JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The third and final debate between Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic challenger and former Gov. Charlie Crist was dominated by attacks on either other's ethics and their actions during their terms in office.
In the debate, hosted by WJXT and broadcast nationally by CNN, the two candidates took aim at each other on economic policies, the death penalty, and voting rights for felons.
Cost of living
Scott, a multi-millionaire who spent a substantial amount of his own money to be elected four years ago and appears to be bankrolling his re-election campaign, repeated Tuesday night that he had "nothing" growing up, while Crist always had money.
"You don't know me and you can't tell my story," Crist eventually shot back, saying his father delivered newspapers when Crist was a boy to help make ends meet. Somewhere along the line, the candidates had time to launch into a discussion about paying the bills.
Scott said prepaid tuition cost less during his term than it did under Crist, which is mostly true.
Crist said homeowners were paying higher property insurance rates under Scott. The independent website PolitiFact.com reports that not only are rates higher, residents are getting less coverage.
The facts: While this trend toward higher premiums started under Crist, legislation signed by Scott in 2011 has allowed rates to continue to raise.
Scott continued to needle Crist about more than 800,000 lost jobs during the former Republican's term, when the Great Recession hit the state with full force. While analysis finds that figure relatively accurate, economics experts say that no governor can take the blame (or credit) for jobs numbers.
As for paying for some of those jobs, Scott again claimed raising the minimum wage as Crist wants to do "would lose 500,000 jobs." He was citing a Congressional Budget Office report that said bringing the wage up to $10.10 could cost that many jobs, but that the range could run from a slight impact up to 1 million job losses.
Scott also neglected to say those were national numbers though, and not just Florida. WJXT's Kent Justice, who co-moderated the debate with CNN's Jake Tapper, corrected him on that point.
Justice reminded Scott that he promised during his first campaign he would create 700,000 new jobs "on top of what normal growth would be," which would amount to 1.7 million jobs.
"We have 651,000 private sector jobs so far. We have 261,000 job openings right now," Scott said. But then he turned the rest of his answer into an additional attack on Crist.
Crist said there are 600,000 people that are still unemployed in Florida and another 700,000 that are not longer looking. "That is about 1.3 million people in Florida not working today," Crist said.
But Crist went on to pound Scott for refusing to take $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa in 2011, saying the project would have created 600,000 jobs -- a number than analysts say is way too high.
Which governor is responsible for rising utility costs?
It was Crist who brought up the utility rates, saying, "Rick Scott is fighting for the big utility companies and the property insurance companies," adding later, "(Scott)'s on the side of the big utility companies."
Scott fired back: "First off, utility rates went up during Charlie and went down since I have been (governor)."
The facts: Scott's statistics don't parse out the base rate from the rest of an electric bill. While fuel surcharges went up during Crist's term, base rates for the four large investor-owned power companies have consistently gone up under Scott's watch.
Scott repeated an accusation made often in his campaign commercials that a former business associate of Crist, Scott Rothstein, paid the then governor to appoint judges.
"Charlie won't take responsibility," Scott said.
Crist replied that Rothstein is a convicted felon, and, "The notion that (Scott) would put millions of dollars behind a commercial where somebody who is a convicted felon makes a false allegation against me is stunning."
The facts: Rothstein and his firm were large donors to the Republican Party of Florida when Crist was a Republican, and they also gave directly to Crist's campaign. Crist did appoint Rothstein to serve on a commission that recommended appeals court judges, but he was only one of nine votes.
Rothstein boasted in court testimony that in exchange for donations he was able to dictate judicial appointments, but nobody who served with Rothstein remembered him as a strong advocate for any particular judicial candidate.
On the subject of ethics, Crist repeated the claim of his campaign commercials that Scott refused to answer 75 questions under oath when he was CEO of the hospital chain Columbia/HCA under investigation for Medicare fraud.
"He doesn't answer questions. Pleads the Fifth," Crist said.
"What I say is when you have a company like that and something goes wrong, you know, you say, I thought about what could I do better? What could I have done better? I could have hired more auditors," Scott answered. "But let's remember, I have said I took responsibility for that."
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