In Wednesday night’s debate at Broward College between Florida Governor Rick Scott and former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, things started very weird. Crist had placed a small fan under the podium, apparently a violation of the debate rules agreed upon by the campaigns. Scott refused to come onto the stage for around six minutes, leaving Crist standing alone. Fangate, as it became known, was the focal point of almost every national news story about the debate.
But it shouldn’t have been. Crist’s violation of the rules and Scott’s childish refusal to come on stage are largely irrelevant to their capability to be governor (except that we do prefer governors to follow the rules and act like adults). The actual debate, on the other hand, featured a number of issues where Crist and Scott would pursue different policies. Nowhere was that more clear than on climate change and same-sex marriage.
Patricia Mazzei, a Miami Herald reporter on the debate's "social-media panel" who was tasked with asking a climate-change question, asked, "When science is at odds with religion, when you're faced with a question where science is not consistent with your faith, how do you deal with that problem?"
Crist replied that he reads the Bible each morning, but that it’s "clear" to him that human beings are causing climate change and that the government, particularly in Florida, has a duty to do something about it.
Here's what Scott said:
I grew up in the Methodist Church. My mom made sure I went to Church a lot. My mom and my grandmother were devout Christians. Jesus Christ is my savior. I read the Bible. I go to sermons. My faith is very important to me and my family. When I think about problems, I think about solutions. Let’s take global warming. What we’ve done since I was elected is focus on the solution. We have spent $350 million to deal with sea level rise. We have spent $100 million to protect coral reefs. We have increased funding by 45 percent for beach nourishment—on top of all the other things [like] our springs, trying to move water south, [and] the $80-90 million we put into the Everglades. My faith is important to me and I believe in it, but I am also going to try to solve any problems I think need to be solved.
He implicitly admitted that global warming is real—but made a point not to admit humans' role in it. As The New Republic's Rebecca Leber has written, Scott has stumbled on the issue of climate change during this campaign. He has used the “I’m not a scientist” line to avoid the issue, but that hasn't worked very well. It’s hard to believe he can handle the problem of global warming if he won’t admit it is caused by humans. On Wednesday night, he did nothing to change that perception.
Scott also struggled to answer questions about whether Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage is discriminatory. He said he opposes discrimination, he blamed Crist for passing a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage when he was governor, he said he would abide by any court’s ruling, and he argued that there shouldn’t be any “ill will” between people on opposite sides of this debate. What Scott wouldn’t do is answer the question—and the moderator noticed. She cut in and asked him again whether Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage is discriminatory. Again, he filibustered. “I don’t believe in discrimination,” he said again, as the crowd groaned. “… I believe in traditional marriage. The court is going to decide. This is a decision for the courts and ultimately they will make the decision.”
He might as well have said, “I’m not a lawyer.”
A previous version of this article wrongly named the Miami Herald reporter as Patricia Maze. It's Patricia Mazzei.