Joe Henderson: Sanctuary city debate probably didn't change minds - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Sanctuary city debate probably didn’t change minds

I expected House Speaker Richard Corcoran to be cool and smooth in the great sanctuary city debate Tuesday night, and he was.

I thought his opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, would bring the fire from the other side of the issue, and he did.

Winner?

That probably depends on your politics. Both men made their points about Corcoran’s controversial HB 9, which would ban sanctuary cities in Florida and punish officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration agents.

Corcoran punctuated his closing statement with three knocks on the podium, symbolizing the knock on the door that he said a parent could receive from law enforcement officers telling them their son or daughter had been murdered by an illegal immigrant.

Theatrical? Obviously. But it did make Corcoran’s point about harboring the undocumented.

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But Gillum made his point, too, that the bill (and TV ad) is tantamount to racial profiling, noting that the killer in the ad was dressed in a hoodie like Trayvon Martin.

I think Gillum almost fumbled a wide-open chance to attack the ad much earlier though on that key point, though.

Late in the debate, co-moderator Gary Fineout in a question to Corcoran reminded viewers that the controversial ad misrepresented what actually happened.

The shooter was acquitted and the death, while tragic, was ruled an accident.

Only then did Gillum begin to press Corcoran about the aspect of profiling and the other dog whistles implied in the ad. He should have been pounding that point from the start.

But Corcoran swung and missed too, and not just with the disingenuous TV ad, which he tried to explain was merely asking if the victim, Kate Steinle, would still be alive “if not for the sanctuary policy?”

That killing happened in San Francisco. Corcoran used three other examples of deaths he linked to illegal immigrants. None of those occurred in Florida, either.

And Gillum claimed that there are no sanctuary cities in Florida anyway, so what’s the point of the bill?

There were several dog whistles going off during the debate from both participants. Corcoran kept ramming home the point of “illegal immigrants.”

He also tried to portray the proposed bill as a benign, commonsense measure that anyone should feel comfortable supporting. If that is so, then why has he been promoting it with a wildly inflammatory TV ad designed to scare your pants off if you meet someone on the street who doesn’t look like you?

Gillum dropped words like “police state” into his argument against the bill and noted that people of color could be the ones most likely to face demands to “show their papers” to prove citizenship.

Both men need the exposure this debate allowed. Gillum faces a tough challenge in his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for governor.

If Corcoran jumps into the race as expected for the Republican nomination, polls indicate that the majority of Florida voters don’t even know who he is – despite his high profile and controversial moves.

Face-to-face engagements like this sanctuary city debate are good. The fact it happened at all is the most important thing in an election year.

That was the real win for both men in this exercise because, truth be told, I doubt any minds were changed by what they said.

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.
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