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A heated governor debate; school book challenges; Falcon Heavy rocket

Crist DeSantis.JPG
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media/AP
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Democrat Charlie Crist, left, and incumbent Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

This week, Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist squared off in their one and only debate — in front of a rowdy audience in Fort Pierce on Monday.

DeSantis leads by a wide margin in the latest polls, and his campaign has a huge cash advantage over his challenger.

Crist desperately needed a boost from the debate … but how much of a difference can it make with Election Day less than two weeks away?

The two candidates sparred on abortion, the economy and immigration.

And on the big question of DeSantis’ ambitions for higher office — the governor dodged Crist's accusation that he would not commit to serving a four-year term if reelected.

For more on the race, we spoke with Sergio Bustos. He oversees political coverage for 18 USA Today/Gannett newsrooms in Florida.

School book challenges

Among the so-called culture war issues driving recent policy changes in Florida is a push to give parents more leeway to challenge books in school libraries and on classroom shelves.

When he signed an education bill back in March, DeSantis called it the “strongest curriculum transparency legislation in the country.”

The bill prompted a backlash from teachers and civil liberties groups.

Now there’s more scrutiny into how the Florida Department of Education is vetting books.

The department is developing an online training program for people who will select and maintain school media collections.

Back in August, Jacob Oliva, senior chancellor with the Education Department, asked school superintendents to nominate parents for a work group that’s developing the training.

An article published this week in the Daily Beast labels it a “book banning council” and claims that the Education Department is staffing it with right wing activists.

Joining us: Michelle Jarrett, the president of FAME, the Florida Association for Media in Education. And Jonathan Friedman, director of the Free Expression and Education programs at PEN America.

Falcon Heavy

Finally, it’s the world’s most powerful rocket, and next week it’s set to fly for the first time in three years.

The Falcon Heavy — essentially three SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets strapped together — produces more than 5 million pounds of thrust on liftoff.

Space buffs are eagerly awaiting the launch, which will send multiple U.S. Space Force satellites into orbit.

Falcon Heavy famously launched a Tesla into orbit on its first test flight back in 2018. The mighty rocket was supposed to have multiple launches, but this will be just the fourth mission for the SpaceX vehicle.

We got our update on the launch from Brendan Byrne, WMFE’s space reporter.

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Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.