money a “slush fund” for the governor, and Gibson had repeatedly questioned the program.
Simpson responded to Gibson that “just by luck” Scott went to Jacksonville on Tuesday to announce the $35 million in projects.
“Most of that money has been spent now or been qualified to be spent,” Simpson said. “Some of the projects will take more than one year to execute, but those funds will be secured for those projects.”
The fund has attracted more than 225 applications seeking more than $821 million, according to numbers updated Wednesday on the Department of Economic Opportunity website.
Before Tuesday, Scott had only used the fund once, approving $201,500 on Jan. 10 to help Manatee Technical College pay for workforce training programs in manufacturing.
Among the projects announced Tuesday were $6 million for a 1.5-mile access road at Cecil Commerce Center in Jacksonville; $1.86 million for a workforce training program at Pensacola State College that includes aviation maintenance, nursing, transportation, advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity technology; and $8.245 million to expand access to the cruise and cargo terminals at Port Canaveral.
Money also went to projects in Liberty County, Suwannee County, Columbia County, the city of Alachua, Port St. Lucie and Washington County.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Well look here...AOB lawsuits went DOWN by 23% last year. Looking forward to the outcry from the insurance industry for rates to drop as a result of this positive development” --- Senate Banking and Insurance Chairwoman Anitere Flores (@anitere_flores), who has battled with the insurance industry about the issue of assignment of benefits, or AOB.