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Fact-checking DeSantis and Putnam in Florida Republican debate for governor
Republican gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis, left, and Adam Putnam debate Aug. 8, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) Republican gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis, left, and Adam Putnam debate Aug. 8, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Republican gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis, left, and Adam Putnam debate Aug. 8, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman August 8, 2018

The Florida Republican primary’s final debate ended with Adam Putnam repeatedly attacking Ron DeSantis for being a superficial candidate who doesn’t have a plan to tackle Florida issues. DeSantis emphasized conservative themes and reminded voters that he was endorsed by President Donald Trump.

Putnam, the two-term state agriculture commissioner, has been trailing DeSantis, a congressman since 2013, in the polls.

Putnam touted his support from Florida law enforcement and attacked DeSantis on his support for the Fair Tax, a national plan to replace the income tax with a sales tax. DeSantis called Putnam a candidate of Big Sugar and complained about attack ads from a shadowy group.

The primary is Aug. 28; voting by mail has already started. Multiple Democrats are also running in their own primary. (We have fact-checked primary candidates in both parties.)

The Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute and WJXT Channel 4 co-hosted the televised debate. The partners will co-host a Democratic town hall forum on Aug. 9.

The ‘stand your ground’ law

Putnam attacked DeSantis for his recent comments about Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. The sheriff said he couldn’t arrest the shooter in a fatal Clearwater shooting as a result of the self-defense law known as "stand your ground." DeSantis and others have said the sheriff made the wrong decision.

"I supported the sheriff in that instance," Putnam said. "My opponent did not."

The Clearwater shooting has racial undertones. It began as a dispute when Michael Drejka, who is white, confronted Markeis McGlockton’s girlfriend about parking in a handicap space without a permit. McGlockton, a black man, then slammed Drejka to the ground, and Drejka pulled out a gun. A surveillance video showed McGlockton took a few steps back before Drejka shot him.

Gualtieri said the shooting was "within the bookends of ‘stand your ground’ and within the bookends of force being justified."

Democrats running for governor, as well as Republicans who crafted the law and NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, disagreed with Gualtieri’s analysis about the law.

"I support the right of Floridians to defend themselves by standing their ground against aggressors," DeSantis told Politico. "That said, it doesn’t seem to me that the law is even applicable in the case of Markeis McGlockton and I don’t think the Pinellas County Sheriff analyzed the law properly."

Putnam has defended Gualtieri on Twitter and accused DeSantis of siding with Democrats "in attacking Floridians' Second Amendment rights." But DeSantis has said he wants to keep the law, but apply objective standards when using it.

Big Sugar donations to Putnam

DeSantis said this about Putnam: "Adam is basically an errand boy for U.S. sugar. He is going to stand with them time and time again. .... They pump millions of dollars directly and indirectly into his campaign."

Florida’s sugar industry and its farming practices have been blamed for toxic algae blooms in Florida waters.

Sugar companies and affiliates have given Putnam's campaign and his Florida Grown PAC $804,000 in direct contributions, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Putnam has also received $7.6 million from five political action committees that receive a significant portion of their contributions from the industry, or $1 out of every $5 he has raised.

Putnam has consistently taken positions siding with the sugar industry.

Subhead: Putnam has run ‘millions of dollars of ads attacking me with fake news.’

DeSantis said that both Putnam and other groups have falsely attacked him. A spokesman for DeSantis told PolitiFact in a text message after the debate that his comment was a reference to an ad about DeSantis related to undocumented immigrants, among other attacks. But in the case of that particular attack, the link to Putnam’s campaign isn’t direct.

It started in March when an online group said that DeSantis "voted in favor of food stamps for illegal immigrants." We rate that statement Pants on Fire.

DeSantis voted against the  2014 agricultural bill, a lengthy, sweeping bill that briefly mentioned states would be "required to use an immigration status verification system" when distributing food assistance benefits.

But DeSantis voted against the overall bill for reasons unrelated to the brief immigration section. And even before the bill, undocumented immigrants were not eligible for foods stamps.

The National Liberty Federation then ran ads with a similar attack. The group is run by Palm Beach County resident Everett Wilkinson, who used to run a tea party group. Wilkinson worked closely with Roger Stone, and one of Stone’s clients is U.S. Sugar, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Wilkinson told Politico he didn’t know who was behind the funding. (After our story posted he told PolitiFact that Stone is not affiliated with the federation and that it didn’t receive any money from sugar companies.)

DeSantis said Putnam voted against troops at the border

DeSantis was referring to a vote Putnam took in Congress in 2004. DeSantis previously said that Putnam "opposed bringing troops, putting troops on our southern border using the National Guard." We rated that Half True.

In 2004, Putnam did vote against an amendment that authorized the secretary of defense to assign members of the military under certain circumstances to assist the Department of Homeland Security in securing the border.

Some lawmakers at the time said that the amendment would have stretched military personnel too thin. In the early 2000s, deploying the military to help control the southern border was not discussed as a major immigration enforcement strategy by either party.

But DeSantis leaves out Putnam’s overall support for Trump’s immigration policy. While Putnam has not commented on Trump’s specific plan to send National Guard to the border, he is generally enthusiastic about Trump’s approach to immigration. Also, as a member of Congress, Putnam took several votes in favor of border security measures and funding enforcement.

A 23 percent national sales tax

Putnam said that DeSantis supported legislation to put a 23 percent sales tax on groceries, prescriptions and homes.

DeSantis countered that he voted for legislation that would have gotten rid of all the other federal taxes.

A Putnam TV ad said, "Congressman DeSantis sponsored legislation to increase sales taxes by 23 percent." We rated that statement Mostly False.

The ad refers to a bill known as the Fair Tax Act. A version of the bill has been introduced in Congress 10 times since 1999, earning support from prominent Republicans Mike Pence and Mike Huckabee.

In 2013, 2015 and 2017, DeSantis, representing Florida’s 6th District, co-sponsored the bill.

DeSantis did support the bill that proposed introducing a 23 percent federal sales tax, but the ad fails to mention an essential component of the plan: all other federal taxes, including income tax, would be eliminated. By only mentioning "sales taxes" in the context of Florida’s economy, the ad created a misleading impression that DeSantis wanted the state’s 6 percent sales tax to skyrocket by that amount.

Spot a claim we should fact-check in the primaries? Email [email protected].

This story was updated to include a response from Everett Wilkinson.

Share the Facts
PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
Half True
Says Adam Putnam "opposed bringing troops, putting troops on our southern border using the National Guard."
in an interview
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Share the Facts
PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
Mostly False
"Congressman (Ron) DeSantis sponsored legislation to increase sales taxes by 23 percent, hurting families, destroying jobs, devastating tourism"
in a campaign ad
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
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Our Sources

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See fact-checks for additional sources

Politico, "Stand Your Ground becomes top issue in Democrats' race for governor," Aug. 6, 2018

Politico, "U.S. Sugar’s fingerprints on $700K in attack ads against longtime foe DeSantis," April 13, 2018

Tampa Bay TImes, "Gun law stokes GOP’s contest," Aug. 8, 2018

Tampa Bay Times, "Permit surge a struggle," July 25, 2018

Tampa Bay Times, "No arrest in fatal shooting during argument over handicap parking space," July 20, 2018

Tampa Bay Times, "Only one candidate for governor still takes money from Big Sugar: Adam Putnam," Aug. 6, 2018

Tampa Bay Times, "As federal government eyes shutdown fight, Ron DeSantis backs Trump’s threats," Aug. 7, 2018

Naples Daily News, "DeSantis slams Putnam's ties to sugar industry," July 1, 2018

Adam Putnam, Tweet, Aug. 7, 2018

Real Clear Politics, Polls in Florida GOP governor race, July 2018

Text message, Brad Herold, Ron DeSantis campaign spokesman, Aug. 8, 2018

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Fact-checking DeSantis and Putnam in Florida Republican debate for governor