Sink challenges Scott’s truthfulness; Scott repeatedly derides Sink for laughing and smiling at him.
JOHN KING, HOST: Good evening everyone from the University of South Florida in Tampa. This is a special edition of JOHN KING, USA, the Florida’s Governor Debate sponsored by CNN and the “St. Petersburg Times”. Just eight days from Election Day and this race, one of the nation’s most important contests, is a dead heat.
And the outcome could matter to you regardless of whether you live here in Florida. The country’s most populist state is front and center in all of the big national debates. Unemployment in this state just shy of 12 percent, it ranks second nationally in foreclosures. And immigration, health care, school standards and taxes all are front-burner issues in the race for governor.
The two candidates tonight, a Republican Rick Scott, a health care executive. And Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer. I’m also joined by Adam Smith, the political editor for the “St. Petersburg Times” — two quick pieces of housekeeping before we get started.
The candidates have graciously agreed to a free-wheeling format. We’ll have a lively conversation and our audience here has agreed to hold all reaction until our hour-long conversation ends. And let me remind the audience one more time that’s very important. Don’t deny your candidate’s time, so let’s get started.
Mr. Scott, if you watch your conversations here, your campaign rallies, your television ads, one would think that you might be running against the president of the United States. You call your opponent an Obama liberal. You made your name before you decided to run for governor attacking the Obama health care approach. Is there nothing this president has done in his first nearly two years, where you would say Mr. President, amen, I’m with you 100 percent.
RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA GOV. CANDIDATE: If I was going to pick one thing, at least he’s continued the — fight the war in Afghanistan, so I think that’s positive. He’s continued to do what President Bush did and try to defend the country. But I think the rest of his policies, the stimulus is a disaster. I think Obama care is going to be horrible for patients. It’s going to be horrible for taxpayers. It’s probably the biggest job killer ever. I think his just — you know his belief that big government works, it doesn’t. It’s killing jobs. And my opponent that’s — that’s what she believes in.
KING: One thing. One thing in nearly two years, that’s it?
SCOTT: That’s it.
KING: That’s it. Ms. Sink, I want you to answer his charge. If you listen to him, you are an Obama liberal and you would be a rubber stamp in Tallahassee. Anything the president wants to do in Washington, you would echo and help implement from the — from your position in Tallahassee. Where would you stand up to the president? Where has he been wrong?
ALEX SINK (D), FLORIDA GOV. CANDIDATE: Well let me give a lot of examples. Both sides where I agree with the president and I have disagreed with the president. But I have to say, Rick that every time you put that Obama liberal label on me, you just don’t know what you’re talking about. I have always been a fiscal conservative. I served as the chair — the vice chair —
KING: You say that you’ve always have been a fiscal conservative. Is that a contrast with the president? Has he not been a fiscal conservative?
SINK: Well I’m not — I’m not grading the president right now. What I’m answering is that Rick Scott continues to say that I’m an Obama liberal and you cannot put that label on me. Every newspaper in this state has called me a fiscal conservative with the right plan for Florida, who will cut taxes, that’s my plan, and cut government spending.
So let’s go back and talk about these charges about the relationship with the president. Let me say that I agree with the president on his education reforms. The reforms and race to the top are good and positive, and I’m very pleased that Florida was one of the winners of the race to the top grant. But when the president and his administration are doing things that hurt Floridians, he is going to hear about it.
SINK: Like I think that the Bush tax cuts ought to be extended. Look, Florida is a state of small businesses, and those tax cuts have got to be extended, because otherwise they will hurt small businesses, and my plan is all around small businesses. I also took issue with the handling of the BP oil spill and they heard about it from me loud and clear.
ADAM SMITH, POLITICAL EDITOR, ST. PETERSBURG TIMES: Mr. Scott, you’ve described the president’s agenda as a disaster for our economy. You look at your tax returns. You actually had greater taxable income under President Obama than you did Bush. Your tax rate is actually lower under President Obama. It seems like you are doing better under the president.
SCOTT: Well you know what I do is I follow all the rules. Whatever the tax rates are, the tax rates are. You know the way I’ve made my money is build companies. And so when you build companies and you sell things, that’s when you generally have your income. So that’s what I’ve done, but you know let’s look at, you know, what President Obama has done and what my opponent wants to do. She has spending plans that are going to cost us $12.5 billion. (INAUDIBLE) sent her a letter saying what taxes are you going to increase? We all know that all the things President Obama has done, we know that taxes have to go up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He keeps saying you are going to raise taxes. What do you say?
SINK: Well you know even your own newspaper ad called that charge false on every single count. I don’t know where that $12.5 billion comes from. There is nothing in my plan that calls for tax increases. That’s not the way to grow our economy. And let me just go back. Rick Scott constantly says I follow the rules. Well he certainly was not following the rules when he led a company that was convicted of 14 felonies because they were engaged in Medicare fraud. He is just somebody that we can’t trust, because he doesn’t know how to follow the rules.
KING: We’re going to those issues as we continue the conversation, but on the point Adam was just asking about, will you tell the people of Florida tonight — it’s the last chance they’ll get to see the two of you together before the election in eight days — that if you’re elected to a four-year term that you would absolutely not raise taxes? Or you cannot make that promise because you don’t know what is ahead?
SINK: Well my plan, which I have a very specific and detailed plan, calls for cutting taxes for businesses who hire more Floridians because look, that’s the problem that we have right now. Our unemployment rate is high.
SCOTT: (INAUDIBLE) other businesses could have tax increases —
SINK: No. I have nothing — there is nothing in my plans that says raising taxes. That is just a false charge that we’ve heard over and over and over again from Rick Scott.
SINK: Everyone — every one of your ads has been claimed as being full of lies and false ads by the newspapers.
SCOTT: That’s untrue. The — you are going to increase the pay for state workers. OK. How are you going to pay for that?
SINK: Rick —
SCOTT: You get — you know you want to you know expend rail service all across the state. How are you going to pay for that? You know there is nothing that you want to cut. Look, the papers have said the $12.5 billion is right. You’re just relying on the federal government for paying for it. I don’t believe that.
SINK: Excuse me. You are reinventing history.
SCOTT: No I’m not.
SINK: I think that — I think that you have spent a lifetime reinventing the truth, Rick.
SINK: Let me say this. There is nothing in my plan that calls for this number, this 12.5 billion number that you keep throwing out and you know what? You started —
SCOTT: So what is it? If it’s not $12.5 billion, is it $9 billion? Is it —
SINK: I am not raising taxes. Look, I grew up on a family farm, and I learned how to balance the checkbook. You heard me say the other night, I’m a math major. I know how to do numbers. We are not raising taxes. I — my plan calls for cutting taxes.
SINK: Let’s go back — let’s go back to your plan —
SCOTT: No —
SINK: — in which —
SCOTT: Your plan calls for raising — how much we spend on school — over $2 billion. That’s what your plan does. OK, tell me how you’re going to pay for it.
SINK: I don’t know where you got the number from.
SINK: You know what — you have spent this campaign, ever since the beginning, making up numbers.
SCOTT: No. That’s not true.
SINK: Just like you made up Medicare fraud in your company.
SCOTT: You have all these — Alex, Alex, you have — you have — look, you want to talk about fraud. Let’s talk about your job at nations Bank. Your tellers were paid kickbacks, your tellers in your bank were paid kickbacks for directing elderly consumers from — smile about it. You don’t care about seniors. Is that the deal?
SCOTT: You want to smile about it. Your bank —
SINK: Am I going to have an opportunity to respond?
SCOTT: Let me finish and make sure you understand what the issue is. Your tellers were paid kickbacks — OK. Your tellers were paid kickbacks for — OK, you think it’s funny for these seniors that you sent from safe deposits to risky ones. All right, you were sued — your bank was sued and you paid fines. That’s called fraud. So I have a whole list — you want to talk about fraud, I can give you a list of them.
SINK: Is it my opportunity to respond?
SINK: Good. I’d be glad to. You can’t lecture me about fraud.
SCOTT: Oh no, Alex —
SINK: Let me respond.
SCOTT: No, you want to joke about this. I can give you some others. You want to talk about Sykes. You want to talk about your county fraud there? You know look I’m proud — oh, yes, let’s laugh about it because only — shareholders only lost over $500 million. OK, you want to just laugh about these things. Look in contrast, I’m proud of the company I built.
SCOTT: All right. I started my life in public housing. OK. I’ve worked since I was in the second grade. I started that company with $150,000 — yes, $125,000. I built it over nine years to take care of 100,000 patients a day. I focused on three things. I wanted better patient satisfaction, better outcome, and better price. I did all three.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.
KING: I’m going to call a time-out here because I promised both of you we’re going to spend extended time trying to get some answers about both of your companies. Your company — your bank and your health care company. I want to ask one more question on another issue before we take our first break of the debate. You have said Mr. Scott that you think Florida should essentially copy Arizona. Look at the Arizona immigration law and come up with some version that fits Florida, and you have said you oppose amnesty.
Amnesty is a buzzword in our politics and it can mean different things to different people. So I want you to explain as clearly as you can to the people of Florida, a state with an estimated 675,000 undocumented immigrants right now as we speak tonight, what does amnesty mean? Does amnesty mean as governor of Florida, not only would you not welcome anymore illegal immigrants in, but you would use state resources, state money, make it a priority, take that money from elsewhere, find them, round them up and try to get rid of them?
SCOTT: Here is what I believe in. I believe in legal immigration. My lieutenant governor is a legal immigrant. She came here when she was 8 years old. Her name is Jennifer Carroll. But, Adam, everybody hasn’t heard about — my lieutenant governor is a legal immigrant. She came here when she was 8. She’s lived the American dream. She was legal. She joined the service after high school as enlisted. Retired 20 years later as lieutenant commander. All right?
We need to need to policy — our federal government needs to secure our borders. We need to know who’s in our country. However, if you’re in our country illegally and you’re doing something wrong, and you’re stopped by law enforcement, just like you get asked, I get asked for my I.D., you should be able to ask if you’re legal or not.
SMITH: So would you advocate proactively looking for those illegals?
SCOTT: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.
KING: Absolutely not.
SCOTT: No. Absolutely not.
KING: So that’s not a form of amnesty for those who are here. They’re all breaking the law. I know that’s going to be the answer back when I say this. But for those who are here who — except for breaking the law to enter the country and to enter the state or law-abiding citizens, many are working. Roughly 5 percent of your state workforce. Are they welcome in a Rick Scott Florida?
SCOTT: Here’s what — here’s what we should be doing. We should have a legal process for the people who come to the country. We should have a work visa program so people know that they can come here for a period of time and our employers can get workers. All right. I believe over time that if we set up a process that works, the illegal immigration process problem will go away. And I believe that will happen.
KING: Miss Sink, I’m going to give you time to respond then we’ll take our first break. We’ll continue the conversation. But do you have a substantive disagreement with what he just said about having an Arizona-style law and then enforcing businesses and keeping watch? Do you disagree with what he just said?
SINK: Well, very quickly, because I have to go back to these charges that have been levied about me in the previous comment that he made. But let me tell you my plan for immigration. Florida is not Arizona. But I would have a plan that would call for increasing the fines and penalties on businesses that knowingly hire illegal workers and take jobs away from Floridians and from legal immigrants.
And I’ve been talking extensively with law enforcement about what they believe an effective immigration policy should be. And law enforcement tells me and they support me. I’ve been endorsed by the two largest law enforcement organizations in the state. The first time in 20 years that they’ve endorsed a Democrat because they know they can trust me.
And they are concerned about having their resources stretched so thin and not being able to adequately protect Floridians from serious crimes. So I’m going to confer with law enforcement when it comes to immigration policy.
KING: Looking back to this issue later, I’m certain. We’re going to take our first quick break. We have the two candidates for governor of Florida here. When we come back, the state has nearly 12 percent unemployment. Jobs are the number one issue in this campaign. Also the integrity of the next governor, as you can tell, these two don’t trust each other. We’ll pick up there when we come back.
KING: We’re back in Tampa, Florida, at the University of South Florida. Let’s continue with our questioning of the two candidates for Florida governor, Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink. Before the break, as you have throughout the campaign, you were both pretty blunt in questioning the integrity of the other. Mr. Scott, I want to start with you. You tell people as you travel the state you want to run Florida like a business. I want to look into a bit of what we know about your business.
When you were the chairman of Columbia HCA, you once gave a deposition, this is in January 1997, in which you were being asked questions about some letters that were keys to a fraud case. And you said you didn’t know if you had signed those letters, and you said, quote, “I sign letters all the time that I have not read.” If you were the chief executive of the state of Florida, is that the practice you will employ?
SCOTT: If you look at letters you sign, you’d sign a lot of letters when you’re a CEO of a company. It’s — you know, award letters and all sorts of things like that. So there’s a lot of letter that you sign. You trust the people around you.
KING: These were letters that were critical to trying to prove fraud allegations.
SCOTT: Yes, I don’t know that issue at all. But you know one —
KING: You don’t know the issue in which you gave a deposition that involves your company?
SCOTT: That was a long time ago. That’s what 13 years ago. But here’s what you do as CEO. All right? I mean we had 285,000 employees. And we had — you know, we had millions of contracts in that company.
So what you do as CEO is you surround yourself with the smartest people you can and you trust them. You know, you do what Ronald Reagan said, you trust and verify as much as you can. So I don’t know the factors in that case, but that’s what I will do, that’s what I did in that company and that’s what I’ll do as governor.
KING: If you read that deposition — I’m sorry. If you read through the depositions and many who have had said at times, you appear to be deflecting or trying to be evasive. And I understand some of these are lawsuits against the company, you need to protect proprietary information. I understand that completely, but in one of the depositions, this January 16, 1997. The same deposition. I don’t know what your definition or anybody’s definition of an agreement is or an offer is or promise is. I can read those words to you, but to say that it’s something else, I have no idea.
SCOTT: If you look at — it’s a lawsuit. Right? And they’re trying to get to you to define — make a legal definition of something, so that’s not what you do as a CEO.
SMITH: Six days before you announced your candidacy for governor, you gave a deposition. You’re running on your business record. You don’t really have a public record. People are asking you to release the deposition. Doesn’t that make sense?
SCOTT: No. It’s a– it was a legal dispute. It was settled. It has nothing to do with running for governor. Has nothing to do with anything that we were doing.
Look, this race is about one issue. This race is about jobs. When you go around the state, people care about jobs. That’s what I’m running on. I’m running because I have a history of building private-sector jobs and that’s what I’m running on.
KING: I want to jump in on that point because — and I want to get to Miss Sink in there. But you say this race is about jobs, but as someone who’s never held public office, people of Florida need to trust the person who’ll be at the statehouse in Tallahassee.
And I think one of the question is, do you favor full disclosure? As Adam said, just six days before you announced your candidacy, so you knew when you were giving that deposition, that you were going to be running for governor of Florida. You don’t think the people have any right — understanding again there could be sensitive information in there to know what it was about, to see a redacted version, nothing?
SCOTT: No. Look, here — all this comes up because my opponent doesn’t have a plan. She’s never created a private sector job in her life. Never put her money up at — put her money at risk. And so to change the debate she just attacks. The only reason we’re having this discussion is because she’s attacked me —
SCOTT: The only reason we’re having a discussion is because she’s attacked me over…
SCOTT: — this issue.
SMITH: You’ve campaigned sort of as a — as a watchdog, a fiscal watchdog. And yet, on your watch, we’ve had issues with a — with a very extravagant courthouse that you inspected after concerns were raised; concerns about how the pension has — has suffered.
It seems like there were a lot of cases where you weren’t speaking up ahead of time, you were more reacting.
SINK: Let me go back, because I cannot sit here and hear Rick Scott continue to tell lies about me. Rick, in my career, I was a banker. My whole career I spent making loans to small businesses. You’d better believe I understand what it is to create businesses. I…
SCOTT: Hey, putting up your money…
SCOTT: — is totally different.
SINK: How do you…
SCOTT: Putting up your money is totally different.
SINK: But let’s — let’s just get the facts here. I have put up my money. I’ve invested in a biotech company, a very small startup company. I did have my money at risk. I had to make payroll a couple of times. So Rick Scott does not know what the facts are. He’s run a campaign based on nine or 10 sound bites. And that’s all we’ve heard from him. And this is — I — I want the visitors to hear that he is levying these ideas of charges about me. He doesn’t know a thing about me.
He also doesn’t know very much about Florida. He hasn’t been here long enough to know much about Florida. And I think that’s what’s important is character and integrity. The people of Florida don’t want a governor who will sit and tell falsehoods and make statements about his or her opponent when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And he says that…
SINK: — and excuse me, but he says how proud he is of his company that he built. He didn’t build the company. He was a corporate raider. And he left as a disgraced chief executive officer because his company, the people that he says were smart and that he trusted, either he didn’t know about it or he did know about it. And he did know for four years. His financial statements disclosed that were — they were engaged in activities that were possibly illegal and he didn’t do anything. He says that I don’t take responsibility…
KING: All right…
SINK: — I’m the kind of person that when I — John, when I hear about problems, I step up and try to solve those problems, just as I have done in the last four years, serving the people of this state as their chief financial officer.
KING: Well, I want to ask you in more detail about what he raised, which is the NationsBank (INAUDIBLE). But I want to give you, first, Mr. Scott, take 30 seconds or so to respond to that.
SCOTT: This — this is — this is — every debate is like this. So, Adam asked a question about the Taj Mahal. You did nothing about it until after it happened. You’re the fiscal watchdog. You’re a failed fiscal watchdog. In every debate, we’ve talked about NationsBank. You’ve never once responded to what you did at NationsBank, how you defrauded all those seniors with your tellers.
Oh, laugh about it. Those seniors aren’t laughing. All right, you’ve never responded to the fact that at Sykes, a public company, you’re — you’re the — you’re the auditor. You’re — you’re on the audit committee of the board. Falsifying the county records — you’ve never responded. Every time we bring this up, you smile and you laugh and say, oh, those are lies. Well, go to FactsforFlorida.com. That’s truth. You never respond to any of this.
Look at all the money you lost in the pension fund. Our pension fund in this state went — oh, yes, smile about it. Think about all those people that they’re — you went from a pension fund way over funded to way under funded. You were told by outside auditors multiple times, you’re in too risky investments. As a matter of fact, you all put up…
SINK: Are you giving him…
SCOTT: Oh, laugh about it.
SINK: Hasn’t he passed his minute of…
SINK: — of time to let him…
KING: I think he’s past his 30 seconds. I’m trying to — this is…
SINK: Because I am happy to respond.
KING: This is your debate. I’m willing to let you two go as long as we stay roughly equal on time, I’m actually willing to let you have a conversation with the people of Florida. But let me — let me come back to the NationsBank question, because Mr. Scott did raise it. You — you were the president of NationsBank Florida. And the national — the national bank was fined $6.7 million for deceiving customers into these high risk securities. That’s the allegation Mr. Scott was talking about. Now, you had no knowledge of this?
SINK: No. These are the facts. First of all, let me say that I retired from banking 10 years ago. That case, the lawyer that brought that case — it was a class action case against another company — he even has said publicly that Alex Sink had nothing to do with the case, had nothing to do with the situation and didn’t know about the problems. What more can I say, John?
KING: The question is — I don’t know what more you can say. The question is, should you have known about the problems? Here’s one of your own supporters who was quoted: “The state presidents were being told what to do, that they had to help the securities people.” Were you the state president when you were told that and did you raise any questions about it, that why am I being asked to do this?
SINK: Well, when the case was brought that that other company was not treating seniors correctly, then I immediately got involved, after the case was brought, to ensure…
SINK: — to ensure that…
KING: — came down from on high to do something that might have been questionable, did you see it? A governor will have to deal with policies that come across his or her desk, you will look at them and have to make a judgment when the — did that come across your desk and just get passed on your did you say at the time, why are we doing this?
SINK: Let me make this clear, because it’s important for the people of Florida to know about Alex Sink and what kind of governor I’ll be. If someone tells me to do something that is not legal, I’m not going to do it. If somebody tells me to do something that’s not the right thing, I don’t do it.
The people that I care about and that I will care about as the governor of Florida are the people who are working every day, trying hard to make a living. And when he says that I don’t care about seniors, I have been a champion for senior protection as the CFO.
One of the first things I did was I started — I asked what the biggest problems were and my people told me insurance agents are selling annuities to seniors inappropriately. A 92-year-old grandmother who was sold an annuity, $200,000, her life savings, that had a 15-year surrender charge. That guy should go to jail. So we put together a Safeguard Our Seniors task force and we have done hundreds of seminars around this state.
Plus, I got legislation passed in the Republican legislature this year to tighten up the requirement for the disclosure to protect seniors. And I have seniors like Bonnie Madden…
KING: I need to call a time…
SINK: — who will stand up for me…
KING: — I need to call a time out here…
SINK: — and say that I protected her from losing her life savings.
KING: It’s time…
SINK: That’s the kind of governor that Alex Sink is going to be. I’m not going to be the gov — the person who…
KING: All right. All right, I’m going to read…
SINK: — puts profits over people like Rick Scott does.
KING: — I’m going to reassert control for just a minute. I appreciate your saying — Mr. — Mr. Scott, you will get a chance to respond. We’re going to take a quick break. As you can see, a feisty conversation. When we come back, again, 11.9 percent unemployment in the state of Florida. We’ll bring it up with the candidates.
KING: We’re back with the candidates for Florida governor: Republican Rick Scott, Democrat Alex Sink.
I want to remind the candidates and myself, because I’m the one who’s been letting it go. We generally agreed to try to keep the answers to a minute, then rebuttal to 30 seconds. I’ve been letting go because I want to you two to have a good conversation. Let’s try to get a little closer to that so we can cover more topics tonight.
Let’s start with the state’s economy — 11.9 percent. It was around 8 percent when President Obama took office. When you travel to other states and you talk to candidates for governor, most of them would say, “There’s only so much I can do,” especially the incumbents, because they talk about the national tide, this national recession. You both have said jobs is your number one priority. You both have said you would do things as governor to improve the climate here.
So, it begs the question — and to you, Mr. Scott, first — if a governor can do things to improve the jobs market, even in a tough national economy, what did Governor Crist fail to do?
SCOTT: OK. First, Alex, you say you always follow the rules, the rule was no one supposed to give us messages during the break, and your campaign did with an iPad, all right, iPod.
So, on the economy, what Crist didn’t do well? What he didn’t do well is he didn’t build business. I mean, if you think about it, the state has to be — you have to create an environment for people who want to build businesses.
The last four years under both Crist and my opponent, here’s what we’ve done: regulations have grown. We’re 45th out of 50 states in regulation. All right? They’ve raised fees. All right?
And they’ve not put any effort into getting people to move to the state. So what they should have been doing in all this time is: you got to reduce regulation, you got to reduce the size of government, you got to focus on the size of government. You got to reduce taxes — my plan is to reduce property tax rates by 19 percent and we’re going to phase out the business tax.
Charlie Crist and my opponent did none of those things. All they did is grow the size of government and is killing jobs. It’s killing jobs. You go across the state, we got the highest — look at what’s happened the last four years. When Charlie Crist has been office and my opponent, we’ve have lost over 800,000 jobs in the last four years. We went from one of the lowest states in unemployment to one of the highest.
KING: Ms. Sink, is he right? Has Governor Crist done things wrong? Or could he have done things proactively to help the jobs climate? And then you can respond to Mr. Scott.
SINK: Let me clarify who has been charge in Tallahassee. It’s been one party, Rick Scott’s party. It’s been Tallahassee insiders who are now supporting his campaign for governor. So, it’s been the governor and a Republican-controlled legislator.
And what I’ve been doing as CFO, I’ve been the outsider in Tallahassee. They are the ones that passed those taxes and those fees, and they are the ones that created this environment that Rick Scott is so critical about. The members of your own party, and they are the people who are supporting you and the reason they are supporting Rick Scott is because they just want the status quo. And I’m tired of it.
SMITH: Let’s — let’s get specific on something —
SMITH: You’ll be facing a $2 billion to $3 billion budget shortfall next year. Your plan calls for giving state employees a raise for the first time in year.
SINK: Adam, that’s not accurate.
SMITH: Is it not on your Web site that you want to give state employees a raise for the first time in years?
SINK: Not in an environment where we have a $2 billion shortfall. It’s not going to be possible.
SMITH: You’re talking about investing in Pre-K, correct?
SMITH: So, how are you going to do this? Given the budget problem we’re facing, how are you going to pay this?
SINK: Thank you forgiving me the opportunity. I have a plan. My plan calls for cutting business taxes for businesses who hire more Floridians so we can stimulate our economy and get people back to work.
I also have a reform plan, from what I’ve seen already — at least $700 million in cuts that I have specifically identified to run government more efficiently. We’ve got $3 billion in Medicaid fraud in the system. We’ve got to get to work on cutting that Medicaid fraud. And, yes, we’re going to have to make some very, very tough decisions once —
SMITH: Today, the federal government awarded —
SINK: Sorry, Adam. But to suggest that I have all of these increases and that taxes are going to be increased is just not in my plan.
SMITH: Today, the federal government awarded another $800 million for the high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando, more than $1 billion in stimulus money. Would you ax that project?
SCOTT: So, my opponent has — she’s going to increase spending $12.5 billion and going to save $700 million. That’s Obama math. That’s exactly —
SMITH: Are you going to pull the plug on the high-speed rail?
SCOTT: High-speed rail, here’s we have to do: we have — every project we do, we have to get return for taxpayers. So, the way I look at it, on the high-speed rail, if the federal government is going to fund all of it, and there’s no — there’s nothing the state — going to cost the state any money, let’s look at it.
But let’s look at a final feasibility study. Let’s look at exactly what the state is responsible for. But if you’re going to build an office build, you wouldn’t and say, I’m going to go build half of it with the money and wait and see, hopefully, somebody is going to show up with the rest. We shouldn’t be doing that with any projects like rail. Let’s make sure we have all of the money. Let’s do a final feasibility study. Let’s actually look at what the real return is.
KING: So, put it on hold until you have that data?
SCOTT: Absolutely. I mean, you wouldn’t — you wouldn’t go build a building unless you had — you knew exactly, you know, what the plan was. If you had all of the money, why would you do it with high-speed rail?
Now, my opponent wants not only to do that, and but she wants to do it all the way to Miami and has no — she wants to do it. She’s committed to do it. But has no funding mechanism. There’s only one funding mechanism: increase taxes, and that’s what she’ll do.
KING: Let me ask each of you to close this segment out — to reflect on the BP oil spill. And did you learn a lesson from it? Any lesson you may have learned, whether it’s about industry regulation, whether it’s about how a governor shows executive leadership at the time his or her state is challenge. Is there a single lesson that you learned?
SCOTT: Sure. The lesson —
SINK: Are you asking —
KING: You both get — you both get about 30 or 40 seconds on this one. Ladies first.
SINK: Thank you. You seem to ask him all the first questions. But I’m happy to talk about the BP oil spill, because I was critical about the way the Obama administration handled — they just didn’t get on top of the oil spill.
Let me tell you what, the first and most important thing that we learned as Floridians is that to approve drilling in Florida waters which is within 3 to 10 miles of our coastline, would be a horrible idea. We learned that accidents can happen, and an accident like that close into our shores would totally destroy our tourist economy. That’s the biggest lesson I think that we as Floridians learned.
The other lesson is that we saw how much — how dependent we are on our tourist economy. And the first thing I did, when I got myself over to Pensacola, as the CFO, because I understood there are small business who are going to be hurting, and I was just back there the other day and saw a couple of those small businesses, the bait and tackle shop owner and the owner of the tourist shop on the beach who were thanking me and saying that I was the only elected official that really went over there, John, and helped them solve their problems and put money in their hands. Everybody else was just over there for a photo-op.
KING: That was a minute and five seconds. Mr. Scott, take the same.
SCOTT: All right. I dealt with the same sort of issue back in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit. I had a lot of hospitals down in Miami, and I was down there right after the hurricane hit. We had to completely evacuate one hospital, which was basically demolished.
And I showed up, we had over 500 employees without homes. We had 154 patients in the hospital. I got nurses from the west coast of Florida over there within eight or nine hours, and I reopened two hospitals, and I stayed down there until it was solved. We did a fundraiser for all of our employees to make sure that they had the money to get back into their homes. That’s what you do.
What they should — what Governor Crist and my opponent should have been doing down there, they should have stayed down there until the problem was solved. They should have been talking to all those local businesses. I’ve been down there.
And also explain that, you know, the beaches were basically open. I mean, we should — we should have been down there when they had all that possibility to be on national TV to say, look, the oil spill is not here.
Part of the reason we hurt our tourism is the fact that, you know, we played the game, that oh, poor me. There’s problems down here. When the truth is, our beaches were pretty much spotless.
SMITH: — much of an environmentally plan. Essentially, watered-down growth management and you want to be receptive to drilling. What would you tell people, Florida has a long story of being environmentalist?
SCOTT: Absolutely. You know, we all live — you know, we all live here because we love this environment. You know, we love the weather, we love the beaches, we love the Everglades, we love our lakes and rivers. And so, what we got to do is make sure we do everything we can, possibly can, to make sure we continue that. We restore the Everglades. We make sure we have the best water standards and things like that.
At the same time, we got to make sure that, right now, our biggest issue is jobs. We need jobs. And so, what you have to balance is you have to balance the need that we got to keep a pristine environment, but we can’t be raising taxes and we got – to build jobs, so I have a seven-step plan to get the state going back to work.
KING: I’m going to give you 30 seconds to respond his — what he just said about the environment, then we need to take a quick break.
SINK: OK. Thank you. Well my opponent has said that he would do away with the Department of Community Affairs. It’s the one state agency that holds local governments accountable for the dealings they have with developers. That’s why we have Amendment Four on the ballot because people were so frustrated about these out of control developments.
I oppose Amendment Four because I think it would be a job killer. But we cannot do away with our Department of Community Affairs which is the only organization that handles growth management in Florida. He would just hand Florida over to development, to just go wild and that’s not what Floridians want.
KING: I will give you a chance to respond.
KING: I will give you a chance to respond when we come back.
KING: We’re going to take another quick break. The candidates for Florida governor are debating right here. Stay with us.
KING: We’re back with the candidates for Florida governor, Republican Rick Scott, Democrat Alex Sink. We talked a bit earlier about the Arizona immigration law, and many states saying after this election they may try and copy it in their states. Another law Mr. Scott that a lot of conservatives want to copy is a new Nebraska abortion law. It essentially tries to redefine the abortion debate by saying the standard should not be viability, when the fetus can live outside the womb, but when the fetus can feel pain. The Nebraska abortion law sets that at 20 weeks. Would you support such a law and sign such a law into law here in the state of Florida?
SCOTT: Let’s go back to the last question on DCA. I have not said that I would eliminate DCA. What I would do is go back to the original purpose of DCA. My opponent is an Obama liberal. She thinks people in Tallahassee can tell local communities exactly what they ought to do. Let’s look at what’s happened across our state.
You can go all across the state and developments have been killed by all the regulation, all the paperwork. In fact you have to go to three or four agencies. I’ll give you an example. Down close where I live, Ave Maria University was recently built. Just in permits, just — not any building — just for the land, 78 permits, took years to do. DCA has killed jobs all across this state. We need to go back to the original purpose.
SCOTT: With regard to abortion, I am pro-life. I’m pro-life with the exceptions of rape, incest, and the life of the mother.
KING: And would you sign a law that said the standard should be after 20 weeks, when the Nebraska law supporters say they have researched that fetus can feel the pain, would you sign that? Essentially under current law in most states it is 23 weeks or so most research shows when a fetus can live outside the womb. So it takes about three weeks to a month sliding back the line. Would you sign a law that said at 20 weeks, after 20 weeks no abortions?
KING: Would you sign that law?
SINK: No, I wouldn’t because I support the laws that we have on the books right now in Florida.
KING: And support them, that’s it, a blanket support for abortion rights or when new medical and technology advances come into play, would you look at that?
SINK: I follow the law, and I will uphold the law that we have in Florida currently, which does have restrictions, like parental notification. That’s what I support. But I have to go back and say something here about this debate tonight, because I know that our time is running short. And I don’t think that the people of Florida have really heard yet what they need to hear from me and from my opponent.
I have received the endorsement of 16 Florida newspapers. Every single newspaper that has endorsed has endorsed my candidacy, because they know that I have the character and the integrity and they also know that I have the business plan, that I’m a fiscal conservative to carry our state forward in a matter that all Floridians can be proud of. My opponent, on the other hand, has refused to appear before a single editorial board, which is the first time in the history of this state
SMITH: We have done a lot of talk about character and integrity. But we have — we’re going to have — our state is in serious financial trouble. Next year we’re going to have — we have had a Republican legislature for years. Next year it could have two very, very conservative leaders. There is not going to be sort of a moderating force, whether it was Charlie Crist or the Florida Senate. Have you seen anywhere that the Florida legislature has gone too far, too conservative in recent years, Ms. Sink?
SINK: Oh I’d be happy to respond to that. Just this year, they passed a slush fund bill to permit political slush funds and reintroduce slush funds into state government like Florida had many years ago. Governor Crist vetoed that bill, rightfully so. Maybe the best example is the Senate Bill Six that was passed. It was called a teacher pay bill, but actually if you look at the details and what the parents and the superintendents and the school board members actually knew that it was, it was a takeover by Tallahassee politicians and bureaucrats of local school making decisions. Those decisions ought to be made locally.
That was rightfully vetoed. This Senate and House should have passed ethics reforms bills. We have had so much corruption all over the state and also look at the abuses in Tallahassee, credit cards, people losing — people leaving office.
KING: Let’s let Mr. Scott in the —
SINK: I put forward an ethics package that should be passed.
KING: Let’s let Mr. Scott in on that question.
SCOTT: You talk about all of these things, but you know you’ve been in office for four years, you could have proposed some of these things that you didn’t — and they didn’t happen.
SINK: I absolutely did every time —
SCOTT: Let’s go back to what — let’s go back to what — first thing you talked about. You talked about your endorsements by the newspapers. Absolutely, most of them endorsed Barack Obama. You’re an Obama liberal. That’s exactly why they’re endorsing you.
SCOTT: Second, let’s talk about the important endorsements. OK, this race is about jobs. All right, this race is about jobs, so I’m endorsed by the NFIB. I’m endorsed by the Florida Chamber. Also you know if you look all across the state the people that care about jobs, they’re the ones that are supporting me.
SCOTT: Second, let’s talk about the important endorsements, OK? This race is about jobs. All right, this race is about jobs. So I’m endorsed by the NFIB. I’m endorsed by the Florida Chamber. Also, you know, if you look all across the state, the people that care about jobs, they’re the ones who are supporting me.
The people that care about things such as, you know, teachers’ unions, that’s who supports you; trial lawyers, that’s who support you. So that’s the difference in this race. You’re a tax (INAUDIBLE). You’ve been in office for four years. You’ve had your shot. Look at what’s happened to our state in four years. Our pension fund was — has gone from way over funded…
SINK: Can I respond, please?
SCOTT: — to way under…
KING: Actually, at the moment, you can’t. I need to stop this…
SINK: Can I respond?
KING: We are running short on time. We will have time for you to respond in the next block. We have to take one last quick break. When we come back, the candidates for Florida governor. Please stay with us.
KING: We’re back with the candidates for Florida governor. Our time is running short, so I’m going to ask the candidates to treat this like a lightning rod. If you can answer yes or no, please do. If you need a little bit more time, just take a sentence or two, please, so we can get a few more issues in. Mr. Scott, a the last debate, you were asked whether you considered homosexuality to be immoral and you wouldn’t give a straight answer. Is homosexuality immoral?
SCOTT: I’m not going to judge people based on that.
SMITH: Let’s go to Terry Schiavo, the Terry Schiavo case. Was the legislature and Governor Bush right to intervene in that, Miss. Sink?
SINK: Absolutely not. It’s a private decision between a family and their medical profession. And let me add, because you — you said that I would have an opportunity to respond to the last comment before the break. I’m sorry, John, but let’s talk about these newspaper endorsements. “The Jacksonville Times”…
SINK: “The Jacksonville” — excuse me.
SINK: “The Jacksonville Times”…
SINK: We have to be fair.
KING: Mr. Scott, on Terry Schiavo?
SCOTT: They did the right thing.
SINK: “The Jacksonville Times-Union” endorsed me. They have not endorsed a Democrat in 26 years. “The Naples Daily News”…
KING: All right, you can run a campaign…
SINK: — his hometown newspaper…
KING: You can run a campaign ad saying that. We can’t say that here. Back in March, Mr. Scott, the Republican Party of Florida compared Alex Sink to Fidel Castro because they both publicly supported the health care bill. Was that over the line?
SCOTT: She supports the health care bill and it’s a disaster…
KING: A comparison to Castro?
SCOTT: It’s horrible for patients, it’s horrible for taxpayers, it’s horrible for businesspeople.
SMITH: What’s your biggest regret, Miss. Sink?
SINK: My biggest regret?
SINK: Oh — you know, that’s hard for me to answer because I don’t think about the past and I don’t think about regrets so much. I think about the future. I think about — I’m thinking about the future of Florida and what I can do for Florida people, putting them back to work.
KING: Mr. Scott, any regrets?
SCOTT: Yes. I would have more kids. I love my daughters. I would have had three or four.
KING: The Obama administration…
KING: — please, please, please, please. The Obama administration has lifted some restrictions on family travel, money transfers to Cuba and is allowing U.S. telecommunications companies to provide more cellular and satellite service. Good idea?
SCOTT: Bad idea. Bad idea. I’m against it.
SINK: I’m against it, also. Because I think the…
KING: You’re both against it?
SINK: I think there should be more family travel, of course.
SMITH: What’s the minimum — minimum wage in Florida, Mr. Scott?
SMITH: Miss. Sink, is that right?
KING: National Public Radio, last week, fired Juan Williams, because he said that sometimes when he’s on an airplane and he sees Muslims, he gets nervous. Was that the right decision?
SCOTT: No, it was the wrong decision. I don’t believe — I don’t believe Juan — Juan Williams is a bigot. I think it’s the wrong decision.
SINK: I agree. Juan Williams has a distinguished career with National Public Radio and I’d hate to see him not there anymore.
KING: All right, Rick Scott, Alex Sink, Democrat and Republican candidate for governor of Florida, we’ll be right back.
KING: We’re out of time tonight, but we’d like to thank the University of South Florida, the “St. Petersburg Times” and both of the Florida gubernatorial candidates for joining us tonight for this conversation. Thanks for watching “JOHN KING USA”.