For Florida Republicans unsure who to support for governor in 2018, Bob White wants to give them a staunchly conservative alternative.
One might add ‘libertarian’ as well: White chairs the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, which is “dedicated to working within the Republican Party to advance the principles of individual rights, limited government and free markets,” its website says.
The Florida GOP has occupied the Governor’s Mansion for nearly two decades. Several candidates — both officially and unofficially — hope to keep it that way:
— Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has more than $11 million cash-on-hand for his run and is the acknowledged front-runner.
— State Sen. Jack Latvala is all but in the race, crisscrossing the state to accept awards and gather contributions.
— There’s also talk of U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis joining the field, while House Speaker Richard Corcoran says he won’t announce his 2018 ambitions until next year, but he continues to dominate the headlines and raise beaucoup bucks for his political committee.
So where does White fit into all of this?
The 60-year-old Suntree resident (that’s in Brevard County) has become another official candidate in the 2018 sweepstakes.
White says that, in a divided field, many Republican primary voters don’t want the “same old.” That, he believes, makes him a serious player.
“I’m predicting that somebody’s going to win the Republican primary with less than 30 percent of the vote,” he said Friday in Tampa. “And that means anything can happen. So we just gotta find a way to organize the grassroots to get them motivated to get out there and help us.”
Yes, White is optimistic. But he’s also angry about some injustices. And as anyone who runs such a quixotic campaign must be, he’s also an optimist.
Rock-solid conservative on issues like abortion, Medicaid expansion, and the escalating national debt, his platform is enacting serious campaign finance reform. That’s not something you’re likely to hear from political insiders Putnam, Latvala or Corcoran.
“I’m not going to be one of the big money candidates in this race, and that’s intentional,” he said. White is focusing on running against dark money and special interest contributions that he believes are fundamentally destroying the voice of the people in Florida’s legislative process.
“We’ve got to find a way to make that message, to get that message out because it resonates everywhere we go, every person we talk to about that issue agrees with us 100 percent and they become very fast supporters of ours,” he said.
White was speaking in a small studio at WMNF radio in Tampa, part of a local media blitz that included interviews with other radio and TV stations in the region as he begins the slog of a statewide campaign with virtually no name recognition (outside of the confines of the Liberty Caucus, which has about 1,500 members statewide).
While Putnam remains the big dog in the race, White said the Lakeland native is extremely vulnerable as the living definition of a “career politician” (the soon-to-turn 43-year-old Putnam has served in politics literally half his life).
Putnam is also vulnerable on some key votes during his tenure in Congress that he says will be fresh meat for attack from all other potential candidates. “It is going to be very difficult for him,” White predicts.
White admires Corcoran (who has accepted an invitation to speak at a Liberty Caucus’ Constitution Day Dinner event in September), but slams the Speaker as being somewhat hypocritical in declaring victory over Gov. Rick Scott in the Session-long battle to defund Enterprise Florida, the public-private state agency that the governor said was crucial to retain to recruit companies to come to Florida.
After it was all said and done, the Florida Legislature ended up funding $85 million this year to create what is known as the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund within the Department of Economic Opportunity.
The fund will finance projects that fit broad criteria to help targeted industries: rural infrastructure, transportation projects for local governments and individual training programs at state colleges and technical schools. There are no restrictions on how to disperse grant money, except that it “shall not be used for the exclusive benefit of any single company, corporation, or business entity.”
Nothing in the legislation requires an audit. There are no application requirements, no job metrics and no mandate that the project show it is developing jobs.
“Richard Corcoran was actually against corporate welfare until he was for corporate welfare,” quipped White in evaluating what went down with Enterprise Florida this year. He said the new law essentially creates a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) for the entire state of Florida, “with an $85 million budget, and a board of directors of one.”
White supported Rand Paul for president last year, but said Donald Trump had done a good job in his first six months in office, notwithstanding his present coverage.
“I would prefer it if he would just lighten up on the tweets if would stop personalizing it as much as he is. He needs to be I think to a certain extent, he needs … to raise the level of the debate on a lot of these issues and not take the bait that’s being put out there, but he’s got his own personality, he’s got his own way of doing business, he’s going to have to continue to do his own thing.”