Gwen Graham work day in Kissimmee connects with Puerto Rico evacuees - Florida Politics

Gwen Graham work day in Kissimmee connects with Puerto Rico evacuees

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has done enough of her “workdays” now that she’s describing them as her campaign strategy, and midway through her shift Wednesday at a Hispanic grocery store and deli in Kissimmee she was talking more about what she gets to hear than what she wants to offer.

She spent Wednesday stocking shelves, cooking and preparing hot foods, and meeting with customers and employees at La Placita Latina, a tropical meat and produce store in the center of Kissimmee, which is in the heart of Florida’s Puerto Rican community. And largely what she heard was the plight of the Puerto Rico evacuees and the challenge of the community to absorb them, she said.

“Yes, I learned a lot about what it takes to run a grocery store today but more importantly the people I’ve met… and the recognition that we need to do a whole lot more to help the people who have moved here from the island of Puerto Rico to our state. Not just paying lip service to them, but doing more to positively influence their lives, and I do not believe the state of Florida is doing that,” Graham said.

Prescilla Vazquez, who owns the store with her husband Alain Menendez, said the store has five workers who’ve fled Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria made much of the island unlivable, and several of them still are living in motels with their spouses and children on federal vouchers that are about to run out. The same is true of many of the store’s customers and neighbors.

“What does that mean? Are people going to be kicked out on the street?” Graham said. “What we need to be doing, what we should have been doing a long time ago, is looking at how we can provide affordable housing. We need to look at hotels that are no longer occupied, and other pieces of real estate, and for relatively inexpensive cost purchased, renovated, so people can have a place to live.”

While Graham has been taking her work days, borrowing the activity from her father, former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, her competitors for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018 have been making news.

Tuesday night Tallahassee Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum debated potential Republican candidate House Speaker Richard Corcoran on a statewide-televised forum on immigration and sanctuary cities.

On that, Graham said, “I think Andrew did a great job.”

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has gone statewide with television commercials, and getting within margin-of-error distance of presumed frontrunner Graham in the latest poll. Of Levine, Graham would say only, “Quite honestly, after spending as much money as he’s spent, I wouldn’t want to be in his position.

“That’s what work days, like today, do, they give me connections to people,” Graham continued. “What we do should not just be some Tallahassee proposition. It’s about how do we actually develop policies and think about how we make a positive difference in people’s lives.”

And those sorts of connections, she contended, are making a difference particularly with women candidates and women voters. She said that is one of the lessons she draws from Margaret Good‘s upset victory Tuesday in Florida House District 72, and by others. Voters want to vote for people who connect with them.

“I feel it everywhere I go. I think in 2018 women are ready to take back governing and leadership, because we need more women who are willing to put the news of people before anything else. I just believe in 2018 women are going to win up and down the ballot. Margaret is an example of that. We’ve seen others who are examples of that frequently leading up to 2018,”  Graham said.

“I think women in particular are fed up with what we see in our government today, whether it’s Donald Trump or Rick Scott,” she said. “Everywhere I go, women are turning out and excited.”

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.
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