The Five Most "Florida" Things About Last Night's Democratic Debate

In case viewers at home weren't aware that last night's Democratic debate — the final one before primary seasons ends — was taking place in South Florida, Hillary Clinton decided to whip out some heavy-handed Spanish midway through the contest.

When debate moderator Karen Tumulty asked Clinton whether Donald Trump, a man she's known for decades, is a racist, the former Secretary of State responded in classic Clinton style, stating a series of obvious-yet-irrelevant facts before dodging the question outright.

"If I'm fortunate enough to be the Democratic nominee, there will be a lot of time to talk about [Trump]," she said. "I was the first one to call him out. I called him out when he was calling Mexicans rapists, when he was engaging in rhetoric that I found deeply offensive. I said, 'Basta!'"  

She delivered the line, which seemed to elicit equal parts applause and laughter from the crowd, with the same inflection an octogenarian would use to describe doing the "Whip" or "Nae Nae." 

(When asked the same Trump question, Sanders refused to draw any conclusions either.)

Such is political life in Florida, that shiny, delegate-rich bauble lawmakers pretend to care about every four years before dumping to the wayside after election season.  As such, here are the most "Florida" things about last night's debate, held at Miami-Dade College's Kendall campus.

1. It took Florida mayors to get the candidates to talk about sea-level rise.

Climate change has gotten surprisingly little airtime during this year's series of national debates. But in South Florida, the ocean is actively trying to drown us, so the issue is impossible to ignore here. Late in the debate, moderators brought up the fact that a coalition of 21 Florida mayors had written CNN a letter, demanding the candidates be quizzed on climate change.

"This is a critically important issue not just for the country but also for the world, but it isn’t even being debated,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, who signed the letter, told the Guardian this week.

After CNN flashed a handy graphic on the screen that showed Miami sinking deep into the sea, Sanders, as one would expect, said politicians who deny climate change's existence are in Big Oil's pocket.

"When you have Republican candidates for president and in Congress telling you climate change is a hoax, which is Donald Trump and other candidates' position, what they are really saying is, 'We don't have the guts to take on the fossil fuel industry.'"

2. They. Won't. Deport. Children.

Both Clinton and Sanders made a huge promise last night — when moderator and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos asked if the candidates would pledge to stop deporting undocumented children, both agreed.

The nation's immigration courts are filled to the brim with children, who, mostly, have only committed the "crime" of fleeing violence in Central American nations like Guatemala and Honduras. Surprisingly, the Obama administration has steadily kicked children and their families out of the United States this year, despite massive pushback from his liberal base. 

But both Clinton and Sanders last night said they disagreed with Obama's plan — and promised not to deport children as president.

"I will not deport children," Clinton said, in something of a change of heart.

3. Hillary Clinton accused of "Hispandering"

Within the same 30-minute stretch last night, Clinton simultaneously delivered her "Basta!" line and was also accused of pandering to Hispanic people.

"Your new immigration plan is that you would expand President Obama’s executive actions and that you would push for legislation that would include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” moderator Maria Elena Salinas asked. “So, are you flip-flopping on this issue? Or are you pandering to Latinos — what some would call 'Hispandering?'”

4. Bernie Sanders refused to denounce Fidel Castro

Last year, Buzzfeed unearthed a video of Sanders, having just returned from a trip to Nicaragua in 1985, giving Fidel Castro some faint praise.

At the time, the Reagan administration had expressed its support for the Contras, a group of rebels attempting to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government. Sanders, at the Sandinistas' request, came down to visit. In a return interview, Sanders said an anti-Sandinista revolution seemed unlikely in the country, especially because the Nicaraguan government resembled that of the Castro regime, which, he claimed, did some less-than-bad things.

Everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world, that all the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They had forgotten that he had educated their kids, given them healthcare, totally transformed their society.

Sanders, who stood by the comment last night, saying he felt it was wrong for the United States to try to invade Cuba. But he took some heat from the crowd and from Clinton. 

Clinton's campaign jumped on Sanders after the debate, posting online that "Bernie Sanders just refused to disavow his past support for Fidel Castro."

5. Jorge Ramos kinda rules.

Miami-based news anchor Jorge Ramos is having a moment of sorts. He was perhaps the first journalist to tell Donald Trump, to his face, that deporting 11 million people is a horrifying idea. He's working on an HBO special about hate groups in America that will probably be awesome. Ramos is unafraid to "Take a Stand," so much so that he wrote an entire book about "Taking Stands" called "Take a Stand."

Last night, the stand-taking continued. He pressed the candidates on immigration reform. He asked Clinton, straight up, if she'll drop out of the presidential race if her email scandal leads to an indictment. He asked a Benghazi question that ended in a chorus of boos from the crowd. But Ramos wasn't going to roll over for anyone, and that's what Florida's journalism world needs now more than ever.
KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli