Sparks Fly Between Bill McCollum and Rick Scott
Around the State
Health-care executive Rick Scott and Attorney General Bill McCollum, the two leading candidates in a bitterly contested battle for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, probably did little to enlighten Florida voters during a Tampa-TV debate Thursday evening.
With less than three weeks to go until the primary election, and all polls showing Scott ahead, the debate at the studios of WTVT-Fox 13 in Tampa and moderated by John Wilson of that station, proved acrimonious from beginning to end, with both candidates tearing into each other on experience and character. What the Internet-streamed hour failed to flesh out is their differences on the issues.
Wilson didn't help matters, encouraging the verbal slugfest and allowing candidates to repeat charges against each other more than half a dozen times.
“Our state is headed in the wrong direction,” said Scott in his introductory remarks, pointing to the state’s poor economy. Arguing that his background outside of holding political office will help him as governor, Scott said it is time for change in Tallahassee. “We need fresh ideas and someone with a proven track record.”
“We Floridians are hurting,” said McCollum, agreeing with Scott that the state is in economic trouble. The attorney general responded to Scott’s credentials as an outsider, saying he understands things could be improved in Tallahassee.
“I know voters are angry,” he said. “I know and share their anger.”
But while they both agreed Florida is in bad economic shape, the two Republicans spent most of the time on camera attacking each other rather than explaining their plans to put Floridians back to work.
Discussing his job plans, Scott drew a fine line between his background and McCollum’s.
“Are you going to elect somebody who has never created a private-sector job?” demanded Scott.
McCollum said he does know how to run a business -- and pointed to his experience cutting the budget in the attorney general’s office.
Invoking his years of experience, McCollum reminded voters that conservatives like former Gov. Jeb Bush back him. He was a foot-soldier in the Reagan Revolution, he said, continuing to stress his conservative credentials. He invoked the name of former President Ronald Reagan five times in the opening minutes of the debate.
“I’m proud of my record in public service,” said McCollum. “My opponent has no record.”
“My opponent has a record,” said Scott. “He’s voted 42 times to raise taxes and fees.”
McCollum criticized Scott’s record at Columbia/HCA, saying that his opponent presided over massive Medicaid fraud. Scott defended his record and said his experience is better than all of McCollum’s three decades in politics.
“You say you have taken responsibility from Columbia/HCA. You haven't,” said McCollum. “You ripped off the taxpayers; you ripped off the senior citizens.”
McCollum also brought up Scott’s record at Solantic, another Scott-run company.
“My opponent has no concern for the facts,” said Scott. “My opponent is a desperate career politician who will say anything to get elected.”
Wilson asked a number of questions pertaining to the nuts and bolts of the election, asking both candidates about Scott’s record spending, McCollum accepting public finance and 527 organizations backing the attorney general.
Scott launched broadsides at McCollum for accepting taxpayer dollars to run attack ads. The two candidates interrupted each other constantly during the exchange and moderator Wilson didn't act to stop it. The attorney general admitted voting to raise fees and voting to raise taxes during the Reagan presidency.
Asked by Wilson about the financial scandal at the Republican Party of Florida under disgraced former chairman Jim Greer, McCollum said things were improving at the RPOF. “The party itself has had problems and we have new leadership in John Thrasher.”
Wilson also asked McCollum about special-interest money going toward his campaign. The attorney general replied that Scott’s spending -- which he estimated at $40 million -- is “obscene”.
“I’ve put up my money because I believe in this state,” said Scott, who claimed he will not be owned by any special interests.
With Scott noting that the attorney general accepted $1.7 million in taxpayer dollars for his campaign, McCollum said Scott had run off with millions in public funding from Medicaid.
The two candidates even sparred over where things stand in the campaign.
“I’ve been surging in the polls,” said McCollum, who pointed to endorsements he received from organizations and newspapers as proof of his momentum.
“I know we’re way ahead in the polls,” said Scott, dismissing McCollum’s claim.
In one of the few instances when the debate actually moved to issues outside the electoral process, the two candidates both said they back the Arizona immigration law and are against amnesty for illegal aliens. McCollum fired away at his opponent, saying that Scott’s ads are distorting his position. Scott countered that McCollum has indeed waffled on the issue.
The debate slowed down when Wilson unveiled a question from a voter about what teams the candidates root for. McCollum said he likes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, conservative Republicans in general, and U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio. Scott said he was also cheering for Rubio and tore into President Barack Obama.
Asked about their proudest achievements, McCollum said it is his crackdown on child predators and the lawsuit he filed against the new federal health-care laws backed by Obama. Scott said he is proudest of his wife and family.
In the closing statements, the two candidates tried to draw a line between each other.
“There’s a clear choice,” said Scott in his closing statement. “You have a Tallahassee-Washington insider and a conservative outsider.”
“We need experience and a record of somebody you can trust,” said McCollum. “I have a record that I’m proud of,” he added, noting that he stands for conservative values.
The acrimony was not limited to the candidates, as both campaigns sent out e-mails during the debates, challenging statements made by their rival. They were joined by the Florida Democratic Party, which also sent out e-mails during the debate attacking both candidates.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.