- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ground rules weren’t a problem this time, but Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist fanned the political flames late Tuesday over immigration, the minimum wage and — in odd spurts — which of them had been poorer as a child.

The past and present governors, under the bright lights of a national CNN broadcast, evaded direct questions about raising the minimum wage and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin but threw direct punches over job creation and their dependability.

“I’m somebody who you can trust,” said Mr. Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who preceded Mr. Scott and wants his old job back after a failed bid for the Senate in 2010.

The hourlong showdown in Jacksonville, Florida, offered a dose of normalcy, after the Crist campaign accused Mr. Scott of holding up their last debate with objections to the Democrat’s portable fan.

Mr. Scott’s camp has said the governor did not realize Mr. Crist was out on stage and ready to start, and the incident will go down as one of the sillier moments of the 2014 cycle.

This time, the squabbling occurred onstage. Health care was conspicuously absent in the debate, but the pair sparred over criminal justice, the economy and even the unseemly behavior of Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston.

Mr. Scott attacked Mr. Crist as a man who puts style over substance: “You are pure talk and no action,” he told the former governor.

He said he created 650,000 jobs as governor despite a lagging recovery, and that Mr. Crist could not match his record.

But Mr. Scott took a less direct stance on immigration reform, praising Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, for leading efforts to secure the borders and legalize unlawfully present immigrants while declining to take a position on a path to citizenship.

“I’d have to see the whole thing,” Mr. Scott said of a final bill.

On social issues, Mr. Scott said his administration made an effort to inform Trayvon Martin’s family about efforts to investigate his shooting death at the hands of George Zimmerman, who was later acquitted. The question had been whether young black men get a fair shake from the criminal justice system.

“I don’t believe they do, and I think it’s sad,” Mr. Crist said, noting he filed civil rights cases during his tenure as state attorney general.

Mr. Crist highlighted Mr. Scott’s troubles at the helm of Columbia/HCA, a health care company that was investigated for Medicare fraud in the late 1990s.

“I take responsibility. There’s always something you can do better … I could have hired more auditors,” Mr. Scott explained.

On raising the minimum wage from $7.93 to more than $10, Mr. Scott said he supports the concept of a wage floor but maintained that the private sector sets pay. He noted that those who lost their jobs during Mr. Crist’s tenure from 2006 to 2010 saw “zero wages.”

“I was not responsible for the global economic meltdown,” Mr. Crist said, defending his record.

The economic section of the debate was marked by squabbles over who had a more prosperous childhood and could understand the plight of the needy.

“You grew up with money,” Mr. Scott said.

“You don’t know me,” Mr. Crist shot back, “and you can’t tell my story.”

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