This afternoon all but one of the candidates running for Attorney General in Florida this year engaged in an at times spirited debate at a Tiger Bay event held at Ferguson Hall in downtown Tampa.
Only Republican Pam Bondi was absent. Tiger Bay official Joe Citro said that Bondi could not be present because of a conflict (she apparently needed to appear at a trial, though he also said he only learned that after attempting for over a month to get confirmation from her camp).
The Bill McCollum lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care law drew the widest distinctions between the candidates, though there were also strong differences of opinion regarding Republican calls in Florida to ape Arizona's controversial anti-illegal immigration law, a law that the U.S. Justice Department has already challenged in court.
Perhaps the fiercest exchange was after Republican Holly Benson blasted the health care bill signed by President Obama this spring. The former head of the Agency for Health Care Administration called the law unconstitutional and said it violated the Commerce Clause and 10th Amendment, the same legal theory that has led McCollum and other (mostly Republican) Attorney Generals of the U.S. to go to court over.
Gelber, sitting right next to Benson, stood up and said, "You're wrong!", drawing cheers from the obviously Democratic leaning crowd. "There are 4 million Floridians without health care, 800,000 children that have to be so sick that they have to be taken to an emergency room for pediatric care, and that's a moral stain, that's wrong, and health care should be a right, not a privilege!"
Gelber then challenged the legal claim of the bill violating the Commerce Clause, asking rhetorically how many people had FICA taxes taken out of their salaries. "You know what that's for?" he asked, his voice rising, "It's for Medicare when you grow older....it's a frivolous lawsuit, and the moment I become Attorney General I will recede from it."
On illegal immigration, both Benson and Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp said Arizona's situation was unique because of their proximity to violence near the Mexican border. He said Florida was "blessed" not to have the Mexican drug war situation but he said that as much as 30% of the space in Florida's jails are filled with illegal immigrants. "You as taxpayers are incurring millions and millions of dollars in expenses, on our health care system, on our prison system, in our jails because the federal govt. is not securing the borders, and if I was the Attorney General, I'd sue the federal govt. to get every penny of your money back..."
Indie candidate Jim Lewis said he disagreed, while Holly Benson said she liked the 'Zona law, saying laws are meant to be upheld. She said in her discussions with legal immigrants along the campaign trail, she said they all said one of the reasons that they wanted to come to America is because we are a nation of laws, and not selected ones at that.
Dave Aronberg and Gelber are both against the law, and said they couldn't see how it would be enforced without the police engaging in racial profiling.