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AG candidates Aronberg and Gelber clash on vouchers, bash Republicans

by George Bennett | October 11th, 2009

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Democratic attorney general candidates Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber traded a few elbows over school vouchers and campaign finance this morning but spent most of their time bashing Republicans during a debate before about 1,000 Democratic activists.

The first debate between the primary rivals saw Miami Beach state Sen. Gelber repeatedly stressing his eight-year record as a federal prosecutor while Greenacres Sen. Aronberg, 38, frequently invoked popular former Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth, for whom Aronberg worked in two stints between 1999 and 2002.

The debate’s most heated exchange came when Gelber accused Aronberg of supporting private school vouchers.

Aronberg voted this year for a bill to continue an existing program of tax credits to businesses that contribute to programs providing vouchers to low-income students. The bill did not enlarge the $118 million scholarship program, but did expand eligibility for the tax credits to insurance companies.

The bill passed 26-11, with Gelber and eight other Senate Democrats opposed. Aronberg and three other Democrats voted in favor.

Aronberg, who said afterward that the bill neither created nor expanded vouchers, accused Gelber of a cheap shot during the debate.

“I’m used to running in tough races,” Aronberg told the crowd. “Republicans have spent a million and a half dollars against me distorting my record. But I’ve never had a Democrat distort my record. I have always been pro-public education. I have never voted for a voucher. I have never voted to increase the voucher system.”

Gelber also drew a veiled distinction between himself and Aronberg on campaign finance issues.

Aronberg is one of many elected officials who controls political committees that can accept contributions beyond the $500 limit imposed on donations to individual candidates.

Aronberg committees have raised more than $2 million since 2002. A Gelber committee raised $38,450, but he said he has shut it down.

“We have a campaign finance system in this state that massively allows public officials to take large amounts of money from special interests. That is wrong,” Gelber said.

Aronberg said he agrees with Gelber on the need to reform campaign finance laws.

“I believe in disarmament — just not unilateral disarmament,” Aronberg said. “I think the Republicans want us to do away with our groups so they can continue swiftboating us and attacking us at every turn. No way. It needs to be disarmament across the board.”

Both candidates served plenty of red meat to the partisans at the Florida Democratic Party’s 2009 state conference.

“The Republicans have had control of state government for a decade,” Gelber said. “These guys have been in control and they have driven this state into a ditch. Like any responsible parent, it’s our time to stand up and say ‘Your driving privileges have been suspended. Hand over the keys.’ “

Aronberg accused the last two Republican attorneys general — Charlie Crist, who’s now governor, and incumbent Bill McCollum, who’s leaving after one term to run for governor in 2010 — of making the office “a revolving door for professional politicians.”

“I will be the first attorney general in the last eight years who actually wants to be attorney general,” Aronberg said. “You’ve seen people who are more interested in press conferences than in public safety.”

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11 Responses to “AG candidates Aronberg and Gelber clash on vouchers, bash Republicans”

  1. TurnFlaBlue Says:

    Aronberg whined like a kid who called dibbs on the AG spot. Wwithout any real accomplishments to point to in his year and a half in the Fla. AG office, he kept bringing up things Bob Butterworth did, trying to fill in for his own lack of any prosecutorial or leadership experience. It did not go over well. He just sounded desperate.

  2. ThoughtfullVoter Says:

    It was a great debate. Having known both of these great democrats for many years I at first thought it was a shame they were running against each other. I hope they debate again and often so the public can see the caliber of candidates the democrats offer. I will be voting for Gelber but will be happy with either of them as our candidate.

  3. everyonewitha brain Says:

    If the Democrats were smart they would vote for Gelber…welcome Aronberg for AG…he sucks

  4. brad thomas Says:

    Aronberg did a nice job answering the questions — the career politican Gelber left much to be desired.

  5. Josh from Weston Says:

    Great debate, but I left thinking that Aronberg is the future for our party. Just like Sink, he is closer to the mainstream and capable of winning statewide. Gelber comes from a liberal Miami district and never had a campaign. Republicans will destroy him.

  6. Curious Says:

    Can some of you Aronberg partisans out there please tell us exactly what he did while he was in the AG’s office? If he was only there for a year and half, did he actually ever supervise anyone? Bring any significant cases?

    Enquiring minds want to know.

  7. GatorDem Says:

    As Assistant Attorney General for Economic Crimes Aronberg co-organized Florida’s Holocaust Insurance Project, which investigates allegations of fraud against companies that have refused to honor World War II-era policies sold to the victims of the Holocaust.

    And he took down “Miss Cleo.”

  8. Bobby Says:

    Enough with Miss Cleo already, that’s Aronberg’s only “accomplishment” to date.

    Last we checked, Bob Butterworth’s not running for Attorney General, Dave…you are, and you’re no Bob Butterworth.

    Aronberg lied throughout the debate. Anyone can check his special interest-laden voting record and see.

  9. Jack T.L. Says:

    I’m a Republican and I’ll be voting for Dan Gelber…he’s smart, tough, principled and experienced.

  10. Florida Democratic Attorney General candidates square off at state party conference | Daily Loaf Says:

    [...] (The Palm Beach Post reported that Aronberg DID vote this past year for a bill to continue an existing program of tax credits to businesses that contribute to programs providing vouchers to low-income students. Aronberg told the Post after the debate that the bill neither created nor expanded vouchers.) [...]

  11. Need a grownup for AG Says:

    Ha! So Aronberg’s passionate, angry denial was to say he NEVER voted to “create” or “expand” a voucher program, even though he DID VOTE TO “CONTINUE” one?? And a pretty big one at that?

    I can hear Dave now, “well, that depends on how you define “continue’”.

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