Republican state Rep. Mike Miller and his House District 47 Democratic challenger Beth Tuura punctuated an otherwise friendly debate with some sharp jabs over guns, Medicaid expansion, and business incentives Monday in Orlando.

At a debate hosted by the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida, Miller began on the hot seat, with a question about whether he broke a campaign promise when he said during his 2014 campaign that he would support the $51 billion Medicaid expansion, and then he didn’t do so. He argued Tuesday he did not break any promises. He said during the campaign he also expressed that he feared there were strings attached and had concerns about longterm uncertainties about federal funding. He added that once he got to Tallahassee and learned more, he felt he couldn’t put Florida at risk.

“I found out when I was in the Legislature, Medicaid — health care — is 34 percent of our budget. We have a constitutional priority to balance our budget. So with 34 percent of it increasingly, increasingly going toward health care, we should probably take that money if we’re going to have that cost,” Miller said. “The problem is, that’s not guaranteed money. We’re relying on the federal government to send that money to us. And if you watch Paul Ryan or anyone in the Republican leadership, they don’t want to send money down to the states. They’re trying to cut that Medicaid money off.

“I feel, and it’s my drive in the Legislature, to work toward alternatives, to bring the cost of health care down for everybody. Not just poor people. … We do help poor people,” he said. “We do not let anybody go without health care.”

Tuura said it was a broken promise, and she vowed to support accepting the federal Medicaid expansion program.

“When I go door to door and I talk to people, people are hurting. These are working families. They need to be covered by health care,” she said. “I have to say that when I go door to door, and people ask me about Medicaid expansion. They do mention that it was promised, years ago; that is a very sore subject for our constituents. They believe it was a broken promise.”

Ever since the massacre at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando on June 22, gun law reform has been a major issue in Central Florida, with Democrats pushing hard for bans of assault weapons and closing loopholes, and many Republicans also saying they want to see “commonsense” reforms without violating the U.S. 2nd Amendment. That distinction was clear between Tuura and Miller Tuesday.

Tuura is openly gay and, when given a chance, she pressed Miller on what he would do now about guns. Miller, whose office is across the street from Pulse, conceded something must be done so that someone like Omar Mateen, who killed 49 and wounded 53, would never be able to buy a gun. But with an A rating from the NRA and a legislative record of supporting two controversial gun bills last year — for open-carry, and for allowing guns on college campuses — Miller had to walk a fine line. He said the gun bills were complex, with 2nd Amendment issues to consider, and said he supported a special session this summer to discuss guns, after Pulse.

“I can tell you I struggled with it,” he said of past gun bills.

“We had a mass shooting by a terrorist, homegrown, who should never have had access to a gun,” Miller said. “He should never have had access to a gun, whether it’s because of his habits and what he did to expose himself as a terrorist, and also because of his mental health. We have a big crisis in our country right now and our Legislature is struggling with it: how do we deal with mentally ill people and how do we absolutely keep them away from weapons?”

“You voted for open carry. I think that would be devastating to our tourist industry. What family would want to come to Orlando?” Turra responded. “There’s no need for these military assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. These are weapons that are produced for the maximum amount of kill in the shortest period of time.”

Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposals to increase money available to offer incentives packages to businesses interested in moving to Florida also drew sharp differences. Miller voted for the the governor’s last business incentives package and offered support for the governor’s new one, while Tuura blasted it as sending the wrong message to businesses.

“When you invest in your own state’s infrastructure, when you fund your public schools, when you fund your transportation, companies see that you are serious, and they will come here,” Tuura said. “To run around and say, ‘Come to the state of Florida. We’re open for business,’ which is a code for cheap labor, I don’t think that’s fair to the people who live and work in the state and our district.”

Miller managed to add a little humor with a jab at Tuura, a independent television show producer. He noted Florida has a real opportunity, by updating its incentives packages, to be competitive with other states such as Georgia in attracting movie and TV show production. He argued that’s critical for Central Florida where several universities, notably the University of Central Florida and Full Sail University, have big entertainment technologies programs and wind up exporting their graduates, because there aren’t enough such jobs in Florida.

“They should stay here, and potentially work for Beth,” Miller said.

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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