In what can only be described as a win-win for both House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, both men made a strong case to their respective political bases during a debate on the subject of sanctuary cities in Florida. The event, hosted by Florida Internet and Television (FIT), and moderated by Bay News 9’s Troy Kinsey and Associated Press capitol reporter Gary Fineout, was broadcast live on Facebook, and drew a crowd of reporters who watched the spectacle in a large but crowded room down the hall from the studio.
The event had most of the hallmarks of a high-profile general election debate, including political operatives and communications consultants working the media room before and after the event.
Both men were generally respectful to one another in the opening remarks. But it didn’t take long for Gillum to repeatedly conflate the term “immigrants” with “illegal immigrants,” constantly talking about the former and avoiding the latter. He also dropped phrases like “brown kids” and accused Corcoran of “dog whistling,” the sort of rhetorical flourishes that prove Andrew Gillum is every bit the sort of Democrat who’ll play the race card early and often, in an effort to gain the upper hand.
But Corcoran showed remarkable message discipline throughout the debate, hammering home the same simple talking points over and over, challenging Gillum to take a stand either for or against a pair of competing bills in the Florida House. At one point, Corcoran offered a rhetorical flourish of his own to shoot down Gillum’s repeated use of the term “undocumented” to describe illegal immigrants (Link to Video: Skip to 25:13 to see the quote below)
“You keep saying undocumented…there’s nothing undocumented about them. They are illegal,” Corcoran said. “It would be no different if I steal your car. I take your car and I get pulled over. And they ask for the title of the car and I say I don’t have the title. And they say, well, we’re going to call you the undocumented owner of that vehicle. No! I’m in illegal possession of your vehicle.”
Corcoran consistently referred back to the subject of his recent sanctuary cities television ad, in which he shared the story of the murder of Kate Steinle, who was killed by an illegal immigrant. A San Francisco jury later found the man not guilty and ruled the shooting an accident, but he still faces felony charges for being a ex-felon in possession of a gun. Corcoran emphasized the fact that the jury verdict was irrelevant, and that had the sanctuary city policy not existed, the man would likely have been deported and Steinle’s death avoided.
The event drew an impressive online audience. By 11pm, the video on Gillum’s Facebook page had been viewed over 19,000 times, and WTXL TV’s page added another 1,200 views. Those numbers will grow over the next 24 hours as people read news coverage and click through to watch it.