As moderator of the October 21 Florida gubernatorial debate, CNN's Jake Tapper asked about climate change in his very first question of the night. Three days earlier, Public Citizen had called on Tapper to ask about climate change, citing Media Matters research about the dearth of climate questions in debates this year, and Tapper responded with a tweet indicating he knows climate change is important and had asked about it in previous debates.
At the Florida debate, Tapper noted that the state is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Michael, and pointed out that there's a scientific consensus that warmer waters are making such hurricanes stronger. Tapper then asked the Republican candidate, Rep. Ron DeSantis, to clarify his stance on climate change, given that DeSantis had previously said he's not a climate change denier but also said he doesn't want to be called a climate change believer. DeSantis responded by saying that he didn’t want to be an “alarmist,” but otherwise failed to answer the question. DeSantis went on to attack his opponent's “California-style energy policy.” Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, responded by saying he would be a “governor who believes in science.” Gillum also discussed the need to grow Florida’s solar energy industry as part of a larger effort to build a green economy.
Media Matters is tracking debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races and encouraging moderators to ask candidates questions about climate change. So far, only 9 of 41 debates analyzed nationwide have included a climate-related question. See our scorecard.
From the October 21 Florida gubernatorial debate:
JAKE TAPPER (MODERATOR): Both of you, Congressman DeSantis, Florida is still recovering from the devastating impact of Hurricane Michael, with at least 26 Floridians killed. There is a scientific consensus that warmer waters from climate change are making hurricanes stronger, as well as a stark warning that the world just received from the United Nations about climate change. You recently said that you're not a climate change believer -- I'm sorry, you're not a climate change denier, but you don't want to be labeled a believer in climate change. Given the threats Florida faces from intense hurricanes and rising sea levels, don't Florida voters deserve to know where you stand on this issue?
RON DeSANTIS (R): Well, what I said was, I don't want to be an alarmist. I want to look at this and do what makes sense for Florida. So for example, for the people in northwest Florida, I will be there for you. You guys are resilient. You're fighting. This was a terrible storm. And we will rebuild.
But I also think you have to just look at facts: The fact is, you look at South Florida, we need to do resiliency. You have more water. You have flooding. So as governor, that's something that I'm going to take on full throttle. What I don't want to do is do what things like Andrew wants to do, which is do a California-style energy policy that will cause our electricity rates to skyrocket 20, 30 percent. That's going to hurt senior citizens on a fixed income. That'll hurt our blue-collar workers. So let's deal with the issues that we can deal with. I'm somebody who has a plan to fix, to stop the toxic algae that's been spewing into our rivers, to divert that south of the lake, restore the Everglades, and restore Florida Bay. We can get that done. I think I'm the candidate that can get that done. And I think now is the time to do it. Because if we don't take action over the next four years, I don't know if we're ever going to be able to restore the Everglades to their rightful place.
TAPPER: Mayor Gillum?
ANDREW GILLUM (D): Well, first, what Florida voters need to know is that when they elect me governor, they're going to have a governor who believes in science, which we haven't had for quite some time in this state. I'm not sure what is so “California” about believing that the state of Florida ought to lead in solar energy; we're known as the Sunshine State. At the very least, what we can do is be a global leader here. We got to teach the other 49 states of what to do and what it means to have a state that quite frankly leans into the challenges of the green economy and builds one, and at the same time builds an economy that lasts. I'm proud that the same week that Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris accord, I broke ground in my city on a 120-acre solar farm -- tripling the amount of solar energy that we produce. We're prepared to lead, and we've done so in my city and will do so for the state.