The governors of Florida and California faced off in a one-of-a-kind, heated debate on Thursday night in Georgia, clashing over topics like crime, taxes, abortion, and parental rights.
The questions in the debate moderated by Fox News’ Sean Hannity drew on a number of statistics showing Florida in a favorable light over California. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running in the Republican primary against former President Donald Trump, used the opportunity to hammer home the Republican case against reelecting President Joe Biden.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who some suggest is running a shadow campaign for the presidency, defended the Biden agenda and went blow-for-blow with Mr. DeSantis. While the pair covered a lot of ground, the following topics received a significant amount of attention.
Early in the debate Mr. Newsom and Mr. DeSantis sparred over the rate of migration to and from their respective states.
The exchange began after Mr. Hannity asked about the high rates of outmigration from California and some other blue states. Meanwhile, Florida and some other red states have grown.
“He’s the first governor to ever lose population,” Mr. DeSantis said of Mr. Newsom.
“I think California has more natural advantages than any state in the country. You almost have to try to mess California up,” he said.
The California governor claimed that over the last two years, there were “more Floridians going to California than Californians going to Florida.”
“That’s gonna be fun to fact check,” he added.
But U.S. Census data show that more Californians have moved to Florida than vice-versa in 2021 and 2022.
Some fact-checkers have asserted that California’s state executive was referring to migration per capita rather than the raw numbers.
Whatever the case may be, the Fox News-hosted event allowed refugees from the Golden State to say their piece. At a press conference prior to the Thursday night spectacle, seven new Floridians told reporters why they had departed from the Golden State.
“In 2022 we had had enough,” said Steve Grossi, a law enforcement officer who spent a few years with the Sutter County Sheriff’s Department near Yuba City, California.
“We were fed up. We were angry. We were scared. It was so bad that we can no longer survive here. The California that we once knew no longer existed,” he added.
Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Newsom also focused on the difference in their state’s tax policies. Mr. Hannity opened with statistics from the Tax Foundation, which showed Florida’s taxes alongside California’s.
Florida features a lower sales tax (6 percent compared to California’s 7.25 percent), lower gas tax (35.23 cents per gallon compared to California’s 77.9 cents per gallon), and a lower corporate income tax (5.50 percent compared to California’s 8.84 percent). Florida also boasts no individual income tax, while California features a maximum 13.3 percent income tax rate.
The Sunshine State only out-taxes the Golden State in terms of property taxes 0.91 percent on average compared to California’s 0.75 percent.
Mr. Newsom said that his state had the highest income tax rate rather than the highest state income taxes, which was a “foundational, fundamental difference.” He argued that states like Florida tax lower-income earners more than he does in his state.
“How many people wanted to go to California because they pay less taxes,” Mr. DeSantis asked. “I have not seen that.”
They come to Florida, he said, for lower taxes.
Mr. DeSantis also emphasized the fact his state has no state income tax, and the sales tax in place is still lower than that of California.
Mr. Newsom also questioned Mr. DeSantis’s actions in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Florida governor broached the issue when Mr. Newsom brought up Disney. The corporation, long a cornerstone of the state’s economy, has been at odds with Mr. DeSantis over the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act.
“I think that’s an interesting point with Disney because I had Disney open during COVID, and we made them a fortune, and we saved a lot of jobs. You had Disney closed inexplicably for over a year,” the Florida governor said.
Disneyland, located in Anaheim, California, was shuttered for 13 months.
“In the past year, Anaheim has been through one of the most challenging years in its history,” Anaheim spokesperson Mike Lyster told The Epoch Times in 2021.
Mr. Newsom soon fired back, arguing that the governor’s record was less liberty-oriented than he let on.
“You passed an emergency declaration before the State of California did,” he said.
Mr. DeSantis declared a public health emergency regarding COVID-19 on March 1, 2020. Mr. Newsom proclaimed a State of Emergency over the coronavirus just days later, on March 4, 2020.
Other topics included COVID-19 death rates in the two states as well as the impact of lockdowns on education.
A National Bureau of Economic Research report card found that California had the least in-person learning of any state in the nation during the 2020–2021 school year, at just 19.2 percent. They outpaced the District of Columbia, in which just 5.8 percent of learning was in person that school year.
Parents Rights Bill
The governors also shared their views on parental rights when it comes to education and LGBT influence on kids.
Mr. DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education Bill during his first term as governor. It was labeled by dissenters as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” The law prevented matters of gender identity and sexual orientation from being taught to kids in kindergarten through third grade and prohibited schools from defying parents and hiding information from them when it comes to affirming a child’s gender identity.
The Florida law was written in response to national concerns about LGBT indoctrination in schools and attempts elsewhere to shut parents out of what happens when their children are in school.
“What we’ve said in Florida is it’s inappropriate to tell a kindergartener that their gender is a choice,” Mr. DeSantis said. “It’s inappropriate to tell second graders that they may have been born in the wrong body. Now California has that. They want to have that injected into the elementary school.”
Mr. DeSantis brought a copy of a page from one of these books showing examples of explicit sexual acts, partly censored for the TV audience.
The Republican then pointed to a California law that allows minors to travel to the state for transgender procedures.
“If you’re a parent in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina, your minor child can go to California without your knowledge or without your consent and get hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and a sex change operation,” Mr. DeSantis said. “That is extreme. That is an assault on parents’ rights.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Newsom accused Mr. DeSantis of being on a “banning binge” and that he “demeans” the LGBT community through his policies.
“What you’re doing is using education as a sword for your cultural purge,” the California governor said.
Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Newsom also debated crime and shootings.
Mr. Hannity had asked about the higher rate of violent crime in California as compared to Florida, comparing two figures that combined homicide, rape, and other offenses in a single year.
But Mr. Newsom reframed the topic by narrowing it. He pointed out that Florida has a higher murder rate than California. Indeed, the homicide death rate in Florida was higher than that of California in 2021 according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts have questioned the utility of comparisons of murder rates between states.
“State-level data is not very useful. States have both urban and rural areas—and policing is a local decision in cities, which tend to be Democratically controlled even in Republican states,” economist John Lott told The Epoch Times in 2022.
“People are leaving California in droves largely because public safety has collapsed,” Mr. DeSantis asserted, claiming that the state has “basically legalized retail theft.”
In California, stealing items under $950 is just a misdemeanor. The Hoover Institution’s Lee Ohanian has argued that the standard means “shoplifting is now de facto legal in California.”
Mr. Newsom also took issue with Mr. DeSantis’s past talk of pardoning people arrested in connection with the protests and riots in Washington on Jan. 6. While much of his rhetoric seemed to be aimed at a broader audience than liberal Democrats, the California governor and possible future presidential candidate didn’t shy away from more politically charged language when describing those individuals.
“I love this guy talking about ‘Backing the Blue’ when you dangled pardons for January 6th insurrectionists,” Mr. Newsom said.