Democrats Debate in Florida

Bobby at the Democratic Debate in Miami
Bobby at the Democratic Debate in Miami

Bobby in front of a Facebook "heat map," which displays information about voters and their views

On March 9, with less than a week to go before the Florida primaries, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders faced off at Miami Dade College. The presidential candidates, who are competing for their party's nomination, sought to distinguish themselves from one another on issues that are especially important to Florida voters, including climate change, immigration, and education.

"Here in Miami, as much as any city in America," Sanders said, "we know that we have got to combat climate change, transform our energy system, and leave this planet in a way that is healthy and habitable for our kids and our grandchildren." The coastal city of Miami, most scientists say, is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Clinton agreed that climate change "is clearly man-made," and said that she would build on President Barack Obama's initiatives "to make a bridge from coal to natural gas to clean energy." But Clinton added that the proposals put forth by Sanders had little chance of succeeding, since many Republicans do not agree that climate change is man-made.



The debate was sponsored by Univision, The Washington Post, and Facebook, and conducted in both English and Spanish. Both presidential candidates addressed immigration, another important issue in Florida. They pledged not to deport undocumented immigrants, which Republican front-runner Donald Trump has said that he would do. Clinton and Sanders also said that they are in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for many undocumented workers.

Another hot topic of the evening was Sanders’ proposal to make public colleges and universities free for all students. “Fifty years ago," Sanders said, "a high school degree got you a good job in the economy. Today, in many respects, a college degree is the equivalent of a high school degree. We have got to go beyond first grade to 12th grade when we talk about public education."

Clinton's plan does not go as far, but she believes that interest rates should be lower for the 40 million Americans who are currently paying off student loans. "It's outrageous that at a time when interest rates have been historically low," Clinton said, "[that] people borrowing money to invest in their education are paying some of the highest interest rates around."

After the debate, I spoke with Enrique Sepulveda, a student at Miami Dade. “Bernie Sanders has a radical idea and dream," Sepulveda said. "Hillary Clinton has a vision that people don’t necessarily trust in, and I feel that having free tuition for public college would be great for this country and benefit many Americans.”

Liliana Valdes-Gamboa, who also studies at Miami Dade, said that she was especially interested to hear the candidates' views about education and college tuition. “I do agree with Bernie that 50 years ago, it was OK to have [just] a high school diploma," Valdes-Gamboa said. "Nowadays, you need a college education to get a decent job. That's what we’re really aiming for. Every child [should] have the opportunity for a quality education at a higher education institution.”

Other supporters felt that Clinton was the stronger candidate of the two. “She explained everything very clearly," said Maria Diaz of Miami. "She is so strong and prepared."

Which candidate will win the Democratic nomination? Florida voters will make their voices heard on March 15.

Photo courtesy of the author