This is an unedited transcript of Florida Gubernatorial Debate with CNN’s John King. CREDIT: CNN’s John King/USA.
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 —