The lack of Sunshine State topics — from education and the future of citrus to offshore drilling — was a sore subject at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center after last week’s Fox News Republican gubernatorial debate between Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Congressman Ron DeSantis.
It also wasn’t missed by Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo, who expressed confidence that her party will retake the governor’s mansion after two decades based on what she heard during the debate at the Osceola County resort.
“This debate was a right-wing circus brought to you by Fox News and inspired by Donald Trump,” Rizzo said. “Before a nationwide audience, Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis made clear that they only have one message: Trump, Trump, Trump.”
The direction of questions was a choice of the moderators. But that focus on more national and international issues drew a reaction from Putnam, who after the debate made a point of noting how he tried to steer responses to the importance of knowledge of the state.
“I care more about the schools in Washington County than what’s going on in Washington, D.C. I care more about what’s going on in Ruskin, Florida, with congestion and infrastructure and the quality of our water, than I care about Russia,” was Putnam’s go-to line. “And I care more about the other St. Petersburg — St. Petersburg, Florida.”
His campaign kept up that theme as this week began.
“Adam Putnam ‘Florida’ mentions triple DeSantis in Fox News debate,” the campaign said in a news release Monday.
“During last week’s Fox News debate, Adam Putnam mentioned Florida 75 times in the one-hour debate versus Congressman DeSantis who only mentioned Florida 28 times,” the release began.
DeSantis, who represents a Northeast Florida district in Congress and grew up in Dunedin, did well in covering the cable channel’s issues before the national audience and in his post-event responses.
However, in an appearance Friday by himself at the state GOP’s “Sunshine Summit” — Putnam also had time on stage that day — DeSantis’ team showed it had monitored the reaction to the debate by coming equipped with a laundry list of how he cares for Florida.
“There were at a lot of issues that I wanted to get to last night that we didn’t,” DeSantis said.
Many overlap national issues, such as opposing “common core” education standards and calling for more classroom time spent studying principles in the U.S. Constitution. But DeSantis also said he would sign legislation to require that Florida businesses use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Employment Authorization Program, known as E-Verify, to determine if newly hired employees are undocumented immigrants.
That has been a red-meat issue for conservatives for more than a decade but has been opposed by farm and business groups who contend the federal program would make it more difficult to find workers.
DeSantis also tried to draw a contrast with Putnam in discussing support for coastal communities impacted by toxic algae blooms blamed on releases from Lake Okeechobee.
“We will clean up the water. We will restore the Everglades. And I don’t care what special interests say. I’m not going to do their bidding,” DeSantis said. “I’m going to stand with the fishermen and the boaters and the property owners that populate those great parts of our state. Adam obviously will not do that. He’s tied at the hip to the industry that is involved with destroying so much of what makes Florida great.”
Sugar farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area have been blamed for contributing to pollution in the lake.
Putnam and DeSantis are expected to debate one more time, an Aug. 8 event hosted by the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute and WJXT Channel 4. In announcing the debate last month, WJXT Vice President and General Manager Bob Ellis noted the importance of “how each candidate views the important issues to our local community.”
Gov. Rick Scott, who left for an Independence Day visit to Florida National Guard and Army Reserve troops in Kuwait with little advance notice, provided a taste of Christmas in July to the soldiers.
Scott brought coffee from Lucky Goat of Tallahassee, Buddy Brew of Tampa and Social Grounds of Jacksonville, fresh orange juice from Sun Harvest Citrus of Fort Myers and key lime pie cookies from Kristi’s Key Lime Cookies of Naples, according to a release from the governor’s office.
“We can’t thank them enough for all they do serving our country, and we hope that our orange juice will remind them of home,” Sandy Nicely, owner of Sun Harvest Citrus, said in a release.
UNCLE LUKE LIKES LEVINE
Back in the 2 Live Crew days, a lot of politicians might have wanted to keep their distance from Luther Campbell.
But times change. And when the rapper wrote a column this week backing Democrat Philip Levine for governor, Levine’s campaign gladly forwarded it to reporters.
Among other things, Campbell wrote in Miami New Times, the “Democratic Party is running scared because Levine doesn’t need the liberal money machine to win. That’s why I am endorsing him.”
Campbell noted that Levine, a wealthy businessman and former Miami Beach mayor, has put millions of dollars of his own money into the race.
“The good ole boys of the Republican Party don’t want to face Levine, either,” Campbell wrote. “He will knock out Adam Putnam or Ron DeSantis, two Donald Trump wannabees who don’t have the charisma to win the governor’s race.”
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “The position of Governor of the great State of Florida is one of the most important and consequential positions in America. It takes more than bumper sticker slogans to run a state with an $88 billion budget, 21 million residents, and 110 million visitors annually.” — former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp (@JeffKottkamp).
— News Service Executive Editor Jim Saunders contributed to this report.