Although multiple attempts failed by Republican challenger state Rep. Mike Miller to get Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy to allign herself with her party’s left wing, the two nonetheless offered stark differences on guns, abortion, climate change, and their economic policies during a debate Tuesday.

At the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida, Murphy held fast to the centrist position the freshman congresswoman has sought in Washington even when questions and Miller sought to get her commit to supporting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi‘s potential speakership bid, or possible impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

But as more concrete issues were posed in questions from WESH-2 News Anchor Adrian Whitsett and others, the two separted themselves, with:

– Citing his Catholic faith, Miller voiced strong anti-abortion positions, saying life begins at conception; and Murphy said she supports women’s rights to decide whether to have abortions. Whats more, she did not dispute his charge that she voted for live-birth abortions, while he did not dispute her charge that he favors outlawing abortions even in the cases of rape or incest.

– Murphy called repeatedly for “common sense” gun law reforms and touted her success in getting the 22-year federal ban lifted on gun violence research, while Miller held stedfast to Second Amendment arguments against gun laws.

“I reject the notion that there isn’t more we can do to keep our families safe in this community against gun violence,” Murphy said.

Miller expressed his strong anguish for the 2016 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, but dismissed it as a reason to consider gun law changes, but rather to address those who would do such massacres saying, “But that was a terrorist act, I do believe President Trump and the adminisration are making our borders and our military stronger so we do not have terrorist acts in our country.”

– Miller stated his belief that climate change is not man-made, while Murphy insisted there can be no argument that it is, railing against “environmental deniers,” and that it’s time for government to start addressing it.

“I think it’s a travesty that we stand alone in the entire world having withdrawn from the Paris Climate accords,” Murphy said. “We need to take this issue head-on, because it has an impact here in Florida and we will be ground-zero for it.”

“Yes, I believe climate is changing. It’s really hot outside right now,” Miller responded. “If you want to look at the last 25, 50 or 100 years, it has been getting hotter around the world. That doesn’t mean it’s man-made. … I don’t believe climate change is man-made. I believe the climate is changing and unfortuatnely none of us is going to live 10,000 years to see what it’s like in 10,000 years.”

– And Murphy laid out an economic vision focusing on middle class tax cuts and government investments in public education and infrastructure, while Miller whole-heartedly supported the free economy policies of Trump, pointing to high economic growth, low employment and the robust stock market, declaring, “Let’s keep it going!”

Miller, a two-term state representative from Winter Park, is challenging Murphy, also from Winter Park, in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, which has gone from solidly red to solidly purple with a slight blue tint over the past decade. The district covers Seminole County and north and central Orange County.

While the pair sometimes battled over their economic views, once the charges and counter-charges of the debate are set aside, they boiled down to Miller’s belief in the Republican’s freest-market economy possible economic theories, while Murphy expressed support for the Democrats’ commitments to doing more to address middle class workers and invest more in public education and infrastructure for long-term growth.

I think it’s economic theory, and I think it’s proving itself out right now with 4-percent growth, and it needs to be sustained,” Miller said. “Remember, we’re coming out of eight years of 1 and a half and 2 percent growth and I think that we are seeing right now the results of a tax package. We not only have 4.2 percent growth, but we also have record employment, and record employment in some of the areas that most needed help, that is African-American commuinities, Hispanic communities, those places are now finding jobs. You know what happens when the job market is tight? You raise wages. And then when you raise wages, everybody can afford to buy a house and send their kids to college.

“So it is an ongoing battle to get government out of the way,” he added.

“I support tax cuts for small businesses and the middle class. But the Republican tax bill disproportionately benefited the wealthiest among us: 80 percent of the benefits going to the top 1 percent and the largest coprorations,” Murphy responded. “And it blew a hole in our debt, which basically mortgages your children’s future at the expense of providing the wealthiest in this company a tax benefit.”

Trump was only explicitly discussed when the moderator asked how either of them felt about impeachment, and both declined to answer the question explicitly.

However, Miller offered several endorsements of Trump’s policies, mentioning him by name several times in such matters as border control, the economy and Internet neutrality, while Murphy offered a couple subtle digs at at anyone offering allegience to him.

Murphy repeatedly offered herself as an independent, given accolades for bipartisan independence and effectiveness, and shied away from questions and Miller’s efforts that might suggest strong partisan ties. At one point Miller noted she had campaigned with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, and charged that if he wants universal health care, then she probably would ultimately support “government run health care” too. She ignored the allegation.

“My allegiance is to my constituents, and this community and not to any president, or any party,” she said a couple of times. “And I think my record will represent that.”

The two tussled repeatedly while trying to define each other’s positions on taxes and balanced budgets, the subjects of Miller’s television commercials, and he again criticized her for opposing the tax cuts package and a Republican-sponsored balanced budget amendment bill.

Murphy turned the tables on Miller in both cases, charging that the tax cuts bill did not do much for the middle class, and that the balanced budget amendment would have forced cuts in Social Security and Medicare, which she vigoursly defended against cuts.

“I think it’s the ultimate height of hypocrisy to support a tax bill that blew a trillion, almost 2 trillion dollar hole in our debt and then claim to be fiscally responsible,” Murphy said.

Miller said he intends to work under the ideals of his first boss, Republican former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, “And that’s less taxes, less spending, less government, means more freedom. And I believe if I can take that to Congress, I think we will all benefit.”

At heart, both candidates actually have established well-known legislative track records of working across the aisle and showing respect for their colleagues on the other side. Miller quickly put down his marker on that in his opening remarks, when he acknoweleged the presence of Democratic progressive lion state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, and congratuated Smith for his new marriage engagement to long-time partner Jerick Mediavilla at Orlando’s Come Out With Pride event Saturday.

There also were a few awkeard moments, mostly through unforced errors by Miller. Murphy pounced on him.

After she had criticized Republicans for proposing an “age tax”, Miller responded that was her misunderstanding of the tax cuts bill Republicans pushed through in December. She corrected him on follow up, saying she was referring to the Republicans’ health care reform packages, which included provisions for higher costs for seniors.

After Murphy declared she would only support a new House Speaker who agreed to the points being pushed by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus she joined, which currently means she could not voice support for Pelosi, Miller said he would eagerly support House Majority Leader Andrew McCarthy. Murphy then corrected him, pointing out that the leader’s name is Kevin McCarthy.

When asked about higher education, Miller proudly boasted how his alma mater, the University of Florida, is now ranked 9th in the country for public universities. He mentioned UF several times in his answer. When Murphy responded, she pointed out that Miller failed to hail the University of Central Florida or any of the several other colleges and universities in CD 7.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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