Florida Senate Debate: Millennials Speak

While most of the media was busily working in the file room set aside for us, I spent most of last night’s Florida Senate debate between Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Patrick Murphy in a room of one hundred Broward College students who gathered with faculty to watch and discuss the contents of the debate.

As a BC alumna, I enjoyed the opportunity to speak to the new students and to hear their reactions to the debate, as well as ask them what they were looking for from the two candidates on the stage. The answers were as diverse as the students who gave them, and most displayed a real interest in hearing substance debated, rather than the usual empty rhetoric.

Many students cited education as a top priority that they hoped the candidates would discuss at length – not just college education, but education at all levels.

“I’m not a fan of charter schools, but I would be open to hearing them talk about whether they think it’s a good or bad idea and I’ll have an open mind toward it,” one female student told me.

An emphasis on improving quality of education at the primary level and increasing teacher pay were also cited as central ideas that students wanted to hear about.

Several new topics were discussed on stage, including what the candidates would look for in a Supreme Court nominee from a president in the opposing party. Rubio cited an understanding of the Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court as the only criteria he would look for, adding that the potential Justice’s personal opinions matter much less than the former as important aspects of his vote. Murphy, on the other hand, took the opportunity to discuss the Senate’s failure to hold a confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland and condemned the GOP for allowing such an obstructionist as Donald Trump to become their nominee.

Education was eventually discussed and the candidates revealed two vastly different ideas for the future of education. Murphy suggested that spending more on education would improve the quality of the education received, and even went so far as to say that, “a child’s school should not be determined by their zip code” (funny, that sounds like a case for school choice, Congressman!).

Rubio once again advocated for parents to be more involved in choosing their child’s school and touted the success of competition in schools. Additionally, he cited the benefit of dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college courses at the same time. Oh, and Murphy mentioned why Donald Trump’s education plan was a bad idea.

Florida Congressman Ted Deutsch was in the spin room stumping for Murphy, and when asked whether it was wise for his candidate to constantly mention Trump, said the following:

“He kept trying to deflect from all the Trump references as if it’s not relevant that he refuses to turn away from a candidate, his presidential candidate, who in so many ways represents so many things that he says he doesn’t represent.”

This aside from the fact that Rubio has consistently disagreed with Trump and stated that he will fight any unconstitutional measures he attempts to implement should he become president.

Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia stumped for Rubio, and was also asked about Murphy’s comments about Trump:

“You heard everyone chuckling because I think Murphy has this weird obsession with Trump. He’s trying to mount a campaign against Trump. Marco just outclassed him tonight. If this is the representation his congressional district had, they should ask for a refund.”

Several issues that the students I spoke with wanted to hear about went largely undiscussed. Gun control, immigration, prison reform, and taxes were all issues that college students were eager to hear plans about; however, many issues like education and Social Security reform were discussed and students were satisfied by the substantive answers that followed.

The Florida Senate race is sure to draw a large millennial voting bloc, and last night definitely helped them solidify their voting decisions.