The state has the second-highest foreclosure rate in the country, behind Nevada, more than twice the national average, according to RealtyTrac, an Irvine, California-based data provider.
Meek defended Obama's economic strategy. "There were surpluses," he said. "There are no longer surpluses. So we're digging a deeper hole. And what Rubio and also Crist are representing, let's continue to dig, and trickle-down economics will work for the middle class in creating jobs."
Crist, running as an independent, straddled the positions of his rivals, supporting a compromise on the tax cuts. "I want all the tax cuts extended, but sometimes you've got to give relief to the people and they deserve it now," Crist said. "If there's a way to go ahead and do that in the short term and then after January to push for the other tax cuts, that's what I think the real solution is."
"The Republican Party and the right wing of that party went so far right, it's exactly why Marco Rubio stayed there, it's exactly the same reason that I left," said Crist. "He wants to overturn--listen to me, women watching-- overturn Roe vs. Wade. He does not support stem-cell research; you know, these are extreme views that I am not comfortable with."
Meek said Crist's decision was more pragmatic. "We know why the governor is running as an independent--because he couldn't beat Marco Rubio," Meek said.
As an independent candidate, Crist vetoed an education package championed by Republican legislators, along with a bill requiring women to get ultrasound exams before abortions.
Rubio shot back that Crist "changes positions on the issues because he wants to win the election."
Crist tried to present himself as an independent throughout the debate, at one point calling the conversation between Meek and Rubio over tax cuts an example of partisan "bickering" that voters dislike. "You are seeing it right now, right here," Crist said. "That is why I'm running as an independent."
Meek suggested differently: "The governor is running as an independent, because he couldn't beat Marco Rubio."
In a back-and-forth that defined their campaigns, Crist depicted Rubio as a conservative ideologue unable or unwilling to deviate from extreme views regardless of changing dynamics. "You know, facts change all the time," Crist said. "I think people want an open-minded senator rather than the opposite, a closed-minded senator."
Rubio "wouldn't accept tax cuts on 98% of the people in America because of his ideology," Crist said. "That's exactly the problem, that's what's not right with Washington today." While Crist advocated a compromise, Meek backed the Obama position.
"I think it's always funny to listen to the governor attack me for the positions he himself held just six months ago, when he was trying to be the biggest conservative in the world and win the Republican primary," Rubio said.
"You think government creates jobs," Rubio said to Meek, cutting him off.
"No, I don't," Meek said.
"You do," Rubio said.
"I think tax cuts for small businesses create jobs and incentives for local communities to move forward," Meek said
Crist added, "What you just witnessed is the problem and the reason I'm running as an independent. These two guys are going at each other because one's the Republican right, one's the Democratic left. What's true is there are good things that both parties can present to the future of our country." Crist, who supported the economic stimulus and said he likes some things in the health care law but that it needs to be fixed, portrayed himself as a centrist who backs the best policies of each party.
"Charlie Crist stands on a wet paper box," Meek said. "You don't know where he is."
Rubio said neither Crist nor Meek would oppose the Obama administration.
Asked what he would do, Crist said that raising the age "really flies in the face of an awful lot of my fellow Floridians" and said he would root out waste and fraud instead. The Crist campaign issued a post-debate statement: "Governor Crist believes that Speaker Rubio's support of raising the retirement age and reducing Social Security cost of living adjustments is cruel, unusual and unfair to seniors living on a fixed income," it read. "While entitlement reform needs to be addressed, the speaker's position on this issue demonstrates, yet again, that he does not have Floridians' best interests in mind. This issue will surely be one of many Florida voters will hear more about throughout the rest of this campaign."
Crist replied that he opposes either a retirement age increase or changes to annual COLAs. Instead, he would focus on attacking "waste and fraud" in the system. As a general rule, when a politician mentions "waste, fraud, and abuse" it should be interpreted the same as if the candidate wore a sign saying "I'm not serious." That's not to say that we don't have problems with fraud, but that the real problem is simply that the government spends too much. This is particularly so in the case of Social Security, which is one of the most efficient federal government programs.
RUBIO: Well, if it's bad for America, it can't possibly be good for your state. Since February, 211,000 Floridians have lost their jobs.
CRIST: As governor, you've got to make tough decisions. I made the tough decision to utilize these funds to help th people of Florida. I know the unemployment rate is bad. I know the economy is tough. I understand all of that. If we had taken the speaker's approach, we would have had 87,000 more people on top of that 12% that would be unemployed in Florida today.
Q: If you had been a senator in 2009 you would have voted for the stimulus?
CRIST: Yeah, it was the right thing to do at the time. You have to go back and remember what was happening in our economy. It was literally falling off the cliff.
CRIST: Pre-existing instances should not be a discriminatory tool used by insurance companies to not give people insurance. We need to repeal this thing. Let's start over. The real problems with health care are access and affordability. And we have approached those in Florida, a plan called Cover Florida. No tax dollars involved. No government mandates. I think Washington could learn a lot from Florida.
Q: We looked into Cover Florida--stripped-down insurance for stripped-down prices. As you say, all voluntary. But only 0.1% of Florida's uninsured have signed up for it, 5,000 out of millions of people.
CRIST: It's about 6,000 now. Every individual of those 6,000 now has that peace of mind, doesn't have to worry about their child having a catastrophic illness.
Q: But it's hardly "Cover Florida."
CRIST: Well, I think it's important that it's Cover Families. People who get it like it.
Q: With all due respect, waste and fraud--people have been talking about it for years. Don't you actually have to make some benefit changes if you're going to deal with this debt issue?
CRIST: You might have to make some, but I think what you want to do first is get the waste and the fraud out.
Q: Such as what?
CRIST: I think you have to have strict enforcement. You have to have U.S. attorneys that go after this with a serious approach and realize that in order for these programs to be able to survive so that my children and my grandchildren have an opportunity to be able to benefit from them, we have to spend less by getting waste and fraud out of these systems.
CRIST: I don't think so. We probably agree on this issue. The first thing we need to realize about immigration reform is to make sure that we seal the border. Everything else is an academic conversation unless and until we do that. Second, we need to make sure that we're enforcing the law. Laws on the books don't mean anything if they're not being enforced. And third, those who are already her shouldn't be advantaged by the fact that they got here illegally. They should go to the back of the line, go through the regular process, what the law requires, in order to attain their citizenship.
Q: The immigration reform plan of 2007--you still think those are pretty good ideas?
CRIST: I don't think they're bad ideas. I think that those three principles, though, need to be underscored--protecting the border; enforcing the law that's on the books; and no advantages.
RUBIO: Those allegations have been proven false. Here are the facts. This is not taxpayer money. It was raised for the purposes of political advancement, for advancing a political agenda. And that's what the money was spent on. All this money's been accounted for.
CRIST: I would work to make sure that I stand with people who will help the people of my state and my country. I am a pragmatic, common-sense conservative, always have been. I also understand that we're in a tough economy right now, and when you're in a tough economy, sometimes you have to do the kinds of things that make sense in order to be able to keep people employed. You can't just be off on some limb, rattling the cage and saying you're going to do great things and stand on principle above the people of your state that you're supposed to serve. You've got to do what's right. And this race comes down to doing what's right. That's what it's all about.
RUBIO: I think all of that has to be on the table, including the way we index increases in cost of living. All of these issues have to be on the table [including raising the retirement age]. They are options that I would be open to.
Q: Gov. Crist, we looked all over your campaign Web site. Frankly, we couldn't find a word about Social Security reform.
CRIST: Well, I think it's important that we understand Social Security must be saved. It must be protected. The idea of having a higher age for people to be able to be eligible for Social Security really flies in the face of an awful lot of my fellow Floridians and it's something that I would not advocate. I think we need t take the fraud out of Social Security, the waste, in Medicare as well.
Q: You're saying that even for people under the age of 55 you would not raise the retirement age or you wouldn't change the cost-of-living adjustment?
CRIST: No, I would not.
RUBIO: That program would have eliminated property taxes for all sorts of people. And it was supported by Jeb Bush.
CRIST: No, I don't think I did, and I'll tell you why. The only part of it that was a tax--and it's loosely defined as a tax--was on cigarettes. And I would argue that that's a user fee. If you don't use them, you don't pay it.
Q: But you also signed into law higher fees on drivers' licenses and on motor vehicle registration, motor vehicle tags. You said these aren't broad-based taxes. Governor, 16 million people are drivers in Florida. That's a pretty broad-based tax, isn't it?
Source: Fox News Sunday 2010 Florida primary Senate debate Mar 28, 2010
"We are a nation at war. The governor believes the current policy has worked, and there is no need to make changes," a Crist campaign spokeswoman said.
"Marco Rubio supports the current policy and doesn't see any evidence it needs to be changed," a campaign spokesman said.
The above quotations are from 2010 Florida Senate debates.
Click here for other excerpts from 2010 Florida Senate debates.
Click here for other excerpts by Charlie Crist.
Click here for a profile of Charlie Crist.
Charlie Crist on other issues:
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