Gwen Graham – Page 4 – Florida Politics

Philip Levine video ad touts progressive record

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is making his pitch as a progressive candidate “who gets things done” in a new one-minute video ad being placed on the internet through social media.

The ad features news reports on Levine’s time as mayor of Miami Beach and in his post-mayoral campaign in Tallahassee as he pursued a living wage ordinance, police reform, marijuana decriminalization, a plastics ban, addressing sea-level rise, and gun reform.

The campaign reported it is putting a five-figure buy behind the ad.

“Floridians are tired of the same old talk—they want a leader who has taken action on the issues our state is facing, and Mayor Levine has that record,” Christian Ulvert, senior advisor to the campaign, stated in a news release. “From passing Florida’s first living wage, to reforming Miami Beach’s police department, to fighting sea level rise, and pushing for commonsense gun reform, Mayor Levine has an authentic progressive track record of action. It is because of his commitment to successfully taking on these progressive challenges, and his commitment to do the same as Florida’s next Governor that we have come from behind, to taking a clear lead in the latest polling.”

Levine faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park businessman Chris King seeking the August 28 Democratic primary triumph to run for governor. The leading Republican candidates are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham

Gwen Graham raising money in Sarasota Sunday

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham will be in Sarasota this weekend to raise money for her gubernatorial campaign.

The Sunday event will be held at the home of Protect Our Defenders founder Nancy Parrish and Frank Parrish, 3139 Bay Shore Road, starting at 4 pm. Those looking to turn out for the North Florida Democrat can send an RSVP to the campaign via

In addition to the Parrishes, host committee co-chairs include Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida vice chair David Rees, businesswoman Christine Jennings as well as former North Dakota U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad and his wife, lobbyist Lucy Calautti.

The fundraising invite touts several other big names, none more familiar than Graham’s father, former Governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who will be a “special guest” at the event.

The invite lists suggested contributions ranging from $250 for “guests” on the low end, to $3,000 – the maximum allowable contribution for statewide candidates – for “hosts” at the high end.

Graham faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Orlando businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine in the Democratic Primary to replace termed out Gov. Rick Scott.

Levine is the current fundraising leader in the four-way primary with about $11 million raised, followed by Graham, whose total fundraising sits at $6.4 million after adding more than $600,000 in March.

On the Republican side, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is running against Northeast Florida U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, with House Speaker Richard Corcoran expected to join the race in the coming weeks.

Graham’s invite is below.

Gwen Graham fundraiser 4.29.2018

Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls agree to four debates, differ on having more

The four candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Florida governor will have four more televised debates scheduled this summer, the Florida Democratic Party announced Friday.

The quartet of debates kicks off in St. Petersburg June 9. From there, there will be a June 11 debate in Miramar, followed by July 18 in Fort Myers and Aug. 2 in Miami.

All debates will include former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

The goal, said FDP Executive Director Juan Penalosa​​, is to get the message out to voters that Democrats have “real solutions” to statewide problems.

“Our candidates, and our party is committed to ensuring that all voters have the opportunity to hear ​real solutions to the ​issues​ facing Floridians​ – from innovation to education, our candidates are talking about how to create a fair economy, a fair public school system, and opportunities for every Floridian to thrive, regardless of the zip code they live in,” Penalosa asserted.

“​After over 20 years of failed Republican leadership,” Penalosa added, “Floridians are ready for change – and the Democratic party is offering it. ​Through this debate process we know voters will see a stark difference between Democrats who are fighting to fully fund public schools, lower healthcare costs and create an economy that works for everyone, and the Republican ​party that has created an economy in Florida where more than half the state is in recession and nearly half of working families are classified as working poor.”

The candidates debated in Tampa earlier this month, but now they have four more opportunities to make their cases to voters. And the Florida Democratic Party contrasts that to the one televised debate agreed to by Republican candidates Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam.

“While Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam stick to Fox News and campaign platitudes, Democrats are taking their case to the voters by hosting five debates. After twenty years of Republican rule, Democrats are eager to have an open and substantive discussion about how to raise wages, fully fund our public schools, and expand access to health care. The fact that Republicans are only hosting one debate shows they’re out of ideas and afraid to talk with voters about their plans for Florida,” asserted Kevin Donohoe, FDP spokesman

Levine’s camp offered a statement heralding the quartet of debates, via senior adviser Christian Ulvert.

“Mayor Levine looks forward to the opportunity to share his vision and platform in the upcoming debates and forums as agreed to, and negotiated by all the Democratic Gubernatorial campaigns. As Mayor Levine travels the state to meet with Floridians in their living rooms across all 67-counties, he reaffirms that this is one of the most important elections in our lifetime,” Ulvert said.

“His track record as a progressive, successful two-term Mayor and self-made entrepreneur puts us on a path to victory this November as we excite Democrats to turn out and bring together a coalition of voters who are ready to break up the status quo in Tallahassee. I commend the Florida Democratic Party for facilitating the discussions and leading the way on having an inclusive and engaging debate and forum schedule that ensures voters get to hear from candidates directly,” Ulvert added.

However, at least one campaign — that of Andrew Gillum — calls attention to a proposal for a debate in Jacksonville that was spiked by the Levine and Graham  camps.

“What are Gwen Graham and Phil Levine afraid of in Jacksonville? We’ve already accepted a debate in Jacksonville, but some of our fellow Democrats have refused to do the same. From JEA, to important criminal justice issues, to Duval County public schools, Jacksonville’s residents want to know where their next Governor stands, and they deserve to hear from us in a debate,” asserted Gillum’s communications director, Geoff Burgan, on Friday morning.

The Graham and Levine camps wanted a Panhandle debate, which Gillum and King vetoed, setting up this impasse, as the Levine camp asserted

Christian Ulvert, on behalf of Levine, said the following: “”It’s sad that the Gillum campaign would be disingenuous and misleading in their accounts of our debate negotiations. As the FDP noted, unlike the Republican field of candidates who are playing duck and cover, Democrats have accepted a number of debates and forums. We even accepted doing a Panhandle debate—one the Gillum campaign outright rejected. Our campaign has been in communication with Jacksonville University regarding their debate request, but given the stunt pulled this morning, it makes it harder to proceed in good faith.”

Graham spox Matt Harringer took the high road when asked for comment: “”Gwen thoroughly enjoyed the first debate, and the opportunity to share her views with the people of Florida — so, of course, she’s really looking forward to participating in the four additional debates the Democratic Party has announced and many more events in Jacksonville.”

That debate was slated for Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute on Aug. 9, with WJXT co-hosting the event. However, sources close to the discussions say that there may be an alternative to a debate, such as a town hall with each candidate getting a block of time to discuss the issues more deeply.

Joe Henderson: Primary solution was left on table

To the Florida Department of Elections, I am known by the acronym “NPA” – no party affiliation. That means I have not registered as a Democrat or Republican.

This was a deliberate choice on my part, but it comes with consequences.

NPA’s will be treated as non-people in the August primaries. We can’t cast a ballot for candidates from either of the two major parties, even though the primary determines who appears on the ballot in the general election.

The other consequence, as a political operative once explained to me, is that I am targeted by both parties.

My phone will ring constantly with suggestions that I vote for this person or that one. And my mailbox will be over-stuffed with fliers and pleas from all candidates on the final ballot. I’m the guy they want on their side.

I can live with the second consequence.

The first one, though, is becoming more of a problem for me and the estimated 3.5 million Floridians who have declined to formally choose sides.

The Constitutional Revision Commission took a stab at addressing that issue with Provision 62, proposed by Commissioner William Schifino, a Republican from Tampa.

It would have allowed voters in November to decide if the state wanted to adopt a so-called “top two open primary” where every candidate appears on one ballot and everybody gets to vote. The top two finishers, regardless of party, then go to the general election.

A few states already do this, notably California.

The plan passed the Ethics and Elections Committee 6-3, but it was skunked 7-0 in the General Provisions Committee, chaired by Republican Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.

Or, in the parlance of the commission, it was laid on the table. Voters don’t get to choose.

The result is that we see candidates in both parties run to the extreme left or right in the primary, then disavow much of what they said when the general election rolls around because they have to appeal to the whole state.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, for instance, spent the early days of his campaign trying to sound like Rambo on steroids – talking tough about all the red-meat issues his party’s base adores.

I think he is a lot more moderate than he has been letting on, but general wisdom is that only the most dedicated voters in each party turn out for the primary – in other words, the base.

And with challengers Ron DeSantis and more-than-likely Richard Corcoran shooting routinely flames out of their mouths, Putnam is basically forced to prove he won’t cave to those lilly-livered liberal elites if he is elected.

That’s no way for anyone to govern.

Fun fact: In 2010, when Rick Scott came from nowhere to win the governor’s mansion, only 22 percent of registered voters turned out in the primary compared to 49 percent in the general election.

In 2016, primary turnout was 22 percent compared to 75 percent in the general.

An open system would help moderate some of the primary garbage we hear every time an election rolls around.

The same goes for Democrats. Gwen Graham is defending herself from those on the hard left who will settle for nothing less than full support of everything on their agenda.

The problem is, most people live somewhere in the middle.

That brings us back to the NPA choice a lot of us make.

Right now, there are two choices: stay the same, or swallow hard and pick a party.

Neither one helps solve the problem.

People say they are tired of all the negativity in politics. The CRC had a chance to make a small dent that but laid it on the table instead.

Campaign note: Tammy Duckworth endorses Gwen Graham

Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham says she’s gotten the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, referred to as “a progressive trailblazer leading the charge against Trump in Congress.”

“No one is better equipped to defend Florida against Donald Trump and his harmful policies than Gwen Graham,” Duckworth said in a statement released by the Graham campaign.

Duckworth “was deployed to serve in the Iraq War in 2004 and lost both of her legs when her helicopter was struck,” according to

She was elected to the U.S. House in 2012 and to the Senate four years later, “thereby becoming the first disabled woman and the second Asian-American woman in the Senate. In April 2018, Duckworth became the first female senator to give birth while holding office.”

Graham, she said, “will take on Trump to defend the Affordable Care Act and expand healthcare for Florida families. Gwen will protect Florida’s waters from Trump’s dangerous oil drilling plans. And she will put people — not special interests — first by passing an increased minimum wage.

“Serving together in Congress, I saw Gwen fight for our shared progressive values,” Duckworth continued. Duckworth, a Purple Heart recipient, and Graham served together in Congress. Graham served one term in 2015-17.

“When Republicans tried to repeal Obamacare, Gwen voted to save it. She defended a woman’s right to choose and sponsored legislation to improve healthcare for mothers and babies. And after the devastating shooting (at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando), Gwen took on Paul Ryan to demand a vote on common sense gun safety legislation.”

Graham returned the favor, calling Duckworth “one of the toughest women I know.”

“She sets an incredible example for all Americans, and I am honored to have her endorsement,” Graham said. “As governor, I will fight with her to take on Donald Trump and fight to expand healthcare, protect our environment, and defend Floridians from his bullyish attacks.”

A Patrick Murphy-David Jolly gubernatorial run isn’t the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but …

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy seems to be under the mistaken impression that because he was his party’s standard-bearer in the 2016 U.S. Senate race, that he is the party’s leader.

So when the Democrat watched last week’s televised debate among the four announced gubernatorial candidates, Murphy, according to a source very familiar with his thinking about what he may be planning, sized up the field and said, ‘Hey, I can do better than that.’

While there’s no arguing with Murphy’s concept that Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Philip Levine and Chris King looked like, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Tim Nickens observed, they are not ready for prime time or with his conceit that he may be able to do better than that quartet, the possibility of a Patrick Murphy-David Jolly gubernatorial ticket isn’t the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s not only implausible, it’s practically insulting.

After putting down Alan Grayson in the Democratic primary in 2016, Murphy ran a lackluster campaign against Marco Rubio, losing worse than he should have.

After redistricting shaded his congressional district more blue than red, Jolly lost a quixotic bid to hang on to a seat that had become decidedly Democratic.

Since those campaigns, Murphy and Jolly have fostered a friendship and have traveled across the U.S. on their tour “Why gridlock rules Washington and how we can solve the crisis.

The duo has become the toast of editorial boards everywhere.

Politicos who yearn for a “third way” in American politics would love to see a Murphy-Jolly ticket, just as they wanted to see a John Kerry-John McCain unity ticket in 2004.

You know who is not clamoring for a Murphy-Jolly ticket? Florida voters, especially Democratic ones. And Murphy will quickly find that out in the polling he has commissioned to gauge his statewide viability.

Oh sure, when asking voters generically about, say, ‘two centrist leaders with experience in government,’ the numbers will be through the roof, but when you ballot-test Murphy-Jolly vs. the field, reality will set in.

What Murphy wants Democratic primary voters to do is pick him, a two-term congressman (hey, that’s twice as long as Graham’s time in D.C.) with a bent for moderation over a field of tried-and-true progressives. Part of his plan is a commitment to name as his running mate a former Republican lawmaker and lobbyist who agrees with very little in the Democratic platform other than Donald Trump is no bueno.

If this weren’t Florida politics, I’d say you were making this all up.

Unfortunately, this is reality and here’s where my words get serious. For one, Murphy’s plan to name Jolly as his running mate should be taken as an insult by true Democrats. They’ve been in the wilderness for more than twenty years, and now, with their first genuine shot of winning back the Governor’s Mansion, Murphy (a former Republican himself) wants to enlist the help of his while male buddy to get the job done. Neither of whom has worked day one in state government.

Democrats should tell him thanks, but no thanks. They should tell Murphy he’s more than welcome to join the Democratic primary, as candidate qualifying doesn’t close for a month. But they should insist he commit to not naming any Republican — be it Jolly or someone else — to the ticket.

I may be down on a Murphy-Jolly ticket, but I do have to give Murphy credit for something. Like John Morgan, he’s helped expose the weaknesses of this Democratic field — that Gillum is too radical, that Graham is over-emotive on the stump and underwhelming on fundraising calls, that Levine is from that foreign land known as Miami-Dade, and that King begins his day reading the Sayfie Review.

All four of these candidates continue to plead to party activists and the media that they are the real deal.

One of the four may eventually become something like the real deal, but because they’re not now, the door is open for one of the most interesting political partnerships since Matt Santos named Arnold Vinik his Secretary of State.

Andrew Gillum

Andrew Gillum announces digital ad buy for ‘Opportunity’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is releasing a new digital ad his campaign says is backed by a five-figure buy, using his upbringing to inspire his views on opportunity.

The 30-second ad, “Opportunity,” features Gillum, now the Mayor of Tallahassee, sitting in front of a modest house talking about the people who cared about and believed in him when he was young, and how he intends to do the same. It includes footage taken from a five-minute introductory video “Bring it Home” that he released at the start of his campaign last year.

“Were it not for a good public education, caring and loving parents, a grandmother who prayed for me, and, quite frankly, people who believed enough in me to say that I could, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” Gillum states. “And I plan to work as hard as I can every day, if given the opportunity, to make sure every child has that same opportunity.”

Gillum and his campaign have aggressively used the internet and social media. It earned more than a million organic impressions on Twitter when the campaign hosted a voter-registration drive in for Broward County high school students, and a Facebook Live statewide organizing event with Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. The campaign has boosted those and other digital videos on social media, but this ad will be the first all-out effort behind a video.

Gillum faces former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Winter Park businessman Chris King in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Philip Levine

Philip Levine tops polls in Tampa Bay, South Florida

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine leads the four-way Democratic Primary for Governor in the state’s two largest media markets, according to a pair of new polls.

The Public Policy Polling surveys, commissioned by Levine senior adviser Christian Ulvert, show Levine with 32 percent support among Tampa Bay-area Democrats and 42 percent support among party faithful in South Florida.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham took the No. 2 spot in both regions, scoring 18 percent support among Tampa Bay voters and 15 percent in South Florida, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando-area businessman Chris King scored in the single digits.

The polls also include a hypothetical head-to-head between Graham and Levine, which Levine wins 36-23 in the Tampa Bay poll and 47-21 in the South Florida poll.

Both polls were conducted before the hour-long televised primary debate aired on Tampa Bay’s Fox 13 news station Wednesday. An April 12 statewide poll of the primary race, also commissioned by Ulvert, found Levine with 29 percent support followed by Graham at 23 percent and Gillum and King still in the single digits.

“For the first time in four cycles, although Tampa Bay doesn’t have a local candidate, new polling shows a new favorite has emerged. Voters there give Philip Levine a 14-point advantage over Gwen Graham,” the Levine campaign said in a statement accompanying the polls.

“The latest polling not only reflects Philip’s message and media campaign, but also his decision to invest heavily and early in a regional field and outreach program. With Levine for Governor being the only campaign with regional offices in the Tampa Bay area, we remain best positioned to reach voters through every medium.”

Levine’s early media buys – more than $6 million so far – are certainly being noticed in Tampa Bay, where 46 percent of Democrats said they’ve seen one of Levine’s many ads over the last several months.

To that end, the South Florida Democrat has the strongest name ID in the region at 48 percent, followed by Graham at 35 percent, Gillum at 27 percent and King at 15 percent.

Among the voters who offered their opinions on the candidates, Levine’s favorability was plus-32, Graham’s was plus-13, Gillum’s was plus-7 and King’s was minus-3.

In the South Florida poll, where 59 percent said they’d seen some Levine’s ads, his name ID score shoots up to 57, Graham’s fell to 33, Gillum’s to 20, and King’s edged up slightly to 17.

Levine scored a plus-47 in favorability on his home turf, which put Graham at plus-21, Gillum at plus-8 and King at plus-3.

After the polls were released, the Gillum campaign’s communications director, Geoff Burgan, sent out an email deriding it and Levine for being “out of touch.”

“Mayor Levine can buy all the robo-polls he wants, but nothing changes the fact that he’s out of touch with Floridians. During Wednesday’s debate, he didn’t know our House Democratic Leader or the size of our state education budget, and most glaringly said he was running for Governor because he ‘ran out of things to do,’” Burgan said.

”He’s out of touch with everyday Floridians’ reality: nearly half our households struggle to make ends meet, and they need a Governor who shares their life experiences and is prepared to tackle their challenges.”

The PPP polls also included questions on Florida Democrats views on President Donald Trump and the investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Among Bay-area voters, Trump had a minus-83 favorability rating though nearly two-thirds said they Mueller to complete his investigation before Congress takes any steps toward impeaching the president. South Florida voters rate Trump at minus-80, with 56 percent saying they want the Mueller probe in the can before any talk of impeachment.

In both polls, 90 percent of respondents said they were certain to vote and 10 percent said they would probably vote.

The Tampa Bay poll was conducted by phone April 15-16 and took responses from 520 Democratic voters, two-thirds within Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and the rest split between Manatee, Sarasota and Pasco.

Nearly half of respondents were over 65 years old, while 38 percent were in the 45-65 bracket and 14 percent were aged 18 to 45. Women made up 57 percent of those polled; the sample was 68 percent white, 16 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic.

The South Florida poll was conducted by phone April 6-7 and took responses from 641 Democratic voters. The gender split matched the Tampa Bay poll, while the race breakdown was 48 percent white, 32 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic. Voters over 65 made up 45 percent of those polled, followed by 45-65 at 38 percent and 18-45 at 17 percent.

Richard Corcoran hosts ‘Democrat Jeopardy!’

This… is… Politics!

Anticipated gubernatorial candidate and Republican state House Speaker Richard Corcoran works quickly.

The Speaker released a digital video Thursday afternoon creatively slamming the most cringe-worthy blooper of Wednesday’s Democratic gubernatorial debate, which saw each candidate fumble — some more than others — over how much the state spends annually on K-12 education: $21.1 billion is set to fund the Florida Education Finance program in the upcoming fiscal year, according to the budget. In Corcoran’s video, a $25.1 billion figure is used, a result of factoring in allocations for multiple programs outside the FEFP.

The bit is a play on “Jeopardy!” complete with the legacy show’s theme music, buzzer sounds and graphics. It took less than 24 hours to make, and it’s now marinating on Corcoran’s Twitter and YouTube accounts.

Fox 13‘s Craig Patrick pressed each candidate to answer how much the state dishes out to schools, and if it should spend more or less. Public education is an issue in the fore for state Democrats and was a point of hot contention during the 2018 Legislative Session.

Still, these candidates faltered. And in doing so fell into a Republican pitfall that’s sure to haunt them throughout the election. “Democrats want to spend more money without knowing any of the facts,” reads the second-to-last frame of the video.

Candidate Philip Levine, former mayor of Miami Beach, said public education spending is one of the “top numbers.” His best guess? “Right in the billions, Craig. … I think it’s in the multibillions, Craig.

“And there’s no question that we absolutely need to spend more going forth.”

Orlando businessman Chris King answered within range, though he is clipped in Corcoran’s video saying, “It’s whatever it needs to be to honor our commitment.” King estimated that it’s between “$21 and $22 billion.”

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came close, saying the appropriation is in “the 22-billion-dollar range.”

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham said the number is “15 percent below what it needs to be currently.”

No candidate answered right on the money. And Corcoran’s digital response is timely and likely to generate some buzz.

It’s worth noting that immediately after the across-the-panel hiccup, Florida Politics’ Publisher Peter Schorsch suggested Corcoran and his team run loose with it.

Correlation isn’t causation, but still.

A ‘Daily Double’ for the Speaker: When will you get in the race?

Correction: A previous version of this article did not include King’s estimated range of the state K-12 budget.

Democratic debate puts Gwen Graham on defense

In a Democratic gubernatorial debate Wednesday that illuminated only a handful of policy differences while all four candidates sought to define their brand themes, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham found herself often playing defense, repeatedly disputing remarks from Winter Park businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

At one point Graham, the presumed co-front runner along with former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, decried, “Oh, I seem to be the one. It’s OK. Gwen and the men.”

To which Gillum snapped, “This isn’t just about the men against the women. Records do matter.”

Those exchanges, all about votes Graham had taken or campaign money she had accepted while she served in Congress in 2015-17, illustrated the tight spaces often found between Graham, King, Gillum, and  Levine in a wide-ranging, fast-moving debate held by Fox 13 Tampa and moderated by Fox 13 Political Editor Craig Patrick.

Graham’s record as a congressional moderate Democrat – she characterized herself as an independent thinker – often belied the progressive mantle that Gillum and King in particular were wearing. King, wearing a Pulse memorial ribbon, charged that she did not support bills seeking an assault weapons ban after Pulse massacre in 2016, and for accepting campaign donations from Florida’s sugar industry, which he charged is a roadblock to Everglades restoration. Gillum criticized her for voting for the Keystone Pipeline and for a ban of Syrian refugees.

Those moments gave opportunities for Gillum and Levine to both staunchly say that have consistent records in office, and for King to maintain that he is offering a strong unconventional challenge.

Graham took strong issue with their reads on her record, especially when Gillum accused her of siding against President Barack Obama too often.

“I voted with the president the vast majority of the time. And I’ll tell you, the last time I saw the president, at the end both of our terms, President Obama, he put his hand on my shoulder, he said, ‘Gwen, I am so proud of you.’ I said, Mr. President, I am so  proud of your presidency.’ So he is an example of what we need a lot more of in politics: you don’t have to agree every single decision to support and recognize good leaders.”

On  gun laws, minimum wage, public education funding and reform, Medicaid expansion and health care, water quality and the environment, and economic development each of them sought to be the most convincing candidate in urging a different direction from the Republican leadership that has controlled Tallahassee over 20 years.

Still, they each found their marks on certain issues.

Gillum was able to espouse his plan to raise the corporate income tax rate to generate an additional $1 billion to invest in public schools.

King, who repeatedly tried to distance himself from “conventional politicians,” was able to advocate his proposal to model a free community college program after one now established in Tennessee.

All four called for increases of the minimum wage, but only Levine, who passed a $13.10 per hour minimum wage in Miami Beach, cautioned that it needs to be tied to local economies, not set at a specific, statewide minimum like $15.

And from there, Levine spelled out clearly what he thought it would take for Florida to attract companies that bring high-pay, 21st century-economy jobs, essentially arguing that the Democrats playbook is also a modern corporation’s human resources policy book.

“You have to invest in education, invest in health care, have the best transportation, have the best environmental policy, have the number one, greatest non-discrimination laws in the country, make sure you have equal  pay for equal work,” he said. “If you create these policies, which are very similar to the H.R. manual of the great companies we want to come, like Amazon, e-Bay, Apple, Lockheed, and Boeing, then they will come.”

Graham turned on her passion for public education, declaring it would be her top priority as governor.

“We are funding our public school education 15 percent less than we used to and it is way underfunded,” Graham said. “And let me tell you, as a PTA mom and as a former public school official, this is going to be my number one priority. And there is no magic number. What it is going to take is the governor, I am going to sit down with all of the school districts across the state and say what do you need, what are you getting currently, and where are the holes?”

Levine hit hard a couple of times in criticizing Republican-led programs to spend tax money on charter schools, saying that’s a program he would cut. “We should not be investing in the competition,” he said.

Graham pounced on a question from Patrick about civics education to bring up both her father, former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, who has written books on civic responsibilities, and President Donald Trump.

“We are living through a civics lesson today, that it does matter who you elect into office. Donald J. Trump is the greatest civic lesson that any of us could ever have taken, that we need to get out to vote, we need to participate in our government, we need to be informed on our choices,” she said.

A handful of questions did incite differences:

Levine was the only candidate to support the proposed expansion of the homestead exemption on property taxes, arguing that it helped make make Florida’s tax system fairer to all, while the other three decried the proposal’s likely effect on local governments’ revenue streams.

Graham was the only candidate who expressed a willingness to spend state tax dollars to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in Florida, She suggested that would be an appropriate use for Enterprise Florida money.

Gillum was the only one who explicitly supported full legalization of marijuana, arguing “We have got to put an end to this prison industrial complex that is being built all around a plant that quite frankly provides more redemptive use than it does harmful.”

Patrick threw a couple of “gotcha” questions at the quartet, quizzing them on their knowledge of details of state government, and both times left Levine stumbling, first when he was unable to give a ball-park figure for how much Florida spends on public education, and then when he was unable to name the outgoing Democratic House Minority Leader, Janet Cruz.

The first of those questions led to the debate’s most awkward moment, as Patrick repeatedly asked Levine for an estimate of state spending on education.

“What is the budget currently for K-12 schools?” Patrick asked after Levine gave a lengthy answer the first time without getting specific.

“I know the budget is about $89 billion, close to it, and I know that’s one of our top numbers, right there,” Levine replied.

“Give me your best guess: how much are we spending on K-12?” Patrick retorted.

“I know its right in the billions, Craig, OK? I can tell you that.”

“Can you narrow that down for me?

“I know its in the multi-billions, Craig, and there’s no question that we absolutely need to spend more, moving forward.”

But in both of those cases, the substances of the questions had the candidates in general agreement, that more needs to be spent on public schools, and that leaders of the minority party – Democrats for more than two decades – have tough jobs.

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