Opinions Archives - Page 7 of 296 - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Hillsborough transportation group beats deadline for ballot initiative

Little more than a month ago, a citizens group set out with the goal of placing a sales tax referendum on the November ballot in Hillsborough County to address transportation needs.

The odds of success didn’t seem especially promising.

After all, asking voters to approve something that will cost them money has been a tough sell in recent years. Even when the need is as obvious as the one for an overhaul of the transportation system in Hillsborough, voters and politicians have been firm in their refusal to approve the money.

But on a warm, humid Friday morning, volunteers from the group gathered outside the Supervisor of Elections Office on Falkenburg Road in Brandon to deliver box-loads of signed petitions that pushed the drive past 70,000 signatures — well above the approximately 49,000 needed to get this on the ballot.

It beat the deadline to submit the petitions.

“People have felt powerless, and this proves they are not,” Tyler Hudson, chairman of All For Transportation, said after his group led a petition drive that bypassed the County Commission and went straight to the people.

About six weeks ago, the group began a frantic push to place a one-cent per dollar sales tax increase for 30 years on the ballot in November. The tax, estimated to generate $280 million the first year, will be divvied up among Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit, the county, and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City for a variety of transportation needs.

Tyler Hudson, chairman of All For Transportation, delivers signed petitions to the elections office to place a sales tax referendum on the November ballot.

The effort was buoyed by $150,000 contributions each from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, businessman and philanthropist Frank Morsani, the Tampa Bay Partnership business group, and a development firm owned by the family of former Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Patrick Murphy.

The grassroots strategy was used after the County Commission by a 4-3 vote declined to let a transit plan called Go Hillsborough go on the 2016 ballot. The petition drive is a rarely used gambit that will amend the county’s charter, making Commission approval unnecessary.

Without substantial upgrades, the county’s already chronic substandard transportation system could be overwhelmed in a few years as projections call for explosive population growth.

Volunteer Rena Frazier called it a “historic day” and added that while gathering signatures, people stressed that they are tired of choking traffic and want more transportation options.

“People are ready to get this solved,” she said.

Janet Scherberger, vice president of communications at Tampa International Airport, was among the volunteers who worked to secure enough signatures. She said she was acting as a private citizen concerned about the county’s future.

“I am genuinely interested in making sure we have transportation options,” she said.

The elections office has already started the process of verifying that people who signed petitions are registered to vote in Hillsborough, and more than 6,000 of the approximately 50,000 petitions delivered before Friday have been rejected.

The office has 30 days to complete the process, but Communications Director Gerri Kramer said she believes it will take that long.

And when will the work of selling this to the public begin, Hudson was asked?

He answered with one word.


Joe Henderson: State Democrats try a new tactic: fighting back

For decades, Republican candidates have been successful in Florida by rarely deviating from a script that labels Democrats as big-spenders, soft on crime, anti-business and anti-gun.

When confronted by these aggressive tactics, Dems generally answered with flustered babble that, roughly translated, was basically “that’s not nice.”

This campaign has been different though. Instead of trying to stay above the fray or pretending no one will be silly enough to listen to those doddering old Republicans, Democrats have saddled up.

Sure, top candidates trying to win a primary have criticized each other along the trail. But their public media is all about making the case to beat Republicans.

I guess two terms of Rick Scott in the Governor’s mansion and total control of the Legislature by Republicans convinced them that it was time to show voters why they would be better.

They have been hitting back hard on Republicans and generally have stayed focused on their main themes: education, health care, standing up to the NRA and overall gun reform, and transportation.

Take the in-your-face mailer from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene, the one that has gotten NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer in such a twist. It’s the mailer that shows cutouts of children being used as target practice at a school slaughter.

In case anyone didn’t get the message, the cutouts are emblazoned with the NRA logo (color Hammer not pleased) and the words AR Practice.  

“As a mother, grandmother and a proud NRA member for decades, I find his mailer repulsive,” Hammer told the Tampa Bay Times in an email.

“It is clear that Jeff Green is bankrupt of ideas and he has to resort to these dumb ideas to try and get attention for himself and his campaign. When people can’t win on fact, they have to resort to cheap stunts like this.”

I think Greene wins the argument there, though, because what’s really repulsive is having 17 people shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And what made it worse was how Hammer and NRA hard-liners tried to stop the even tepid revisions to Florida’s gun laws in the aftermath of that slaughter.

I don’t think a major Democratic candidate would have responded that way four, eight, or 12 years ago. They would have been wary of NRA backlash and decided that, no, let’s just ease on down that road.

That’s one reason they lose.

You see a different attitude now though.

Gwen Graham has been sharply focused with her points that 20 years of total Republican rule in Tallahassee is enough. When she talks about all the things she believes the common folks in the state have lost because of GOP policies, I think her punch line “we’re gonna take it back” is resonating.

Philip Levine has been hammering hard for better pay for teachers. Other Democrats have been joining in that chorus.

It has even filtered down to the local level.

After serving as House Minority Leader, Janet Cruz of Tampa changed her mind about running for the Hillsborough County Commission to challenge Republican Dana Young in SD 18.

Her motivation was Young’s absence from the Senate floor when the vote was being taken in March on an assault weapons ban. Young, a staunch gun supporter, said she was attending to other business and later recorded her votes.

Cruz has called her a coward for not being on the floor during the emotionally charged debate.

Polls show their race could be a squeaker.

It’s clear Democrats believe the issues are on their side this time and they are charging hard. No matter which candidates emerge from the Aug. 28 primary, in most races he or she will find the battle lines already drawn against a Republican opponent.

That will save them time and money trying to define their opponent.

It’s an unusual position for Democrats to be in, and it’s too early to say it will be successful. But if they lose this time, at least it will be on the issues and not because they just laid down and took a beating.

Joe Henderson: Judge rules for college voting rights over incumbent privilege

Voting in Florida is a right, not a privilege.

And since life today doesn’t run at the same pace as it did back when Ozzie met Harriett (look it up, kids), the government should make it as easy as possible for citizens to exercise that right.

So yes, it was, as League of Women Voters of Florida President Patricia Brigham noted in the following statement: “ … truly a victory for the citizens of Florida” Tuesday when U.S. District Judge Mark Walker granted a preliminary injunction against the state’s prohibition on early voting at college and university campuses.

Why would the state try to prohibit early voting in such locations?

Oh, let’s take a wild guess.

College students generally skew toward more progressive ideas and candidates.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who needs every vote he can get to unseat Democrat Bill Nelson in the race for the U.S. Senate, is not progressive.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam are not progressive.

Ergo, logic. 101 would tell us that Republican candidates will lose votes if students can cast early ballots at the place where they go to school and spend most of their time.

It’s not always easy for them to track down a regular polling place, so that’s where the GOP made its stand.


As the judge noted in his ruling, “This Court can conceive of fewer ham-handed efforts to abridge the youth vote than Defendant’s affirmative prohibition of on-campus early voting.”

The hammy hand began its subterfuge in 2014 when Secretary of State Ken Detzner ruled that a building the University of Florida planned to use as an early-voting site didn’t meet guidelines to qualify as a polling place. That led to what Walker called “a stark pattern of discrimination” designed to suppress on-campus voting.

If the injunction becomes permanent, it has the potential to tip statewide elections. Scott twice won the Governor’s race by about 1 percent.

“Across Florida, more than 1.1 million young men and women were enrolled in institutions of higher learning in 2016; nearly 830,000 were enrolled at public colleges or universities,” Walker wrote.

“Almost 107,000 staff members worked at these public institutions. Put another way, the number of people who live and work on Florida’s public college and university campuses is greater than the population of Jacksonville, Florida — or the populations of North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia.”

Trying to hold down the turnout from voters likely to support the other candidate is becoming a pattern for Tallahassee Republicans.

In 2011, for instance, Republicans cut the number of early voting days in the state from 14 to eight and eliminated the option of casting a ballot on the final Sunday before Election Day. Black voters were particularly affected because that final Sunday has become known as “Souls to the Polls” in their churches.

Under withering pressure, Scott relented and signed a law in 2013, restoring much of what had been taken away.

The judge did it for him this time, and it has big implications in a year where students, in general, are registering to vote in large numbers, likely as a response to the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

It strains credibility to suggest the state’s resistance to on-campus early voting has nothing to with what kind of building that might be used as a polling place. It has everything to do with the fear young people might get motivated in a way that might not bode well for the incumbents.

Well, as I’ve said before, I’m not a lawyer.

In this case, though, I think it’s possible to succinctly summarize what the judge felt about the state’s argument: Seriously?

And here’s the knockout punch: Students rights proved more important than incumbents’ privilege.

Will Weatherford: $1 trillion economy means opportunity for Florida, but challenges remain

Florida’s economy continues breaking records.

Just a few days ago Florida’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) topped $1 trillion, the chief economist with the Florida Chamber Foundation announced. This means that if Florida was an independent country, our $1 trillion economy would rank us as the 17th largest economy in the world and ahead of countries like Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Argentina.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

Florida, the third largest state in the nation by population, now has one of the largest economies in the world.

I had the unique opportunity as former speaker of the Florida House to see just how far Florida has come. During the Great Recession, Florida was impacted the hardest and our recession lasted longer than any other state. I distinctly remember The Wall Street Journal asking the question, “is Florida over?” Of course, just a few years later and after an incredible economic turnaround, the WSJ published an article commenting that Florida had found the secret to economic success. Florida has certainly come a long way in the last 10 years.

Over the past five years, Florida’s GDP grew by 27.2 percent — that puts Florida’s GDP growth rate in the top five states in the country. And, over the past five years, Florida has produced more than 1 out of 11 jobs in the U.S.

In fact, you would be hard pressed to find another economy with such robust growth. Florida has seen year-over-year GDP growth, jobs continue to be created and our unemployment rate continues to drop and has remained below the national average for the past several years.

Becoming a $1 trillion economy also means Florida’s reputation as a global leader in trade and logistics is once again cemented. The Florida Chamber Foundation’s work on their series of Trade & Logistics reports outlined very clearly how Florida can take advantage of its business-friendly economy and unique geographic location. A growing GDP will only help us remain a global hub for international activity.

While this growth is positive news, challenges and opportunities for Florida still remain.

The Florida Chamber Foundation’s Florida 2030 research initiative — which will soon be released statewide — shows the gaps Florida must close in order to continue to be globally competitive and grow smarter by 2030 and beyond. Consider that while achievement gaps are closing, 43 percent of third-graders still aren’t reading at or above grade level. And while 1 in 11 jobs in the nation in the last five years was created in Florida, our state’s 14.8 percent poverty rate includes 21.3 percent of children under age 18. While Florida is better suited than most states in these areas, the Florida Chamber will continue to lead reforms that create economic opportunity.

A $1 trillion economy is proof that when we stay focused on Florida’s long-term future and remain stalwart in our commitment to quality education, free enterprise and an unmatched quality of life, it suggests that we can continue to be one of the most exciting economic stories in the world.

Taking time to celebrate these successes is appropriate, but now is not the time to rest. I encourage business leaders to work toward a common goal of securing Florida’s future. If we remember that Florida’s challenges are truly opportunities, Florida will continue to enjoy the blessings of economic prosperity.


Will Weatherford is a former speaker of the Florida House.

Brenda Mattson: No reason to scrap the ACA. Improve it.

As a nurse in Florida, I had a front-row seat to the positives and negatives of the Affordable Care Act (or ACA).

Prior to the ACA, I saw young people kicked off their parent’s insurance, rendering them unable to afford health insurance.

Prior to the ACA, I witnessed far too many Floridians unable to get health insurance as a result of a pre-existing condition. Floridians deserved better than that, which is what they got under the ACA. The ACA increased access to health care for Floridians and undoubtedly saved lives.

Is it a perfect piece of legislation? Of course not!

Should we rip it up and start over merely because there are ways we could improve it? Not a chance.

The answer to solving our health care woes isn’t to swing drastically toward a single-payer system or throw the baby out with the bathwater and start over.

The answer to solving our health care issues is for members of Congress (on both sides of the aisle) to come together and put country over party. We need health care solutions and we need them now.

Millions of Floridians who depend on the marketplace to buy their health insurance can’t afford for politics to outweigh their health. As a nurse, I can personally attest to the improvements the ACA has made to our health care system.

Now it’s time to build on those improvements and create a health care system that all Floridians can be proud of.


Brenda Mattson is a registered nurse.

Joe Henderson: Stand Your Ground worked just like lawmakers intended

In Florida now, the rule of law now seems to be shoot first, justify later.

So, what happened to Markeis McGlockton last week at a Circle A convenience store in Clearwater is exactly lawmakers had in mind when they widened the range of what’s permissible under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Surely you have seen the video by now. It made national news. McGlockton was gunned down in plain sight after an argument between Michael Drejka and McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, escalated over whether the van she was in should have been parked in a handicapped spot (it shouldn’t have).

McGlockton, while unarmed, wasn’t blameless.

He charged and then shoved Drejka with what Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri termed “great force.”

“I mean this is a violent push, this isn’t just a push or a shove, this is violent, and he slammed him (Drejka) to the ground,” Gualtieri said at a news conference.

Still on the ground, Dreika pulled a gun, fired, and now McGlockton is dead – killed in front of his 5-year-old son.

“Stand your ground” worked just the way the framers of that law intended.

How vindicated they must have felt when Gualtieri said he couldn’t arrest the shooter because of the law, which was amended in 2017 by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott to make prosecutors prove Drejka didn’t feel threatened.

I’ll say again – prosecutors must prove he DIDN’T feel threatened.


The state attorney’s office will do its own investigation to decide if it agrees with Gualtieri’s decision. I’m not a lawyer, but it will be hard to say the Sheriff is wrong under the existing law.

“The reason why it makes (the shooting) justified, and within the framework of “stand your ground” is because of what Markeis did (with the shove),” Gualtieri said.


This is what the NRA rubber-stamps in the Florida Legislature have unleashed. They have legalized people’s worst impulses in moments of stress – even if evidence later suggests those impulses should have been controlled. Under the law, they don’t have to be.

“I’m a big believer in this adage that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. This case may be an example of that. Nonetheless, we don’t build it, we just sail it. What I mean by that is: I don’t make the law, I enforce the law,” Gualtieri said.

“And I have to apply the facts of every situation to the law, as the Legislature has passed it, and as the Governor has signed bills enacting it. And the law in the state of Florida today is that people have a right to stand their ground, and have a right to defend themselves when they believe that they are in harm.”

Surveillance video appears to show McGlockton backing up slightly after Drejka pulled his gun. Perhaps a cooler head would have let it go at that, but Drejka made a choice in the heat of the moment to fire his weapon.

That is not in dispute.

How can anyone prove Drejka didn’t believe McGlockton was going to come after him again – no matter what the video suggests?

“Nowhere else is there anything like this in criminal law, where somebody asserts something, and the burden then shifts to the other person,” Gualtieri said.

“So, the law is changed dramatically because you’ve got a situation here where ‘stand your ground’ allows for a subjective belief by the person that they are in harm’s way, they are in fear.”

Just like the NRA wanted when it pressured Republicans to make that part of the law.

Even if McGlockton thought he was defending his girlfriend, he shouldn’t have shoved Drejka, or even touched him. Whatever happened to just saying, “Hey man, I’m sorry” and then getting into your car and driving off?

But he didn’t.

The bigger question is whether he should have died for that.

The answer is simple: This is Florida.

When it comes to guns and how people use them, that’s the answer to everything.

Joseph F. Rutherford: Refocusing efforts to improve Florida’s mental health system

In a health crisis, individuals turn to hospital emergency rooms across Florida to stabilize an escalating medical condition. Individuals impacted by mental illness require the same access to emergency care. People in crisis, their families, and law enforcement need a trusted resource to provide immediate care designed to assess and treat.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. In Florida, it’s projected that over 2 million of our residents will be affected. Yet, despite the number of Floridians impacted by mental illness: Florida ranks 50th in terms of per capita spending among the U.S. for mental-health programs, with over 1 million dollars annually being eliminated in Hillsborough County for baker act services the past two legislative sessions alone.

When someone is in crisis and may be in danger of hurting themselves or others as a result of mental illness, Florida’s Baker Act allows them to be held involuntarily for an evaluation up to 72 hours. This provides an opportunity to stabilize the immediate crisis and develop a long-term treatment strategy with a licensed clinician. It is very important to understand that when a patient no longer meets Baker Act criteria, the law requires that person be released.

Community-based wellness facilities, like Gracepoint, work in collaboration with the patient, their families, law enforcement, the courts, and other providers and stakeholders not only during the 72-hours required by law, but always offering voluntary outpatient aftercare well beyond that window to optimize recovery.

For many, a continuum of care beyond the crisis window is essential for recovery. Every Florida community with a Baker Act unit should also have access to “step down” or transitional services for patients who are discharged, but need assistance in their transition to successful, independent functioning. Short-term residential care, as an example, provides individuals who may need additional care with continued support to move through the rehabilitation process and into the community more seamlessly.

These short-term residential beds were defunded by the state less than 10 years ago, resulting in a missing critical element necessary for patient success.

While there has been a positive shift away from state psychiatric hospitals to community-based health centers over the decades, monetary support has not followed to keep up with demand. In a day and age where we have greater access and understanding to medicine, care coordination, therapeutic treatments and technology, it’s challenging and frustrating for providers not to be able to provide needed services due to a lack of resources.

We all have a vested interest in providing adequate mental health treatment options. Without proper support, Florida faces a draining cycle of social, emotional and economic implications as a result of its continuing reduction of investment in mental health. I believe the dialogue should be focused on what is missing, rather than what is wrong with our mental health system. As the upcoming Legislative Session approaches, we will continue to advocate for Florida residents who are in need of programs, such as short-term or “step-down” beds.

The mental health needs of this community impact us all and the upcoming legislative session serves as a turning point for refocusing attention on providing services to better treat those potentially in peril without a safety net. Community health centers, like Gracepoint, will continue to advocate for expanded mental health services for our state as a whole and work to educate lawmakers of the critical services so many of our residents need to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.


Joseph F. Rutherford is the chief executive officer for Gracepoint, a community health center focused on providing integrated mental health, substance abuse, and medical care to promote health and wellness.

Joe Henderson: April Griffin endorses Karen Perez for Hillsborough School Board

April Griffin says she has not changed her mind about leaving the Hillsborough County School Board after three terms that at times have been tumultuous, rancorous but never, ever dull.

“No looking back,” she said.

Even though she won’t be running for re-election this fall, Griffin wants her supporters to know she is throwing her full support behind Karen Perez, a late entry into the District 6 countywide race.

“I’m supporting her because, in my opinion, she is the most qualified candidate of the six (who are running),” Griffin said. “She is educated, smart, compassionate, strong, and she will fight for those kids like they were her own.

“She is a steady, focused person. But she is also a mama bear.”

Perez, a Democrat, ran in 2006 for State Representative but was beaten by Ed Homan 56-43 percent in the general election. She lists a background in clinical social work and mental health, which is another reason Griffin backs her.

“That is a vital issue in the schools today,” Griffin said. “One of the biggest obstacles kids face to success is the mental health issue. She will guide the policies that will help kids walk across the stage and graduate.”

It’s a six-way scrum in the Aug. 28 primary for a seat that could go a long way toward determining both the immediate and long-range future of the board and there probably is no clear-cut favorite.

Besides Perez, the candidates are Scott Hottenstein and Robert Pechacek, who are both teachers. Henry “Shake” Washington is a retired school administrator and former coach. Political consultant Kelso Tanner and student cafeteria manager Michell Smithey round out the field.

While Griffin was a lightning rod on many issues, most notably the firing of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, she also was popular with voters. Even though she was specifically targeted for defeat in 2014 by Elia’s supporters, Griffin easily defeated Dipa Shah in the countywide race.

Opponents who haven’t gotten over the Elia firing likely see this as an opportunity to reshape the board.

Add to that the surprising decision by Susan Valdes, another Elia detractor, to leave the Board with two years left on her term to run for State Representative, and it raises speculation what direction a new-look Board might take after the November election.

The District still faces significant financial problems and an estimated $1 billion backlog in capital needs. A growing student population and the need for continued construction of new buildings are also issues facing the nation’s eighth-largest district.

At a recent meeting, Griffin sounded the alarm again about finances.

“We are at 2007 per-student funding levels in the year 2018,” she said. “That has got to be something that we scream from the mountaintops because at the end of the day we are trying to operate with less dollars while everything costs more. We’re in a perfect storm in the world of public education. And it’s not good.”

How the Board deals with that crisis after the November elections will be one of the most critically watched things in Hillsborough County.

It won’t be Griffin’s problem then, but she is hoping her endorsement of Karen Perez will help lead to a positive solution.

Blake Dowling: A weekend of Alabama history and therapy animals

I visited Ozark, Alabama last weekend to attend a family reunion at my grandfather’s childhood home, the Holman House.

Holman House is a 15,000-square-foot historic landmark built by hand (with no electricity) in 1912 by a small team of local master craftsman.

A truly amazing feat, if you think about it.

The house sits directly across from the Dowling-Steagall House named after G.P. Dowling and U.S. Congressman Henry Steagall (the guy behind the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp).

Those Dowlings were a rowdy bunch, so I hear.

Anyway, during the weekend, there were lots of remarkable stories from the neighborhood told. Franklin Roosevelt once visited the Dowling House, and at one time it even served as a hospital.

From the imagery and stories of those days, one thing was prevalent — the animals.

In the days before tractors, mules served as the key component to agriculture and transportation. My family was in that business.

One family story (told by my relative Joe Adams, editor of the 100-year-old Ozark newspaper Southern Star) is that Mr. Holman told a client at the stable that he had a mule on sale, but with the disclaimer that he “didn’t look so good.”

Nevertheless, the client purchased the mule and moved on.

The next day, the client came back and said: “Mr. Holman, this mule is blind as a bat.”

 “I told you he didn’t look so good,” Holman replied simply. Zing.

It wasn’t just mules dominating the landscape to provide the people of our great nation with so much. Horses, dogs, cats, pigs, and chickens all had functions. From food and security to therapy.

I am sure the folks of Dale County did not think much about the therapy side of things, but animals can certainly be comforting to those in crisis.

Did you know that Florida passed several pieces of legislation in recent years to allow the use of therapy animals within our courts?

It began in 2011 with HB 251, and amended in 2014, then expanded again last year to further the use of therapy dogs in judicial settings. Through this program, therapy dogs have been a great resource (and friend) to young persons who find themselves in court.

The reasons they are there are most likely grim — abuse and the like. So, having a special friend like this is not only cool but a game changer.

I have an opportunity to meet some of these dogs and their human counterparts last week. To say the experience was powerful would be an understatement.

These animals are provided by the Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare Animal Therapy Program and they do not just function in courtrooms. Their programs are diverse and help so many in our great state.

The program began in 2005, and during 2017-2018, 150 teams have had over 35,000 patient interactions, logging 3,500 plus hours in over 50 facilities during 2017/2018.

Therapy animals help seniors, the young, and those in recovery or rehabilitation. The animals are not just dogs; there are miniature horses, cats, a bunny, a goat and even a therapy bird.

Animals in our world are part of our society and our lives. To those that have spent their careers in this kind of noble service, we salute you. And to those in south Alabama, thank you for the opportunity to come back home.

To anyone who says you can’t, they are wrong.

Between last week and this past weekend, I had an amazing visit with so many special people (and places) as well as a very memorable experience with some awesome animals.

Cheers to ya, Dale County and TMH.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and he spent his childhood in LA (lower Alabama). He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Stephanie Perkins, the organization’s program director said about the work they do: “We couldn’t be more thankful for each and every one of our volunteers. Each team embodies the therapeutic bond we strive for each patient to experience through visits and everyday interactions. We also love to see each pet and handler’s unique personalities shine through their service, as without their time and effort our program would not be possible.”

Joe Henderson: Alex Sink says Trump’s stumbles should help Gwen Graham, all Dems

Alex Sink understands high-stakes politics.

Sink, a Democrat, became the first woman to win a major-party nomination for Governor in 2010, but she narrowly lost to Rick Scott. Sink’s late husband, Bill McBride, also ran for the state’s top office in 2002 but lost to Jeb Bush.

Sink is also the only Democrat to win a Florida statewide election in this century when she beat Tom Lee in the race for Chief Financial Officer in 2006.

So, when she says she knows what Gwen Graham faces in her campaign to be Florida’s next Governor, it carries considerable weight.

“There is still the woman factor,” Sink said. “I don’t know if Florida will elect a woman to the highest office in the state because we never have. She has to get through a primary first. She has to look at those pockets of voters who would naturally be inclined to support her and make sure they turn out on Election Day.

“My advice for the primary would be to focus on her two or three strongest issues that appeal to voters, especially those who are concerned about the right of privacy and the right of a woman to control her own body.”

Sink endorsed Graham earlier this week, which wasn’t a surprise, since Ruth’s List, a group Sink helped found, endorsed Graham earlier this year. She is the only woman among the candidates in either major party.

Ruth’s List was formed, as its website says, to build “ … a progressive Florida by recruiting and assisting pro-choice Democratic women to successfully run for public office in Tallahassee, in county commissions, in city councils, and in other key positions around Florida.”

Winning the Governor’s mansion after 20 years of Republican control would be a major coup for that movement. But the main thing, Sink said, is for a Democrat to win.

“I’ve been, like most Democrats, looking at the overall field and I think any of our field of candidates would make a good Governor,” she said. “But I’ve known Gwen a long time, and she shares my values. I think she has the best chance of any of them to succeed.”

For any Democrat to succeed, turnout will be vital.

Sink lost her election to Scott by just 61,550 votes, which she blames in part because of lower-than-expected turnout in the Democratic stronghold on the lower east coast.

That might change in November, given the horror from the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and President Donald Trump’s shaky popularity and his stumbles this week at the summit meeting in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin.

“One of the things we have as Democrats, going off the last 48 hours (with Trump), oh my God,” she said. “If we can’t see what’s going on in the nation right now, then we’re pitiful. Period.”

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