David Jolly

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Grayson, Jolly Debate Politely over Senate Seat

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Congressmen Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, and (right) David Jolly, R-Seminole during the Florida Open Debate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio. /photo Maria Padilla

It was a mostly civil affair between Congressmen Alan Grayson (D-Osceola and parts of Orange and Polk counties) and David Jolly (R-Pinellas County) during this week’s U.S. Senate campaign debate in Orlando hosted by the Open Debate Coalition and live streamed on the Web.

None of the bare knuckles brawl seen in the presidential campaign. The two congressmen discussed policy differences without finger-pointing or raised voices. Grayson, known for his sharp tongue, was on his best behavior, minus a few turns of phrases, such as “We have a name for killing a person … but no name for killing a planet”  and “African Americans were once considered three-fifths of a human being. The first African American president gets only seven-eighths of a term.”

Jolly, best known for calling on Congress members to stop personally soliciting campaign donations, stated that jihad and Iran were a greater threat to the U.S. in response to a question about climate change. Grayson appeared to stare in disbelief as Jolly changed the subject. Jolly also gave an “incorrect” reply on a question about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, stating Garland should get an up or down vote (but he would vote against). Lt. Gov. Carlos López Cantera, also vying for the Senate seat, later criticized Jolly, saying it demonstrated Jolly’s unwillingness to stand up to President Barack Obama.

The debate was missing a few key players, notably Patrick Murphy (D-South Florida), Grayson’s rival for the Democratic nomination, and López Cantera. Had all four been on the debate stage, the dynamic might have been scrappier.

The 75-minute debate, moderated by Cenk Uyghur of the progressive The Young Turks and Benny Johnson of the conservative Independent Journal Review, was held at the WMFE-TV studios at the University of Central Florida. Florida Open Debate fielded 900 questions from the public posted a week or two earlier on its Website which readers then scored in order of importance. Over 410,000 people voted and the top 30 questions were chosen for the debate, although time didn’t allow for all 30.

(Full disclosure: I was invited to “ask” a reader’s question during the debate. The question came from Samantha Moran of Pembroke, Mass., who asked “Do you support defunding or defending Planned Parenthood? The question was ranked 28 in Florida and 30 nationally.)

The “open debate” format  proved that debates do not have to be controlled by political parties or print and broadcast media. In addition, the public can be trusted to generate substantive questions. In addition to the Supreme Court nomination and climate change questions, readers also asked about campaign financing, the banking system, abortion, Planned Parenthood, Social Security and minimum wage, among others.

But noticeably absent were Florida-related questions and, specifically Latino issues in a state where one of every four people is Hispanic. No questions on the thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations or the debt crisis in Puerto Rico – the two feeders of Florida’s largest Hispanic groups, which likely will have a big impact on the 2016 elections.

Asked later about their views on the Puerto Rico crisis – the island may default on over $400 million in debt next week. It is carrying a total of $72 billion in debt –Jolly replied that federal bankruptcy laws ought to be extended to the island as they “apply to other states,” adding that he didn’t want the largest  bondholders to be bailed out because “they knew [buying the debt] was a risk.” He added that Republicans and Democrats in Congress were far apart on a potential compromise.

As a Central Florida congressman, Grayson’s stance on Puerto Rico is more well known: Extend Medicaid to Puerto Rico; eliminate the Jones Act that governs shipping between the U.S. and Puerto Rico and makes the island uncompetitive; and end the bankruptcy law discrimination.

Congress removed Puerto Rico from federal bankruptcy laws in the 1980s.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor