Gwen Graham Archives - Florida Politics

Sabato’s Crystal Ball calls Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial race a ‘toss-up’ in initial ratings

With so much uncertainty about who is in or out of the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race, it’s not surprising that at least one political seer has deemed Florida too-close-to-call.

Initial 2018 gubernatorial ratings released Thursday by Sabato’s Crystal Ball ranked Florida as one of 10 states considered a “toss-up” going into the 2018 election cycle. The ratings found more than half of the 38 gubernatorial races on the ballot next year either start in “competitive toss-up or leans Republican/Democratic categories.”

The report noted Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has been “gearing up for a gubernatorial run for years” and is seen as the favorite on the Republican side to succeed Gov. Rick Scott. But with several other Republicans considering a run, authors Geoffrey Skelley and Kyle Kondik report it is “hard to say just how clear his path to the nomination will be.”

Putnam has been touring the state meeting with local Republican and business group to talk about his vision for the future, and has been building up his campaign coffers in advance of his expected bid. State records show Florida Grown, the political committee expected to fuel his gubernatorial bid, has raised more than $10.5 million since 2015, and had more than $7.7 million cash on hand at the end of March.

The Bartow Republican is scheduled to have a barbecue in his hometown on May 10, just five days after the expected end of the annual 2017 Legislative Session. The event, according to the Tampa Bay Times, will be held at the Old Polk County Courthouse.

But Putnam could face competition from Sen. Jack Latvala and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, both of whom are believed to be considering a 2018 bid.

Latvala, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, raised more than $246,000 for his political committee, the Florida Leadership Committee, in the days leading up to the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. That one-week fundraising haul in March came after one of his best fundraising months to date, when his committee raised nearly $1.1 million in February.

The Democratic side isn’t any easier to predict, according to the team at Sabato’s. While the authors write it might “come down to Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and ex-Rep. Gwen Graham, both of who could be considered rising stars in the party,” the team does note there are “some wealthy wild cards who could self-fund, such as 2010 Senate candidate Jeff Greene, businessman Chris King, and well-known attorney John Morgan.”

Gillum and King are the only Democrats who have filed to run, but Graham is widely expected to jump in the race soon, as is Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who could fall into the self-fund category.

State records show Levine pumped $2 million of his own money into his political committee, All About Florida, in March. Levine has spent the last few weeks touring the state meeting with community members.

Both Gillum and King have been staffing up. Gillum announced this week that Scott Arceneaux, the former head of the Florida Democratic Party, would be joining his campaign as chief strategist; while King unveiled a host of key hires, including Raymond Paultre as his director of strategic engagement and Stephanie McClung as his finance director.

Gillum announced earlier this month he had raised $765,000 — spread between his official campaign and his political committee Forward Florida — since the start of 2017, most of which was raised since March 1. Meanwhile, state records show King brought in nearly $1.2 million for his official campaign in March. That sum included a $1 million contribution King made to his own campaign.

But a crowded field could be an issue for Democrats hoping to turn Florida blue, according to Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The rankings noted that although Democrats came close to winning in 2010 and 2014, they “haven’t won a gubernatorial race in Florida since 1994 … so an extremely crowded field in an expensive state with a late primary could be problematic for them.”

Jack Latvala raises more than $244K on eve of 2017 Legislative Session

Jack Latvala raised more than $250,000 in the first week of March, much of which was raised in a single day.

Florida Leadership Committee, the Clearwater Republican’s political committee, raised at least $252,160 between March 1 and March 6, according to contribution data posted to the committee’s website. The committee received about $244,600 of that sum on March 6, the day before the 2017 Legislative Session kicked off.

Top contributors during the brief fundraising period, according to data posted on the website, including Associated Industries of Florida, Comcast Corp., Amscot Corp., Friends of Mount Sinai Medical Center, Minto Communities, Auto Tag of America, and the Florida Manufactured Housing Association PAC.

Latvala, the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is believed to be considering a 2018 gubernatorial bid and appears to be boosting his coffers ahead of an eventual decision. State records show Latvala raised nearly $1.1 million in February, marking one of the committee’s largest fundraising hauls to date.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are also often mentioned as possible 2018 contenders

On the Democratic side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King have already announced their 2018 run, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are expected to formally jump into the race soon.

Adam Putnam political committee brings in big bucks in March

Adam Putnam is poised to have another record fundraising month, laying the groundwork for his likely 2018 gubernatorial run.

Florida Grown, the political committee that will fuel Putnam’s likely 2018 run, raised at least $872,841 in March, according to contribution data posted on the committee’s website. That sum is expected to rise to nearly $1.1 million once final numbers are reported to the state Division of Elections in the coming days.

“As we travel the state, we’ve seen overwhelming support for Adam and his vision,” wrote Justin Hollis, the chairman of Florida Grown, in an email to supporters. “And that support is evident is contributions to the Florida Grown PC. To date, Florida Grown PC has received more than $10.5 million in contributions with $1,077,000 coming in March, and more than 1,700 supporters to date.”

That anticipated one-month haul would make March the second biggest fundraising month for the political committee to date. In February, the committee raised $2.5 million, it’s largest one-month fundraising haul since it opened in 2015

While Putnam hasn’t officially thrown his hat in the race, he’s acting the part of a candidate. In his email to supporters, Hollis said Putnam and Florida Grown have been “very busy crisscrossing the state meeting with supporters, including parents, teachers, small business owners, nurses, truck drivers and everything in between.”

“With every discussion, he learns more about the people of our state and what they want to see in future leadership. And Adam shares his vision for our state. He believes Florida is more than just the prize for a life well-lived somewhere else,” wrote Hollis. “He wants to attract folks to Florida decades sooner, so they can start their lives, build their businesses and grow their families right here in the Sunshine State. He believes Florida is not just a prize at the end of a career, but it can be the jumping off point for the American Dream.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala are also believed to be considering a 2018 gubernatorial run.

On the Democratic side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King have already announced their 2018 run, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are expected to formally jump into the race soon.

Poll shows Floridians undecided on 2018 gubernatorial options

If the results of a new poll are any indication, Floridians just aren’t that interested the 2018 gubernatorial election.

The survey — conducted March 28 through March 29 by Gravis Marketing for The Orlando Political Observer — found 36 percent of Democratic voters and 63 percent of Republicans said they were uncertain who they would vote for in their respective primaries. The survey also showed many voters were still “uncertain” in several hypothetical head-to-head general election showdowns.

The poll of 1,453 registered voters, which was conducted using automated phone calls and web responses of cell phone users, has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.

The poll found 24 percent of Democrats said they would pick former Rep. Patrick Murphy in the Democratic primary; while 23 percent said they would choose Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Orlando attorney John Morgan received 9 percent support, followed by former Rep. Gwen Graham with 8 percent support, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine with 1 percent.

On the Republican side, 21 percent of GOP voters said they would pick Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, while 5 percent support went to former Rep. David Jolly and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Sen. Jack Latvala received 4 percent, followed by former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker with 2 percent.

In a head-to-head match-up between Putnam and Gillum, Putnam would receive 32 percent of the vote to Gillum’s 31 percent. The poll found 37 percent were uncertain.

Morgan would best Putnam, 34 percent to 33 percent; however, 32 percent of voters said they were uncertain. Graham would defeat Putnam 34 percent to 32 percent; but in that instance, 35 percent said they were uncertain.

Gillum has a clear lead over Corcoran, 33 percent to 26 percent. But again, the poll found a significant number of voters — in this case 42 percent — said they were uncertain who they would vote for.

In a match-up between Morgan and Corcoran, Morgan would receive 39 percent of the vote to the Land O’Lakes Republican’s 27 percent. The poll found 34 percent were undecided. Graham, the poll found, would best Corcoran 34 percent to 29 percent; but 38 percent were undecided.

 

Chris King bills himself as ‘progressive entrepreneur’ as he prepares to enter 2018 gubernatorial race

The 2018 political campaign gets a little more interesting this week when 38-year-old Central Florida businessman Chris King officially enters the contest for the Democratic nomination for Governor.

“As many of you are probably aware, next Tuesday I will be launching my candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Governor, and I look forward traveling all around this state getting to know so many of you,” King told a gathering of statewide Democrats Saturday night at the Florida Democratic Party’s DCCA Retreat.

“We can win this race in 2018, and I want to be the type of candidate that makes that possible and gets you excited again about what is possible in Florida,” King said.

King is a complete political unknown in Florida, having served exclusively in the private sector as the founder and CEO of Elevation Financial Group, a private equity real estate investment company. In his brief remarks via video, he billed himself as a “progressive entrepreneur.”

“I started a company from scratch that creates safe, clean affordable housing for seniors and working families all over Florida and across the Southeast,” he said. “It’s a company that reflects my values that I am proud of that has taught me discipline and hard work and taken on big challenges and doing big things.”

King’s entry into the race this week will make him the second Democrat to officially enter into the 2018 sweepstakes for Governor for Florida, following Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s entry into the race a month ago. Videos introducing Gillum and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine (still considering a run) also aired (Levine appeared at the event earlier).

Gwen Graham, another potential 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, worked the event hard on Saturday at the retreat, attending 14 of the 16 individual caucus meetings held at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park .

Graham began her remarks by saying that an announcement about her political ambitions would be coming “very soon.” The former U.S. Representative ditched her prepared speech and, instead, informed the audience that her husband, Steve Hurm, is doing “very well” in his battle with cancer.

Florida Congress members react to GOP health care plan defeat

As U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was gathering his conference and then announcing the failure of the Republican health care plan, many Florida Democrats were swiftly calling for bipartisan work to improve the Affordable Care Act instead.

Republicans who opposed the bill also responded swiftly, calling for a better bill to be crafted, and some even called for some bipartisan work but showed  no interest in using the Democrats’ Affordable Care Act as a starting point.

Many Florida Democrats, recognizing the ACA remains in trouble as is, are acknowledging the concerns, and offering to work across the aisle on it – after criticizing the Republican bill.

“This is a win for the American people,” stated Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. “It was a bad bill, plain and simple. It would have harmed our seniors, and particularly those who often don’t have a voice in the debate – ‘the least among us’ if you will, the poor and the disabled. We have the opportunity now to drop the rhetoric, roll up our sleeves, and work together to fix what needs fixing to bring down costs, expand access, and protect the most vulnerable in our society. I’m an optimist, this was a teachable moment, and I think the lesson will be learned. Work together, put people above politics.”

Others were taking the same tack.

“I believe every American should have access to quality, affordable health care, which is why I’m pleased House leadership pulled this bill from consideration,” stated Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park. We must reform the Affordable Care Act, but it should be done in a transparent, bipartisan way that lowers costs and strengthens coverage for all.”

“What we must do now is come together to work to improve the Affordable Care Act,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said in a statement. “It took us centuries to get to where we are now with our health care, and we’ve already helped 20 million people get the health care they need. Let’s improve the ACA to see how we can help even more people get the health care they need and deserve.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor also called for some bipartisan work, just not on ObamaCare.

“My main concern has been, and will continue to be, making sure my constituents have access to the best possible health care,” he stated. “Our efforts do not stop here to ensure our nation’s health care system is stronger, more affordable, and truly patient-centered. That is my goal, and I will keep working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to accomplish it.”

Others, though, suggested bipartisan efforts as unlikely, giving no quarter for the ACA. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, was the first Florida Republican to jump in, showing that the GOP bill’s opponents on the right could be just as critical of it as Democrats, without being less critical of ObamaCare.

“The House health care bill is a flawed piece of legislation produced by a hasty process and it shows: by leaving the core architecture of ObamaCare in place, it does very little to address the core problems of rising health insurance premiums and lack of consumer choice that have harmed so many Americans,” DeSantis declared. “In fact, it very well may have caused insurance premiums to increase 15-20 percent over and above the anticipated ObamaCare increases over the next several years, which is unacceptable.”

“There was no reason to rush this bill through the House to begin with,” DeSantis added. “Congress should take its time and pass a good bill that actually repeals ObamaCare, puts a downward pressure on insurance premiums and expands competition in the marketplace. Failure is not an option.”

Representative U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Clermont had a similar response.

“For six years, I have advocated for repealing the [un]Affordable Care Act and replacing it with real healthcare reform. Obamacare is collapsing across the country – currently 4.7 million people are without an insurer. This failed policy is raising costs for patients and forcing insurers out of the marketplace, which leaves patients and families with nowhere to go,” Webster predicted.

“As I have said, I have concerns with the bill that was to come up for a vote today. In particular, it does not provide the dollars needed for the Medicaid-funded nursing home beds that many of our seniors rely on. I have expressed these concerns to House leadership and the administration,” Webster added.

“It is my hope that House and Senate leadership and the administration will work together and bring to the floor the conservative, common-sense healthcare reform that Americans deserve,” Webster concluded.

Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz blasted Republicans in the House of Representatives for letting down Trump and the American people.

“We did so in the most cowardly, craven way possible — by failing to vote on the repeal of Obamacare. I share the frustration and disappointment of Northwest Floridians who expected and deserved action. We should know who was willing to stand with President Trump and who wasn’t. Now we never will,” Gaetz said in a statement.

He promised not to give up, pledging, “In the weeks and months ahead the Republican party must demonstrate the competence to govern. It is possible.

“I plan to redouble my efforts to bring a renewed sense of urgency to this corrupt and disconnected town. In the face of this setback, we need bold, conservative reform more than ever. The fate of our nation is at stake,” Gaetz concluded.

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville saw repeal of ObamaCare as the first priority, but without the criticism of Congress.

“Maintaining a status quo is not an option. There is a widespread consensus that President Obama’s signature health care law is broken and unsustainable. I remain committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare to improve and protect Americans’ access to quality, affordable health coverage.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City focused on how ObamaCare remains a problem. And he use his Army experience to say, essentially, that the war is not over with the first shot.

“I’ve heard over and over again about the incredible burden that ObamaCare has placed on 18th District families. Because of Obamacare, two of our counties now have only one insurer on the individual exchange, while premiums and deductibles have become beyond unaffordable.

“Our broken healthcare system will not be fixed overnight,” Mast said. As I have said from the beginning, the only way we can fix the failures of ObamaCare is through a fully transparent process that engages voices all across the country. Moving forward, I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in working to improve our nation’s healthcare system to ensure that everyone has the liberty to choose the health care that is best for their life.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City also focused on his desire to replace ObamaCare.

“Obamacare will continue to harm Americans with higher costs, lost coverage, and fewer choices. That’s unacceptable,” Dunn stated. “We were sent here with orders to end this law and replace it with a patient-centered approach that actually lowers the cost of care. Today’s events will not deter or discourage us from honoring the commitment we made to the voters that elected us.”

Some Democrats gave no quarter on the ACA either, praising it while offering harsh criticism of the American Health Care Act plan that Ryan and President Donald Trump had pushed through to a vote, only to see Ryan pull it at the last moment when its death on the floor was inevitable.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston suggested the Republicans should be thinking about reaching out to the Democrats now.

“America’s seniors, women, children and families scored a major victory today. Trumpcare was a horrible bill from the start, and was only made worse the more it was amended. The lack of transparency, hearings and proper vetting was appalling. President Trump obviously didn’t do his homework, and Republicans are clearly at war with themselves. This defeat was earned and well deserved,” Wasserman Schultz began in a statement.

“More importantly, for millions of individual Americans, Trumpcare would have been devastating. It reduced coverage for millions, gutted benefits and massively increased costs, and added what amounted to an “age tax” for older Americans. It was the worst bill for women’s health in a generation. In fact, for the entire health care system, it would have been a nightmare. The solvency of Medicare would have been weakened, Medicaid would have been gutted, and safety-net hospitals would have been further burdened to truly distressing levels. Doctors, nurses, hospitals and nearly every major medical or health advocacy group opposed it, with good reason.,” she added.

“Hopefully,” Wasserman Schultz concluded, “Republicans will now reach out to Democrats to improve the Affordable Care Act in a serious, meaningful way. We’re more than ready to participate if it means truly improving our health care system.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando said in a written statement that the “voices of the American people were heard.”

“Republicans have been promising to replace the Affordable Care Act with something better for seven years, but the destructive bill that they proposed would force people to pay more for less coverage, erase protections for preexisting conditions, deny veterans additional benefits, force seniors to pay more for care and prescriptions, and shorten the life of Medicare,” Demings said. “I will continue to stand strong for my constituents in my fight to protect the Affordable Care Act.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa called for continued vigilance by Democrats to protect the Affordable Care Act and its coverage.

“Today, my neighbors in Florida and hardworking families across America can breathe a sigh of relief that the Republican TrumpCare bill failed thanks to the outpouring of opposition from citizens, doctors, nurses, hospitals and advocates. They knew it would rip coverage away, raise costs and provide a massive tax break to wealthy special interests,” Castor declared.

“Although we must remain vigilant about future Republican attempts to weaken health care in America, the failure of the Republican bill will allow millions of families to keep their health care and peace of mind. Hopefully we can work together to build on the success of the Affordable Care Act that has dropped the number of uninsured Americans to its lowest in history and ended discrimination against our neighbors with pre-existing conditions,” she continued.

“Republicans tried to ram TrumpCare through the House without a single hearing and then traded consumer protections away with damaging changes to bring the right-wing tea party faction of the U.S. House on board. It collapsed under its own weight and the unmasking of the huge tax breaks to wealthy special interests while raising costs for everyday Americans and weakening Medicare and Medicaid health services,” Castor added.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton declared that “President Trump and Speaker Ryan should be ashamed of themselves for trying to force through a disastrous bill that would have ripped away health coverage from tens of millions of Americans, dramatically increased premiums, and severely cut Medicare and Medicaid. The American people spoke loud and clear; they do not support gutting their own health benefits in order to give massive tax cuts to health insurance companies. House Republicans need to start working with Democrats on real policy solutions that will benefit the American people.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar offered to work with Republicans, but first slammed their plan.

“House Republicans and President Trump tried to takeaway healthcare from millions of Americans and they failed. Today’s defeat of TrumpCare is a victory for seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, families, children, women, and every one of the 24 million people who would have had their health coverage stripped from them under the Republican plan.

“When Congress reconvenes next week, Democrats will continue to stand up for the most vulnerable among us. There are many aspects where healthcare in America can be improved. For many of my constituents, the cost of care remains far too high, while for others, access to care remains a challenge. I, like all Democrats, want to make healthcare better for all Americans. If Republicans are willing to join this process in good faith, I would welcome the conversation and work to make improvements that benefit all Americans,” Hastings stated.

“President Trump’s plan failed today because his legislation did not prioritize the American people. It prioritized a select few – the millionaires and billionaires that President Trump has surrounded himself with – and ripped coverage away from millions of hard working and working poor Americans,” Hastings continued. “I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all Americans have access to the healthcare they need. I hope Republicans learn from this experience and begin the process of working Democrats moving forward.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate, also weighed in.

“Today’s debacle was another example of the so-called political leaders ignoring what is going on in the real lives of every American family. Instead of doing something real to deal with the crushing cost of healthcare, Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress pushed forward a plan that would have totally eliminated healthcare coverage for over 20 million Americans, taxed seniors, and forced working Americans to pay billions more straight out of the pocket,” she stated.

“This bill was much more than a failure of leadership — it was a missed opportunity to work in a bipartisan way to cut premiums, lower prescription drug cost, and improve Obamacare. It was simply political cowardice from the Republicans in Congress, who failed in their most basic responsibility and duty to stand up for the American people,” Graham continued.

“The thousands of Floridians who spoke out against TrumpCare should be proud of their efforts to stop this disastrous legislation. But we must also stand ready to fight back if Donald Trump and Paul Ryan try once again to ram this legislation through Congress,” she concluded.

Stephen Bittel concedes to Florida progressives – ‘it will take time for you to trust me’

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel walked into political version of a lion’s den over the weekend in Tampa and came out it not only unscathed, but maybe even a bit emboldened.

“That was a warmer greeting than I was expecting,” the recently-elected leader said in reaction to the modest applause that he received after he was introduced to the 120 members of the Progressive Democratic Caucus at the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association building on Saturday.

“I know my election doesn’t make everyone comfortable,” the wealthy real estate developer added, referring to the fact that he was the clear favorite among FDP establishment figures like Bill Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (who was booed whenever her name was mentioned at Saturday’s session) in the brief campaign for party leadership, following another disappointing cycle for Democrats statewide in 2016.

Bittel was elected party chair in January, getting 55 percent of the vote against four other candidates, but it was the controversial circumstances surrounding his election as Miami-Dade County that still sticks in the mind of a number of party members.

FDP bylaws mandate that only local party chairs or committeemen and committeewomen are eligible to run for the state party chair, positions that Bittel did not hold last December, as the race to succeed Allison Tant began heating up..

But a committeeman position magically opened up for him after Miami-Dade County state committeeman Bret Berlin voluntarily gave up his position less than a week after being elected by Miami Democrats.

In Tampa, however, Bittel played the self deprecating card.

“This is not my party, this is our party,” he insisted. “I don’t do a good job of managing my house. I don’t do a good job of managing my business. I try to find smarter better people than me. I want you to help manage me.”

Quoting Pinellas County Democrat Amos Meirs that the purpose of the Progressive Caucus is to build a bridge to the state party, Bittel said that bridge “has to be built from both sides.”

On substance, Bittel said the party needed structural changes, referring to his selection of an ad hoc committee currently reviewing reforming the charter bylaws. He also said he was “sad” to learn that the state party “had not spent investing ability into our email lists so we could reach out and have more small dollar contributions.”

He also said that beginning this week he’ll be speaking out on public policies now the the legislative session is underway, talking about ex-felon rights, mass incarceration and the death penalty (the caucus supported a resolution in support of embattle Orange/Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala for statement last week that she  would not seek the death penalty against alleged cop killer Markeith Lloyd).

“It will take time for you to trust me,” he later conceded, ultimately getting more than a third of the audience to stand and cheer him as he finished his speech.

Among the folks who Bittel was trying to win over was Zenia Perez, a member of the Miami Dade Democratic Executive Committee who was elected on Saturday as at large member to the Progressive Caucus.

Perez served as the Credential Chair for the Miami-Dade DEC during the saga that led to Bittel becoming a committeeman, a process she describes as a “fiasco.”

“I’m just a little ashamed of how we conducted ourselves,” she told FloridaPolitics on Saturday. “We kind of became an embarrassment to the state in a time where it’s critical that our leadership follow the rules, because they want us all to come together.”

Referring to Bittel’s appearance, Perez said it was his job to be there and listen to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, adding, “but then you have to work on it.”

A grassroots supporter for Bernie Sanders who also worked on Tim Canova’s unsuccessful congressional campaign against Wasserman Schultz, Perez said she was impressed by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who gave the keynote speech this weekend at the Progressive Caucus forum.

“I think he’s going to be a really fun candidate to see on the trail,” she says of Gillum, who was also in Jacksonville this weekend to introduce himself to Democratic voters.

Perez says she has also met potential gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham, and said that she felt after meting her she could definitely vote for her, meeting Gillum sort of knocked her socks off.

“I’m like whoa- I want to knock on doors for you. I want to work for you,”  adding that she likes his plans on educations, the economy and criminal justice reform.

Here’s a list of officers and board members selected by the progressive caucus on Saturday:

President- Susan Smith (Hillsborough)
Vice-President – Michael Calderin (Broward)
Secretary- Lisa Murano (Palm Beach)
Treasurer – Marilyn Cappiello (Hillsborough)

Board members

Paul Stolc (Leon)
Zenia Perez (Miami-Dade)
Melody Bernal (Osceola)
Mitchell Stollberg (Broward)
Hillary Keyes (Palm Beach)
Wendy Sejour (Miami-Dade)
Mario Piscatella (St. Johns)
Amos Miers (Pinellas)
Nancy Jacobson (Orange)

 

At gathering of progressives in Tampa, Andrew Gillum says Democrats won’t win in 2018 by being ‘Republican lite’

In his first appearance in Tampa since officially declaring his candidacy for Governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said the Democratic Party can win back the Governor’s Mansion next year if it convinces the voters of Florida that it can make an impact in changing their lives for the better.

“What we have to do is convince them that voting for us will make a difference in our lives,” he told the member of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida in Tampa on Saturday. “That we have an agenda that can actually impact that and impact that for the better, and I believe we can do that. As a matter of fact, I believe I can do that, if you all allow me to be the Democratic nominee for governor for the state of Florida,” as the crowd cheered.

Elected as mayor in August of 2014 at the age of 35, Gillum has been making decisions in office of late that would undoubtedly appeal to the progressive wing of the party. He successfully defended Tallahassee’s gun laws in court after two gun rights group sued the city to try to expand firearms in public parks, and has declared Tallahassee a “sanctuary city,” a move not many other Florida communities are embracing under the current administration in Washington.

Gillum used the first part of his half-hour speech to give a quick biography to the progressives who are gathering this weekend at the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association building in West Tampa. In referring to his public school upbringing (including the fact that he was the first in his family not only to graduate from college, but also high school), he gave a major shoutout to public school teachers, saying that what they do is “the most difficult work that happens on Planet Earth.”

He ultimately warmed up to  tossed some choice red meat for the liberal audience. Rick Scott? “Trump before Trump was Trump.”

Gillum savaged the Governor for his stance on climate change, declining Medicaid expansion and stimulus money for high-speed rail, and for his reluctance to accept Syrian refugees into the state.

“Never mind that the Governor has no right to say who’s welcome and who isn’t in the state of Florida, but since he took liberties, I took liberties,” he said to titters of laughter. “I said, come to the Capitol City, where you’re welcome,” adding, “Remember, these are people being forced out of their homes. Their lives are being threatened. Persecuted.”

On making Tallahassee a sanctuary city, he chided the use of the term “illegal aliens,” saying, “Illegal is not a noun. You don’t call people illegals,” he said, saying the term was a way of stripping away someone’s humanity.

He said Florida should be the capital of solar energy production, adding that if the private sector was too reluctant to be a leader in solar, municipal electric authorities should take the lead, and made sure to mention that his city is currently building a 200-acre solar farm.

Gillum is also against the construction of the $3 billion, 515-mile Sabal Trail Pipeline planned to run from Alabama through Georgia to Osceola County.

“I had to make a public statement against it. I thought it was a no-brainer, I didn’t know that you had to do that, but apparently you do,” he said, as the audience gave him a hearty round of applause. And he promised to put “the teeth” back into the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Regarding the governor’s race, he spoke to the progressive caucus’ language by saying that the Democrats wouldn’t win in 2018 by being “Republican lite.”

“When our issues on the ballot, absent the candidate’s name, people agree with us! They stand with us! So what is the disconnect?” he asked. “I believe we can win by leaning into our values and not running away from them.”

“Whether you are a working class white voter or a working class black voter or a working class Latino voter, if this economy isn’t working for you, you’re pissed off! We have to lean into that. This debate about whether we double down on our base or talk to working class white people is ridiculous. You have to go everywhere. We have to go everywhere and we have to talk to everybody.”

As proof that he’s not just all talk, Gillum mentioned his visit to The Villages last weekend, where he said he spoke to a crowd of 500 people (the Villages Democratic website reported it “overflowed the 350-seat recreation center)

Referring to the fact that Democrats suffer tremendously from a lack of participation in “off-year” elections which happen to coincide for when the state votes for governor and other cabinet positions, Gillum said one reason might be that the party hasn’t given voters sufficient motivation to turn out, before quickly emphasizing that he wasn’t attacking any recent Democratic statewide candidates.

Gillum is the first major party candidate to enter the race, and has since been joined by Central Florida businessman Chris King. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine seems likely to announce his candidacy soon, as does former Tallahassee based Congresswoman Gwen Graham. The jury is still out on what Orlando attorney and fundraiser John Morgan will end up doing.

Report: Gwen Graham transfers $250K to state political committee

Former Rep. Gwen Graham appears to be laying the framework for a 2018 gubernatorial bid.

POLITICO Florida reported Tuesday that Graham moved $250,000 from her congressional account, Graham for Congress, to Our Florida, a state political committee created on Feb. 2. State records show the money was given to Our Florida on Feb. 3.

Records show the committee’s chairwoman is Stephanie Toothaker, an attorney with Tripp Scott. According to POLITICO Florida, she served as special counsel for former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, the former congresswoman’s father.

The Tallahassee Democrat announced she would not run for re-election after one-term in Congress after her seat was redrawn to favor Republicans. She’s long been listed as one of several likely Democratic gubernatorial candidates, along with Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and attorney John Morgan.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has already announced his run. So has Chris King, an Orlando area housing investor.

Bob Buckhorn says after Donald Trump, voters may not be interested in a ‘guy like him’

On Thursday, Bob Buckhorn explained why he chose not to pursue the Democratic nomination for Florida governor in 2018.

The Tampa mayor’s decision was mainly predicated on two factors: He did not want to be away as his 15-year-old daughter spends her last few years at home, and he loves being Mayor of Tampa more than he could imagine running for statewide office for the next 18 months.

But lurking below that was a realization; if he ran, Florida voters may not be interested in buying what he would be selling next year.

“I would have been running on the fact that I was qualified, that I had managed large institutions, that we had a track record of accomplishments, that we were not particularly partisan, but I don’t know if that really matters anymore,” the mayor told reporters gathered at City Hall Thursday morning.

“I don’t know what the American public is looking for in their elected leadership. It is a disconcerting time in our country, and for those of us who aspire to lead, it’s the most unusual time that I’ve seen in 30 years.”

Of course, Buckhorn was referring to the electoral earthquake leading to Donald Trump winning the presidency last fall over Hillary Clinton, the woman he campaigned hard for both in and outside Florida.

Although the mayor’s decision was expected, over the past few years, his trajectory about being a candidate had evolved.

Based on his successful leadership leading Tampa out of the Great Recession in the last decade — as well as his outsized personality — Buckhorn was a prominent part of the Democratic bench of candidates for statewide office, and had been for several years.

That speculation went into overdrive after he created his own political action committee (One Florida) in December 2014.

And while he won a huge re-election victory in 2015, the rest of the year was troubled, partly due to a negative newspaper report about the Tampa Police Department, which triggered the progressive activist community, demanding the city create a citizen’s review board. It was a proposal Buckhorn initially resisted.

As funding for his PAC began to dry up in 2016, Buckhorn’s gubernatorial aspirations resurfaced locally after he gave a fiery speech this summer to the Florida delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Buckhorn admitted Thursday his thinking about a run for governor “ebbed and flowed” over the past couple of years, something he said was probably the case with all the rumored candidates, except for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, “who has obviously been committed to this from day one.”

“For me this was not an easy choice,” Buckhorn said. “It was not a straight path. There were a lot of things that I have to deal with that a lot of the other candidates don’t.” He specifically mentioned his two teenage daughters and a full-time job as mayor in the Florida’s biggest media market.

“But at the end of the day, family being first, I just didn’t want the job as bad as I wanted to be the mayor,” he said. “And even though I recognize that two years from now I won’t be the mayor, I’m going to finish strong.”

Buckhorn has more than two years left on the job, which is why he was hardly in the mood to get too retrospective about his legacy. While he championed his role in leading what he called “the Tampa Renaissance,” he drew a blank when asked to acknowledge his greatest failing to date, saying only that whatever mistakes he’s made along the way were “not done with malice or ill intent.”

Buckhorn certainly has the ambition to be governor, and he believes it’s vital for a “regime change” in Tallahassee after two decades of Republican rule in both the Governor’s mansion and the state Legislature.

Speculation has been that while a run for governor wasn’t in the cards, Buckhorn could run for chief financial officer, a job with duties that would allow him more time to return to Tampa on a weekly basis. But he said that decision was always about whether to commit for a run for the top spot in state government, not another Cabinet position. That said, he won’t pursue a run for that office.

A disciple of the 1980s Democratic Leadership Council — the same one that spawned Bill Clinton — Buckhorn’s centrism was always an issue for progressives in Tampa and the state.

With other centrist Democrats like Alex Sink, Patrick Murphy and Charlie Crist losing statewide elections in recent years, there is a part of the party that wants to go further left in 2018.

Buckhorn acknowledges that is a fervent part of the base right now, but he insists that’s not the way to go.

“If we continue to run campaigns based on identity politics or cobbling together interest groups, we’re going to lose,” he said flatly. “We’re a Purple state, and my sense is, and I could be wrong, and certainly the party seems to be heading in a different direction than my governing style, is that if we can’t appeal to the middle, we’re never going to be successful in this state.”

The mayor’s most interested in seeing how other Democrats in the race will fare over the course of the next year and a half. He said that the success of Trump does pave a possible path for attorney and Democratic fundraiser John Morgan as a viable wild card in 2018.

“He could potentially be the Democrats Donald Trump in terms of style and his willingness to shake up political and conventional wisdom, ” Buckhorn mused. “I just don’t know what the voters are looking for. I always thought that experience matters, and that credibility matters, and competence matters and a proven track record matters, but I just don’t know anymore.

“Time will tell, as the country rights itself, if a style of a Donald Trump is what Americans are looking for. If that’s the case, a guy like me, you know, they’re not going to be interested.”

 

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