JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The five major Democratic candidates vying to become Florida's next governor answered one-on-one questions Thursday night, making a push to earn votes in what was likely their last side-by-side appearance before the Aug. 28 primary.
Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, billionaire Jeff Greene, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando-area businessman Chris King faced off in a town hall hosted by WJXT and moderated by News4Jax political reporter Kent Justice in partnership with Jacksonville University.
Some of the candidates spoke out against President Trump, some calling the head of state an "embarrassment."
Levine, who in his pitch said he brings the best of the private sector in addition to his experience as mayor, stressed keeping someone with no political experience out of the governor's office.
"As a matter of fact, we have a president right now that we've done that with, and it has not worked out so well for us," Levine said. "The last thing we want is for Donald Trump to take over this state with his radical Ron 'Mini Me' -- Ron DeSantis, and I am the person to fight that fight."
Greene, who has never held elected office, has spent much time and money attacking President Trump during his campaign. That criticism continued Thursday night.
"Donald Trump is, he's a national embarrassment. I mean, I'm ashamed to have him as our president," Greene said. Florida needs someone who can stand up to him, and I'm the kind of person who can stand up to him."
REPLAY: Entire News4Jax/JU Public Policy Institute forum
WATCH: Democratic gubernatorial candidates explain what makes them special
INTERVIEWS: Andrew Gillum | Gwen Graham | Jeff Greene | Chris King | Philip Levine
Gun control and school safety
King, who also has never held elected office and claimed that was his only commonality with President Trump, said the Democratic party needs fresh ideas to win the governor's race.
One of King's priorities, like his Democratic opponents, is gun control and school safety. He has proposed a "bullet tax" to save the lives of children.
"The NRA is flooding our state with ammunition and guns, and I believe they bare responsibility," Kings said. "I think we'll raise in the neighborhood of $30 to $40 million dollars."
King said he would seek ways to use that additional money to invest in "school safety technologies" to keep students safe.
Speaking to parents and those who lost their loved ones in the Parkland school shooting, Levine said he's someone who's "walked the walk" opposed to one who's "talked the talk." Levine reiterated the state "cannot afford to not make schools safe" and said the state will pay for better safety by expanding Medicaid.
"We will get this done. We will ban assault rifles. We will make sure that we have better background checks," Levine said. "There is no question in my mind we will make sure folks with mental health issues do not buy weapons in Florida, and we will close that gun show loophole."
Improving education, healthcare
Graham, a mother whose vision is to give Florida a "bright future," had an eight-point advantage ahead of Thursday's town hall, according to RealClearPolitics' poll of polls. She said more needs to be spent on Florida's public education system.
"We've got to spend more so every child, no matter where he or she lives, is able to have that quality education in Florida," Graham said.
Graham said the money to spend more on education would come from her healthcare plan, which involves Medicaid expansion.
"We can reduce our cost by taking Medicaid expansion. We can reduce our cost by doing a 'public option,' which would allow any Floridian to buy into any type of health insurance that our legislators get," Graham said.
Gillum, the candidate endorsed by Bernie Sanders who touted himself as being the most progressive idealist among his Democratic opponents, shared his thoughts on a single plan system of healthcare and Medicare for all.
"We will save the system some $2 trillion a year, possibly, and that doesn't even include prescription drugs and medication," Gillum said, referring to a recent study done by an institute funded by the Koch brothers.
He continued, "By extending healthcare to all we can save this system and cover more people."
Greene suggested there is a war on education and said he wants to boost teacher salaries. He too suggested Medicaid expansion.
Voter struck by tragedy
Keith Bass' daughter, Amber Bass, lost her life to gun violence in 2013. Her killer still hasn't been caught.
Since his daughter was fatally shot in a driveway, Keith Bass, who attended the forum, has become more concerned about gun violence. He believes gun control is critical when it comes to choosing Florida's next governor.
"Most of the Democratic candidates are for getting rid of assault weapons. To ban them," Keith Bass said. "I just think with the recent situation we had in Parkland, I just think it would bring closure for those trying to get justice for their loved ones."
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