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New Florida Vision rallies minority voters around Andrew Gillum

A new political committee aims to rally black, Latino and Haitian voters around the man who would be Florida’s first black governor.

New Florida Vision PAC plans to engage more than 100,000 infrequent voters within these demographics, letting them know Andrew Gillum, Tallahassee mayor, will appear on the Democratic ballot for governor.

“People of color make up the majority of Democratic voters in Florida. We have the numbers. We have the power. And now we finally have a candidate that is motivating people to turn out,” said Andrea Cristina Mercado, director of the New Florida Vision PAC.

“Andrew Gillum has a track record of opening doors for Florida’s communities. We deserve a seat at the table and with Gillum in office, we’ll have it.”

The group plans to reach out through door-knocking, text message, social media and old-fashioned paid ads.

The committee noted Florida’s history of close elections in Governor and presidential elections, suggesting the key to Democrats winning the Governor’s Mansion this year lies in expanding the voter base.

“Black and Latino voters don’t want to miss the chance to be part of making history,” said Dwight Bullard, chairperson for the New Florida Vision PAC. “We have the opportunity to not just elect Florida’s first Black governor, but a governor who is unapologetically progressive and who will put our communities first.”

Gillum is one of five major Democrats running for the primary, along with former Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene and Orlando entrepreneur Chris King.

New Florida Vision leaders plan to stress not only Gillum’s ethnic roots — he would be the first black man to hold the title of governor if he wins the election this year — but also his working-class roots and platform.

That includes a focus on funding public education, boosting affordable housing, reforming criminal justice and protecting immigrant communities from President Donald Trump’s “deportation force,” a clear reference to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Jeff Greene plows $3M more into gubernatorial bid

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene has put another $3 million into his campaign, bringing the total to $13.6 million since Greene entered the race last month, according to a newly filed finance report.

Greene, a Palm Beach billionaire, loaned $3 million to the campaign on July 16.

The $13.6 million includes loans and contributions from Greene, who has almost totally self-funded his campaign.

During an interview this week with The News Service of Florida, Greene didn’t put a limit on how much he will spend as he competes with fellow Democrats Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine in the Aug. 28 primary.

“As of now, I know that I’ve probably spent a little more than Gwen Graham, less than Philip Levine,” Greene said. “There are only five weeks left, I don’t have any idea what it will take.”

Philip Levine getting Disney, South Florida unions’ backing

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is getting the endorsement of two of the largest unions at Walt Disney World and from another representing hospitality workers in South Florida, with a formal announcement set for late Thursday in Orlando.

UNITE HERE Locals 362 and 737, combining to represent 23,000 at Walt Disney World and other Central Florida locations, and Local 355 representing 7,000 workers in South Florida, are picking Levine in the Democratic primary over four rivals.

Local 355 represents hospitality workers in South Florida’s hotels, airports, sports stadiums, and casinos. Local 362 represents attractions, custodial and vacation planning employees Walt Disney World and food service workers in Central Florida. Local 737 represents food and beverage workers and housekeepers at Disney and other locations throughout Central Florida.

“With union workers at Disney on the verge of winning a historic raise to $15, we need a governor who is committed to raising wages for all Floridians,” Eric Clinton, president of UNITE HERE Local 362, stated in a news release. “Phil Levine has taken action to raise wages in South Florida, and we stand with him to help workers across the whole state.”

Levine got the hospitality workers’ backing over his rivals in the Aug. 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary, Jeff Greene, Gwen Graham, Chris King, and Andrew Gillum, and over the Republican frontrunners, Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam.

Democratic group’s commercial says Rick Scott cut health care funding

A new statewide TV commercial being launched Wednesday by the Democratic group Majority Forward declares that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott slashed Florida health care funding during his nearly eight years as governor.

The ad, “Vetoed,” charges that Scott vetoed nearly $200 million in health care funds, “slashing home healthcare for seniors and vaccinations for kids, cutting doctors at rural hospitals and treatment for opioid addiction. Instead Scott backed his party and gave tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy – people like him.”

Scott faces Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in the Nov. 6 election.

Scott’s senatorial campaign responded with a statement charging that the group cherry-picked vetoes without explanations for why individual items were vetoed, and ignored other efforts in which Scott helped increase funding for healthcare for seniors, vaccinations for children, rural health care, and treatment for opioid additions.

Majority Forward is a 501(c)(4) organization afiliated with the Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC. Majority Forward was formed in 2016 and is a “dark money” organization that does not have to disclose its donors, and doesn’t.

The group said the commercial is being broadcast statewide, backed by a $2.7 million buy.

“Rick Scott needs to quit catering to the wealthy and put the hardworking men and women of Florida first,” Hannah Hurley, spokesperson for Majority Forward, stated in the release. “Scott has a record of putting the needs of billionaires and his political cronies over the well-being of every day Floridians, and his actions as governor, where he slashed critical health care funds and gave tax cuts to the wealthy, just further proves this point. Florida families deserve better.”

Replied Scott’s campaign Press Secretary Lauren Schenone:

“Bill Nelson and his Democratic loyalists’ attempt to cherry-pick information without acknowledging the Governor’s history of fighting for these priorities is just the latest effort to mislead Floridians. Governor Scott’s record is clear: he has secured major investments and legislation to support healthcare services for our state, and unlike Bill Nelson and Congress, he has done this while combatting reckless spending that would harm hardworking taxpayers. With every misleading attack ad Nelson’s friends release, it becomes more and more clear that even after nearly half a century in Congress, there is nothing positive to be said on what Bill Nelson has actually done for Florida.”

Philip Levine: Quest for film business is part of 21st-century economy

Meeting with state film industry leaders in Orlando Tuesday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine renewed his call for a determined push to bring the movie business back to Florida, using it as an example of 21st-century enterprises Florida is rebuffing.

“What’s amazing to me: this is low-hanging fruit,” the former Miami Beach mayor said. “This is an easy thing to do. To me, it’s like passing the ERA Amendment and making history.”

But feedback from such individuals as Sheena Fowler of the Orlando Film & Television Commission and Michael Jordan of MJJ Entertainment and Filmotechnic USA was that under Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature over the past eight years, the film industry fled Florida, while other states such as Georgia have become big locations.

“We can’t even get into the conversation,” Fowler said.

“God willing I become Governor, we are going to be the conservation,” Levine replied. “I think all of us together, and my relationships and knowledge and the contacts that I have, we will make it so known that Florida is back in the film industry.”

The film industry may be a bit of a niche issue, rarely addressed by other candidates, including Democrats Gwen Graham, Chris King, Andrew Gillum, and Jeff Greene, and Republicans Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam. But it’s frequently discussed by Levine, who says he has friends and business associates in the TV and movie production businesses.

On Tuesday, he offered it as more than its own industry and more than just free product placement for Florida tourism. He held it out as a symptom of a state leadership that he said has shown little knowledge or interest in 21st-century business.

He belittled Republicans for disparaging the economic policies of states like California and Massachusetts, offering that states like that are flush with the kinds of high-paying, technology-oriented startups and businesses, while Florida, Levine charged, seems to be pursuing all the Walmart, McDonalds and other low-skill, low-wage employers.

“It’s incredible to me … How do you attract a 21st-century economy when you have a 20th-century government? We’re living with a mentality, unfortunately, where they just don’t get it,” Levine charged. “We look at these other states… they must be doing something.”

Some of the film officials meeting with him countered that some Republican-led states such as Georgia and Texas also are offering the kinds of incentives necessary to attract robust film business. But they told him that their experience has convinced them that Florida appears to be lost in a philosophical position of not offering incentives, and what they called a flawed return-on-investment equation for the film industry.

South Florida long had a big film and TV production presence. Orlando has its own unique combination, with universities such as Full Sail University and the University of Central Florida offering some of the top film schools in the country, the theme parks attracting huge numbers of actors and other entertainers, and the region’s video game and modeling and simulation industries attracting plenty of talent for computer animation and computer-generated images.

But several of those attending Levine’s roundtable either in person or by phone, including Full Sail Digital Cinematography Program Director Bob Truett, said the talent leaves for other states because the film jobs don’t exist in Florida.

“We’re popping out all this talent, but the only thing we’re missing is the business,” agreed John Lux, executive director of Film Florida.

House Democrats repurpose attorney John Morgan’s slogan

Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who toyed with the idea of a gubernatorial run this year and bankrolled the 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana, reveled Wednesday in U.S. House Democrats’ new mid-term slogan for the 2018 elections: “For the People.”

The House slogan, replacing the failed motto, “A Better Deal,” also is the catchphrase for the Morgan & Morgan law firm.

Morgan took the attention in his typical understated stride: “Also I agreed to allow @NancyPelosi, or Aunt Nancy as my children call her, to pay me only a nickel every time #ForThePeople is used by the DCCC. @SenSchumer will be paying a quarter for the DSCC,” was among Morgan’s tweeted reactions, referring to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and the party campaign organizations.

Democrats talk algae, quality of life issues in Fort Myers Governor debate

As the five dominant Democrats running for Governor shared a debate stage in Fort Myers, discharges from Lake Okeechobee rose to the top of a list of progressive causes discussed.

The debate participants universally promised to fight Big Sugar and find solutions to the closely watched environmental issue.

“If you don’t have the political courage to stand up to the industry that has had a vice grip on environmental politics in the state of Florida for 20 years, paying off politicians all throughout the state of Florida, you are now willing to hold this office,” said Orlando businessman Chris King.

All the candidates promised not to take sugar money. King zinged former Rep. Gwen Graham for accepting money in the past, but she noted that one had all gone to help the Indian River Lagoon.

“I am proud sugar money is being used to clean up the mess they created,” Graham said.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said stopping Big Sugar influence would involve more than environmental regulation. He said fixing problems around Lake Okeechobee also offered the chance to help redefine the economy of communities that now rely on the industry.

“We need to put the interests of everyday people first,” he said. Gillum noted areas around Lake Okeechobee, many communities of color, will need new economic drivers, a problem that cannot be solved within the “elite towers of liberalism,” and that the next Governor will need to take a New Deal approach to job growth.

Quality of life and education issues also loomed large in the debate. Standing at a podium next to billionaire Jeff Greene on the debate stage for the first time, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine stressed his public and private sector success while taking a thinly veiled shot at his primary opponent.

“Don’t elect someone just from the private sector who was never tested in the public sector,” Levine stressed.

Greene, though, said his financial success would allow him to help Democratic candidates all the way down the ballot, including in Senate and House races, to be elected. And he said his background made him the best candidate to stand up to President Donald Trump.

“I’ve been fighting with Donald Trump as long as I’ve known him,” Greene said.

Green also promised to put an end to state funding of charter schools, suggesting it’s the lobbying and political influence of professionals in the industry who led to a sudden interest in Tallahassee in expanding charter options.

As for working with the president? Gillum, while calling Trump “uniquely unqualified” for his office, said he’d work with him on high-speed rail. Graham said she’d push for a Medicaid expansion in Florida — and accept the funding.

A message pushed repeatedly was ending the Democrats’ losing streak. Graham frequently talked of the 20 years of Republican rule in Florida, noting she had won a Panhandle congressional seat during a red wave year in 2014.

King reminded people the last time a Democrat won the governor’s mansion was his freshman year in high school.

Levine promised to deliver results in both the election and in the job, noting past success passing a living wage rule in Miami Beach before Gov. Rick Scott put a stop to it.

Gillum appealed to history, noting that the Aug. 28 primary this year will occur on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and the day Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president.

Moderating the debate were WINK News anchors Chris Cifatte and Lois Thome; it was at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Aramis Ayala endorses Andrew Gillum in governor’s race

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has received the endorsement of Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala, someone who polarized much of Florida last year with her anti-death penalty stance but also won strong statewide recognition and support among many progressive Democrats.

“I’m proud to stand with Mayor Andrew Gillum in his campaign to take this state back for working people,” Ayala stated in a news release issued by Gillum’s campaign. “He’s shown true courage in this race — from speaking truth to power, to standing up for our most important values of inclusion and decency. His track record as a progressive leader in Tallahassee, combined with his bold vision of a true north star for this state, will serve him well as our next Governor. I’m looking forward to campaigning with him this summer and fall.”

She also joined him for an announcement in downtown Orlando.

Ayala, the state atorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit serving Orange and Osceola counties, also has been credited for courage, by her supporters – and for wrecklessness, by her critics. Last year she became the first Florida state attorney to declare a ban on death penalty prosecutions for capital murder cases in her circuit. That led to a high-profile, high-stakes, protracted legal and political fight with Gov. Rick Scott and others. Ultimately she lost and was forced to develop a system to institute death penalty prosecutions. And because the case was decided by the Florida Supreme Court, she likley will be the last state attorney to attempt such a stance under current Florida laws.

The fight made her famous statewide, and also attracted national attention, a poster child for liberal excesses to many Republicans and conservatives, and a champion of judicial reform to many Democrats and liberals. She has followed up with a couple more, less-controversial reforms, including a roll-back of automatic bail requests in many non-violent crime cases.

As the state’s first African-American state attorney, Ayala also has fostered a strong statewide base in Florida’s black communities, and she may be something of a role model for Gillum, who is seeking to become the state’s first African-American governor.

She won a shocking upset victory in the Democratic primary in 2016 over then-State Attorney Jeff Ashton before winning the post in the fall election. Her victory was fueled in large part by a third-party campaign financed by New York billionaire George Soros, who has declared his dedication to helping black candidates get elected to high offices. Soros also has poured $750,000 so far into a political committee to support Gillum this year.

Gillum faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, businessman Jeff Greene, and businessman Chris King heading into the Aug. 28 Democratic primary. King also advocates a ban on the death penalty.

“I’m deeply honored have State Attorney Ayala’s support in this race,” Gillum declared. “She is a deeply dedicated public servant and a strong advocate for justice and fairness, and the personification of leadership in her community and across the state. I’ve been deeply impressed by her criminal justice reforms, including the elimination of cash bail, as a way to make our justice system more equitable. She’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, and I can’t wait to continue campaigning with her throughout the summer and fall.”

Andrew Gillum sees his path in five-way primary

At this point Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is counting on it not taking much – maybe 20-something, 30 percent – to win the August 28 Democratic primary for governor and he is counting on inspiring a midnight-blue wave of progressive Democrats and people of color to make him the party’s nominee this fall.

Gillum, in Orlando Tuesday afternoon to meet with airport workers struggling with low wages and benefits, is steadily taking meetings with unions, workers, minority groups, and progressive organizations trying to inspire a groundswell turnout while his Aug. 28 Democratic primary opponents, Jeff Greene, Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Chris King, increasingly are saturating Florida’s airwaves with TV commercials.

Gillum said he will be up with TV commercials, which would be his first, not including the third-party, “dark money” commercials run in a couple of markets by The Collective, which Gillum has been forced to at least mildly disavow because many Democrats have been turned off by their attacks on Graham.

Yet while the other Democratic candidates have been raising far more money than his campaign and running one ad after another, they’ve been moving in the surveys, while Gillum has been largely stagnant, in most polls in the high single-digits or low teens.

That doesn’t count inspiring people to turn out to vote who otherwise wouldn’t, who don’t show up in the “likely primary voters” counts, he said during a stop at Orlando International Airport Tuesday, where he met with officials of the Local 32BJ SEIU and a gathering of contract airport workers whom the union is working with to organize. They certainly seemed to like what he was saying Tuesday.

“We have talked about bringing all marginalized communities to the polls, particularly in these midterm elections that are not popular elections for people to vote,” Gillum said.

“We feel very confident that we are building the kind of grassroots capacity that’s going to be necessary to turn voters out to win,” Gillum added.

After all, he pointed out, it is a five-way primary. Technically, 20 percent plus one vote could win. He said he expects the winner might have around 30 percent. That essentially is what his campaign is shooting for right now.

“In a primary in this state you gotta get a plurality. And the truth is we don’t need expensive television to reach that outcome. What we need is to communicate to voters who need to know I am their choice on the ballot,” Gillum said. “For a lot of reasons, largely because of our message, and what we’re trying to communicate, and the way we are communicating it, we believe we will have what it takes to win this primary.”

Gillum also sees perhaps a little magic in the date of Aug. 28, a little historical mojo that he feels good about breaking his way. It was Aug. 28, 1963, that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, and it was Aug. 28, 2008 that Barack Obama accepted the nomination to run for president.

“I believe on Aug. 28 I will accept the Democratic nomination for Florida, and it will put us on the trajectory to win the election on Nov. 6,” he said.

Alex Sink endorses Gwen Graham

Democratic former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink – the first woman of a major political party to run for governor – endorsed Gwen Graham for that position Tuesday.

“I am supporting Gwen Graham for governor because I know she will be an outstanding leader for our state,” Sink stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign. “Gwen shares my commitment to investing in public education, protecting our environment and building a diverse economy for Florida.”

In 2010, Sink, the last Democrat to hold a cabinet position in Florida, ran for governor but lost to Rick Scott by less than 2 percent.

She co-founded the statewide progressive women’s group Ruth’s List, which endorsed Graham in January.

Graham is battling with four men – Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and businessmen former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Chris King of Winter Park, and Jeff Greene of Palm Beach – for the August 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary nomination.

“Now, more than ever, we need a leader who will defend Florida’s women and families,” Sink said. “Gwen is a proven dedicated public servant with strong values who I am confident will always put Floridians first.”

Women’s issues have become a top concern for Graham and her campaign, and she’s made no secret about seeking to stand out in an election battle that otherwise features six men, including Republicans U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

In the news release her campaign pointed out that Sink’s endorsement comes on the heels of President Donald Trump nominating anti-choice judge Brett Kavanaugh for the United States Supreme Court. Graham has been organizing a series of rallies, press conferences and roundtable discussions in support of safe, legal access to abortion and women’s health services.

“It’s an honor to have Alex Sink’s support. She has been a trailblazer for Florida women in business and public service — and I wish I were running today to serve as Florida’s second woman governor,” Graham said. “With Alex’s support we will end 20 years of one-party Republican rule. Then, working together, we will restore our promise to public schools, protect our environment and expand health care.

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