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Joe Henderson: Florida Dems must be more than anti-Trump

Florida Democrats seem to have their best chance in two decades of changing the balance of power in Tallahassee. As they say in the sports world though, potential just means you haven’t done it yet.

So it goes with political fortunes.

For the first time in eight years, Dems won’t be going against an incumbent governor. They are within striking distance of flipping the state Senate.

For the first time in recent memory, the National Rifle Association’s power to sway elections is being questioned. The Parkland tragedy is raw and won’t be going away.

The never-ending swirl of controversies around President Donald Trump continues to overshadow Republican candidates.

We haven’t even seen the report from special counsel Robert Mueller yet on all things Trump, but if it’s bad news for the president the reverberations could be felt by Republicans everywhere — many of whom are already running for cover.

Given all that, how can we put this politely?

Democrats, if your party can’t capitalize on this, and I mean in a big way, you might as well shut it down.

With that in mind, there was an interesting story in Buzzfeed about how Florida could provide the blueprint in this election year for the way Democrats will run against President Trump.

Do they try to make everything from the governor’s mansion to the local dogcatcher race about Trump?

Or, as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said in the story, “Frankly, running against Trump is going to be insufficient to win.”

History is on Gillum’s side with that argument. The tone of the Democrats’ campaign in 2016 here and across the land was that no one would be stupid enough to vote for Trump, would they?

(Those are my words, not Gillum’s).

When Democrats choose their nominee for governor in August, it’s a given that person will be anti-Trump. I don’t think anyone can imagine Gillum, Gwen GrahamPhilip Levine or Chris King would support Trump in any way.

What matters more is how the candidate will approach public education, given the changes in funding and the growth of charter schools under GOP state leadership the last couple of years?

Where do they stand on health care? How do they balance Second Amendment rights against the images of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School?

What’s their plan to deal with Florida’s continuing explosive growth and the need for a better transportation system?

What about hurricane preparedness? The shredding of environmental laws under Gov. Rick Scott? Can they overcome the anti-science crowd and enact serious policy to deal with climate change?

What will they do about the voracious appetite of Republican lawmakers to diminish the autonomy of local governments?

Those are the questions Florida voters will ask the field of candidates running for governor and legislative seats.

I thought it was interesting the other day when outgoing state Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa, in talking about her challenge for the Senate seat held by Republican Dana Young, stuck to her points about gun control and health care.

She didn’t mention Donald Trump.

Republicans took control of the state Senate in 1995. They took charge of the House in 1997, and when Jeb Bush was elected governor in 1999, they had the trifecta of power.

Except for a brief period in 2010 when then-Gov. Charlie Crist became an independent, they have kept Florida under one party’s thumb ever since.

They did that by convincing Floridians in their vision for the state — well, and maybe a little gerrymandering of legislative seats. Even with that though, they won five consecutive governor’s races. No gerrymandering there.

If Democrats hope to capitalize on the opening they appear to have to snap that losing streak, they have to convince Floridians to agree with what they’re for.

We already know what they’re against.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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