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Gwen Graham gets nod from Tampa, St. Pete Democratic leaders

Three prominent Democratic leaders from Tampa and St. Petersburg are lining up behind Gwen Graham’s bid for governor.

Former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa, former Pinellas County-area state Rep. Dwight Dudley and St. Pete Councilman Karl Nurse are each endorsing Graham in a campaign announcement Friday.

Davis, a former Florida House majority leader, congressman and candidate for governor, said: “As a mother, PTA president and former public school official, Gwen Graham has the experience and bold ideas Florida needs to improve education. Leading negotiations between her local school district and teachers, Gwen showed she has the skills to break through arguments and bring people together to support students.

“As governor, she will end high-stakes testing, pay teachers what they deserve and ensure every Florida child has access to a quality public education.”

Dudley said Graham, a former North Florida congresswoman, would be a governor who will stand up to special interests.

“In Congress, she stood up to Wall Street and voted to protect the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” he said. “As Governor, she’ll stand up to the utility companies and protect Floridians from paying for plants that are never built.”

Nurse added that Graham understands Florida as the “best state in the country because of our environment and wonderful natural treasures.” He noted her role in the bipartisan fight to ban oil drilling of beaches, and her work alongside local governments for clean water and to prohibit fracking.

“And she will finally use Florida Forever funds how voters intended, to preserve sensitive lands,” Nurse said. “I’m supporting Gwen Graham for Governor to protect our clean air, land and water, today and for generations to come.”

In response, Graham praised the trio’s commitment to improving their communities, adding that they had witnessed firsthand the “20 years of one-party, Republican rule in Tallahassee has harmed Florida families across our state.”

Gwen Graham refuses to be ‘politically labeled’ in governor’s race

Gwen Graham, a top Democratic candidate for Florida governor, was quick to paint her persona as a “hugger,” but refused to be labeled on the political spectrum.

“I am running to stay true to myself, I am running for what I believe and I believe strongly that the best government is getting smart people in a room and planning for a future …” Graham said Thursday. “So I am not going to be labeled, if you want to label me as a hard worker that determined to do the best for Florida, that is the only label I want to have.”

Graham said she wants to push policies that protect the state’s environment from climate change — a common theme in her gubernatorial campaign — and suggested strategies that would allow the “Sunshine State” to move toward becoming a “Solar Energy State.”

In the theme of the protecting the state’s environment, Graham said more has to be done about the “inevitable rising sea levels we are going to face.”

“I understand that people want to live on the coast — I understand that — but we have to be planning and preparing to make sure that the development that is done, is done with an eye toward rising sea level,” Graham said.

According to a recent poll, Graham is leading among Democratic primary voters by more than 30 percent, and her campaign announced Wednesday the backing of three South Florida mayors.

When she asked about the sexual harassment claims flying over the state Capitol in recent weeks, one of which led to the resignation of Sen. Jeff Clemens, Graham said there needs to be more humanity in the process.

As far as gender goes, she is not making a big fuss about that.

“I am the only woman in the race,” Graham said. “But I don’t talk about that much.”

John Morgan’s Twitter account probes gubernatorial candidates on marijuana

Trial lawyer, outspoken medical marijuana advocate and potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Morgan assumed the role of a different profession on Wednesday: journalist.

In a rapid series of Wednesday morning tweets fired at each of the major gubernatorial candidate, Morgan sought public, official comment on the candidates’ stance on the legalization of marijuana.

The tweets began at 9 a.m., just an hour and a half before Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine‘s officially declared his bid for governor. They garnered a bit of engagement, allowing Morgan to draw attention to himself despite the Levine-driven coverage of the day.

But perhaps Morgan did not intend to take the spotlight away from the mayor — maybe he’s genuinely probing a gubernatorial field that now boasts four Democratic candidates and two major Republicans.

His genuine intention could’ve been to see if a candidate aligned with his beliefs on marijuana — which Morgan has very clearly established as a pet issue. If that were the case, perhaps he’d rather stand on the sideline during the campaign next year, instead pushing his pro-pot agenda through another candidate. It certainly would be easier than facing a field of four Democratic primary candidates, and later going against the winner of a Republican lineup that includes Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala, with looming potential bids from House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Congressman Ron Desantis.

Either way, it shook things up in the Twitterverse of Florida politics, and the novice journalist got some big responses, too.

Latvala, of Clearwater, was first to respond. It was humorously concise.

Then came Levine’s answer, for which the dogged reporter Morgan for the first time felt the insulting, but not atypical sensation of a politician dodging a question.

The mayor carefully circumnavigated the question of marijuana legalization, instead announcing his support for medical marijuana and “building on #MiamiBeach” where pot was decriminalized.

As for the rest of the candidates, you could say Morgan has ‘reached out for comment but has not received a response at the time of this article’s publishing.’ In other words, he hasn’t yet received responses.

UPDATE: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum avoided ambiguity in answering Morgan’s question Thursday afternoon, earning a digital fistbump from his possible Democratic Primary rival.

The rest of the candidates – Putnam, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and Orlando businessman Chris King – are still suffering from a bout of cottonmouth, so to speak.

Philip Levine makes it four Democrats in governor’s race, echoing other three

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine‘s showy entry Wednesday morning into the Florida governor’s race showed the Democrat is ready to take on the legacies of Republicans Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump yet he rarely strayed from the policies and promises of the first three Democratic candidates running, Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, or Chris King.

Levine’s 14-minute speech Thursday was a call for “doing what’s right,” borrowing that phrase from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and he stressed the policies he’s pushed as mayor, including proactively addressing climate change and sea-level rise, and pushing for an all-inclusive diversity.

Levine flayed the policies and rhetoric of Scott and Trump, but rarely, if ever, broke new ground in the Democrats’ race, speaking of environmental and educational commitments that Graham has made central to her campaign; justice and living wage issues that Gillum has made central to his; and climate change combat and 21st century economy built on ingenuity, issues King has striven to own.

Yet if Levine seeks to synthesize the broad Democratic planks carried by his now-rivals into his own campaigning, he’s doing so with a distinctly South Florida style, ending his announcement with a dance party powered by Gloria Estafan‘s “Get On Your Feet,” at a Miami campaign headquarters emblazoned with images of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Cesar Chavez and others.

While South Florida houses the motherload of Florida’s Democratic votes and money, it’s been decades since a serious South Florida Democrat ran for governor. Graham has family roots in South Florida, but is of Tallahassee, as is Gillum. King is an Orlando-based figure.

“It’s long past time to say we’ve had enough of the political bickering and posturing, enough of the calculated words of hate – enough of those who would tear us down and tear us apart just to score a political point. They’ve had their turn. Today belongs to us,” Levine declared. “And so today, before friends and family, and inspired by the heroism of those who dreamed big and achieved big, I am announcing my candidacy for governor of the state of Florida.

“Because, like Dr. King, I believe it’s time to do the right thing,” Levine added.

His entry into the race was quickly heralded by responses, including the Republican Governor’s Association declaring him “a far-left Democrat” who, the Republicans contended, has demonstrated a history of gaffes and erratic behavior and “lacks the temperament” to lead the state. Gillum welcomed him. Graham’s campaign sent out releases pointing out a new poll has her far in the lead, even over Levine.

If Levine has a unique calling card, it would have to do with his positions on climate change and sea-level rise, having tackled those issues out of necessity, as his city is literally ground zero. He spoke of state-of-the-art pumps, infrastructure and renewable energy programs “that are now being studied – and recognized – as a role model for cities around the world. “We are now the focus of climate change commentaries, and of scientific studies looking for remedies a coastal state like Florida must find before the next Irma blows through.”

And he criticized Scott, albiet indirectly, by declaring  that “it’s time to address climate change by changing Tallahassee’s climate of denial.”

Levine also pushed for substantial increases in the minimum wage in Miami Beach to $10.31 next year and $13.31 by 2021. A battle over that is being waged in court, and the city ordinance’s fate is yet to be determined, but Levine made it clear this would be a priority of his as governor, too.

“When workers are paid $8.10 an hour, and our current governor runs ads bragging about it – it’s callous and it’s wrong,” he said. “Because when you live on caviar and champagne, you have no right to come down on those who worry about the price of bread.”

Levine is independently wealthy, having parlayed a cruise industry media business into a broad portfolio of equities, small businesses and real estate. He already has donated $2.5 million of his own money to to his independent political committee, All About Florida, and has pledged up to $10 million.

However, he stressed humble beginnings Wednesday, noting that he began with $500, not a silver spoon.

“That’s why I am fighting for a statewide living wage, like the one we passed in Miami Beach,” he said. “I know, better than anyone, that the most successful companies in the world have employees that are respected and motivated to succeed.”

Gwen Graham announces backings of three South Florida mayors

Ninety minutes before Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine planned to announce his big plans, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is sending a message that she, too, has South Florida support, announcing endorsements from three other South Florida mayors.

Graham’s campaign announced Wednesday morning she has the backing of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, Coral Springs Mayor Skip Campbell and Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis.

Levine is expected to announce his Democratic candidacy for governor at a 10:30 a.m. press conference in Miami.

“After 20 years of Republican dominance in Tallahassee, too many Florida families are struggling to find good paying jobs, to make ends meet, to stay in their homes,” Muoio stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign. “Gwen Graham understands the challenges Floridians face and has bold ideas to put our state on a progressive path forward. Gwen has a proven record of standing up for middle-class and working families. As governor, she’ll fight to create jobs, raise wages and build an economy that works for every Floridian.”

A new poll Wednesday morning showed that Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, has a solid lead on other Democrats in seeking the 2018 primary nomination to run for governor, including Levine, should he enter the race. Levine, however, has show strong fundraising abilities long before he’s even announced his intentions. The other Democrats in the race are Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King.

“I’m proud to support Gwen Graham because we need a governor willing to take on the big fights. When Rick Scott tried to cover up a sinkhole, Gwen led the fight to expose it. She’s taking on the oil industry and fighting to protect our beaches and springs from drilling and fracking,” Campbell said. “And, she’s working to hold drug companies accountable for their role in fueling the opioid crisis. I’m proud to support Gwen Graham because we need a governor who will fight for Floridians — not for special interests.”

Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis said, “Gwen Graham believes public service is about helping people. In Congress, she made constituent services a top priority and returned more than $2.5 million to Florida veterans, seniors and families. As governor, she’ll bring that same compassion to Tallahassee.

“Gwen is working for Florida’s families — not special interests or corporations.”

Chris King doesn’t lack for confidence

To date, Winter Park affordable housing executive Chris King has been the lone Democrat in the gubernatorial race boasting an entrepreneurial business background.

But that could change later this week if Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine enters the fray.

While Levine has served in public office for the past four years, his entire career before that was in business, where he started up in the cruise industry as a port lecturer before creating a company that ultimately sold for several hundred million dollars.

King doesn’t sound fazed.

“I don’t think anyone’s like me in this space,” the recently turned 39-year-old insisted while speaking with Florida Politics on Saturday afternoon in a conference room at the Disney Coronado Springs hotel, hours before he would join Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham in a candidates’ forum for only the third time this year.

“I’m the only non-politician in this race who hasn’t been part of the political establishment in Florida for decades. I can’t call a former President of the United States. I have not been part of this system (that) really has not been good for people. I am an entrepreneur, but I’m also a lifelong progressive, and somebody’s who really been (a) very strong Democrat.”

That was an undeniable shot at Levine, who is on friendly terms with former President Bill Clinton, and also discussed the possibility of running as an independent earlier this year.

King is proud of his campaign, saying his proposal to offer free community college and trade school for qualifying students he debuted last week is a “game changer.”

He said he wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel in doing it, citing states like Tennessee and New York that also have such programs.

And he says despite the likely criticisms of how could he pay for it, King says Florida definitely can afford it, citing approximately $1 billion in taxes that he says have been cut out of state corporations in the past few years alone.

“It’s not a liberal or progressive idea. It’s not conservative. It’s just basic, good economic sense,” he says.

King announced his candidacy for governor in April and said he’s spent the last six months working hard to prove that he belonged on the same stage as Gillum and Graham.

“I think we’ve proved by all the major metrics, in terms of the money we raised, in terms of the crowds we’ve attracted, the team we’ve built, the excitement we’ve created.”

Now he’s at the second stage, where King says he must prove he’s the man Democrats should nominate for governor when they go to the polls next summer.

If nothing else, King has made the issue of affordable housing front and center in the campaign. He boldly asserts that he not only wants to be “the housing governor” in Florida, but a model for the nation, where the lack of affordable housing is also prevalent.

King has made the GOP-led Legislature’s annual raiding of the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund front and center of his campaign. Those are the funds that come from a locally collected “doc” stamp on real estate sales transactions sent to the state.

Seventy percent of that is sent back via the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) to all 67 counties, based on population, to primarily aid low-to-moderate-income residents in buying a home. The other 30 percent goes to the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL), which the state uses as an incentive for developers to build affordable apartments.

King says that more than $1.7 billion has been cut from the Sadowski funds over the last 15 years, which he calls an attack on seniors, law enforcement, recent college graduates, anyone who wants to make a life here in Florida.

King is president and CEO of Elevation Financial Group, which builds affordable/workforce housing in six states. He says his company provides a private solution to a public policy crisis and says that his decision to run for governor was predicated on the fact that he could do much more to improve the housing situation as governor than he can in the private sector.

“We determined I can work for the rest of my life in the private sector and not have as much impact in housing as one term as governor, simply by winning based on stopping the housing sweeps, (which alone) contributes almost a billion (dollars) in housing investment in first time home buyers, the homeless and the large aging population,” he says.

“None of that is being served well, and we would do it very differently.”

King has often talked about how “back of the pack” Florida is on so many issues, and how it’s time for a Democratic change in Tallahassee to reverse that. While Republicans like Rick Scott, Richard Corcoran and Adam Putnam talk about how Florida’s economy is the envy of the nation, King says he has to refute that without coming across like a doomsayer.

“If Putnam came out and said, ‘I am going to stop sweeping those (affordable housing) funds, it would be incredible,” he says. “But they have gotten more brazen and more bold.

“Just as I argue that the sugar industry has got almost near-total regulatory capture of environmental policy, he takes more and more money,” he added. “As we get into goofier and goofier gun issues, we’re now saying we’re not just for the NRA, we’re a sellout for the NRA, there has been no competition towards the reasonableness, and that’s what I hope I can bring.

“I argue that my victory serving as a Democratic governor will make the Republican party more impactful and effective in Florida, because this is small ball what they’re doing up in Tallahassee, and we’re going to make the whole system work better.”

Democrats campaign for governor as field could grow

The three top Democratic candidates for governor sat on a stage Saturday night in the Fiesta Ballroom at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort and answered more than an hour’s worth of questions on issues facing Florida.

There were few differences in the responses from former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King as they addressed party activists and supporters gathered at the Florida Democratic Party’s 2017 state conference.

All three candidates supported the expansion of Medicaid and called for stronger environmental protections, including a response to climate change. They voiced support for public schools, a higher minimum wage and gay rights. And they repeatedly took shots at Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump.

But a major question went unasked and unanswered: Who will join the three contenders on the political stage before the Aug. 28 Democratic primary next year?

One potential answer sat at a $10,000 dinner table in the audience.

“I’m here. I’m thinking about it,” Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan said. “(Florida Democratic Party Chairman) Steve Bittel begged me to buy a table, and I finally gave in.”

Morgan said he will decide about the governor’s race in the spring.

On Wednesday, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is expected to announce his entry into the race.

“The mayor has great respect for everybody in the race right now,” said Christian Ulvert, an adviser to Levine’s political committee who attended the Democratic gathering.

The possibility of the five Democrats vying for the nomination would make it the most crowded Democratic gubernatorial field since 1978, when Graham’s father, former Gov. Bob Graham, emerged from a primary and a then-required runoff election to win the nomination over a half-dozen rivals.

The large field brings more uncertainty and possibilities to the race, although key factors remain demographics, geography and, perhaps most important, money.

The three announced candidates have a head start and have been working to establish their identities among Democratic voters.

At the party forum, Graham talked about her election to Congress in 2014 over a Republican incumbent in a conservative-leaning North Florida district.

“I sent the Tea Party Republican packing. I won in a red year, in a red district,” Graham said. “We’re going to have a blue wave.”

Graham, a former school board attorney, is also making public education a key part of her message, accusing Republicans of turning schools over to the “education industry.”

Her name may resonate with Democratic voters who remember her father, although he was last on the ballot as a U.S. Senate incumbent in 1998. At the forum, Graham invoked his name, saying the ethics of her administration would be patterned after her father who “served 40-plus years with integrity.”

Graham is the only woman in the race, which could be a factor with women voters representing 58 percent of the Democratic electorate in the 2016 presidential primary.

In responding to forum questions, Gillum used his experience as a Tallahassee city commissioner and mayor to talk about specific programs aimed at helping juveniles stay out of the criminal justice system, establishing solar-energy programs and attracting higher-paying jobs.

Gillum, the youngest candidate in the field at 36, is the most charismatic speaker, talking about his rise over “intergenerational poverty” to earn a college degree and embark on career in public service.

He picked up an endorsement at the party conference from Julian Castro, a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and a leading national Democratic Hispanic leader.

But Gillum has been dogged by an ongoing FBI investigation into the city of Tallahassee government. Although he has said he is not a target of the probe, it remains a negative factor until it is resolved. It has hurt Gillum’s fundraising, where he trails the field.

Gillum is the only African-American candidate in the race, with black voters representing 27 percent of the Democratic presidential primary electorate last year.

Gillum and Graham both call Tallahassee their hometown, forcing them to share a limited geographic base.

King, a political novice, comes from the politically pivotal I-4 corridor, but his challenge will be raising his profile among Democratic voters. He has not been active in state or local politics, with former Orlando-area Congressman Alan Grayson saying the first time he met King was at Saturday’s forum.

King talked about his outsider status as an asset.

“We have had two decades of losing gubernatorial elections. I argue that we have got to do something different,” King said. “We need a fresh voice, a fresh face, a communicator. We need somebody who can win.”

King said he will bring his experience as an entrepreneur and developer of affordable-housing projects to his administration. He said Florida, which he characterized as being “at the back of pack” in major economic indicators, needs to do more to improve the economy.

He promised to make state and community colleges free for Florida students, saying increasing education levels of Floridians is a key to a better economy.

An area of concern for Democratic leaders is the relatively lackluster fundraising thus far by the announced candidates.

Graham led the field with about $2.7 million in available cash through Sept. 30 in her campaign account and a closely tied political committee, according to the state Division of Elections, with King holding about $1.8 million.

But that is dwarfed by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor, who had raised nearly $20 million in the same period for his campaign and a political committee, with about $14 million in cash on hand.

Putnam’s financial advantage may be reduced by the expectation he could face three major opponents in the GOP’s Aug. 28 primary.

If Levine enters the race, he will become the Democrats’ leading fundraiser. His political committee had raised $4.77 million through Sept. 30, with most of it unspent.

Levine, a successful businessman before he ran for Miami Beach mayor, has a net worth in excess of $100 million, said Ulvert, raising the possibility he could self-fund a portion of the race.

Levine could also have a geographic advantage as the only candidate from densely populated Southeast Florida, where a third of the 4.8 million Florida Democrats live.

Money is not an issue for Morgan, who used part of his wealth to launch and pass a ballot initiative last year to broadly legalize medical marijuana. And unlike the other candidates, Morgan has already established a statewide presence through his medical- marijuana advocacy and ubiquitous television advertising for his Morgan & Morgan law firm.

Morgan is not rushing his political decision. He said his immediate priority will be attending the Breeders’ Cup races next weekend at the Del Mar Racetrack near San Diego, where he has a thoroughbred in contention.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Democrat gubernatorial forum underwhelms

Great theater it was not.

Few significant policy disagreements emerged from a three-way candidate forum at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Lake Buena Vista that featured former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham again confessing her admiration for her current opponents: Orlando businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Buoyed by a win in a special election for a state Senate seat last month, Florida Democrats are preparing plans for the critical 2018 election year when they hope to reclaim the governor’s mansion.

The three Democrats aiming to do that did reveal some differences, particularly about their backgrounds, even as they sounded similar on most policy questions.

Take the issue of immigration, for example.

King said he would do everything in his power to help the tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program stay in the country.

“When we hear our governor and our president decry immigrants, refer to them as illegals, a person can’t be an illegal, but they use that terminology to strip away the humanity of our brothers and sisters,” Gillum said.

“I’m the one person here who has voted to keep Dreamers,” Graham boasted.

Such comity will not exist when debating immigration against, say, Adam Putnam.

Hundreds of Democrats watched Gillum, Graham, and King share a disdain for Republican rule, fleshing out programs and policies that they would implement if elected.

Right before the forum, Gillum proposed a series of six more debates (not just forums) between all the candidates before the primaries next August. Next week the field is expected to grow by one when Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine joins the fray, as anticipated.

Orlando attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan created a buzz among delegates when he entered the lobby a half-hour before the debate began. Several Democrats greeted him enthusiastically as he ordered a drink.

Morgan said he’ll decide on entering the race sometime in early 2018.

So back to the three candidates on the stage.

When it came to combating climate change and ripping into the climate deniers in Tallahassee and Washington D.C., the trio sang from the same song sheet.

“We’re sitting here in Disney World, ” said Graham. “Well, Donald Trump and Rick Scott are in fantasyland.”

“We need a governor who believes in science,” said Gillum.

King was effusive about climate change, saying sea level rise presents a “tremendous opportunity for Florida.” He compared the issue to John F. Kennedy’s moonshot, who declared after becoming president that the nation would put a man on the moon.

Finding a way to reduce sea level rise could bring out the best minds from around the country, King said, allowing Florida to become a “research mecca.”

Onstage, Graham exuded warmth and sweetness, telling the 550 people who paid more $250 for a seat at the dinner (with an auxiliary room televising the debate to another 250 or so) that she had a message for the GOP candidates — she’s a hugger.

“But in a second, just like that, it can turn into a headlock — just ask Steve Southerland,” she said, referring to the Republican she vanquished in her only bid for Congress in 2014.

As for King, he distinguished himself by emphasizing affordable housing, which makes sense since that’s what he does for a living.

When asked about the most significant health care issue in the state, Gillium wasn’t specific, only to blame Florida Republicans: “The biggest threat to health care in this state is Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature.”

Gillum also spoke of their refusal to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Graham again called for a public option. Interestingly, she said she would push for that on a state level, saying that she couldn’t wait for Congress to make that change in Washington.

King said he hadn’t given up on the idea that Florida might still expand Medicaid.

One proposal King staked out on his own was a plan for free tuition for community college and trade school education.

Some people expressed concerned that Democrats couldn’t keep up with the Republicans in fundraising — especially a year out from the race; it was a fact spotlighted last week by the Orlando Sentinel.

But, earlier in the day, Jeremy Ring knocked down that notion.

Ring, the only Democrat currently in the CFO race, said that with exceptions of the usual corporations, nobody is really paying attention to the race so far out.

“These articles appear to speak to about six people,” Ring said … perhaps (slightly) underestimating the appetite among political junkies.

“Let’s go to a Miami Dolphins or a Tampa Bay Bucs [game] and ask anyone in the stands whether they read any of these articles. It’s not real.”

Kevin Griffith, vice chair of the Sarasota County Democratic Executive Committee, said: “There’s uncertainty about who is at the head of the pack right now, but we’re at a point where we want new ideas and new blood.”

Earlier in the afternoon, party delegates voted — 860-13 — on 15 policy resolutions, an almost unanimous vote that had Democrats congratulating themselves for expressing near harmony.

Among those votes included a gun-control measure: “The Florida Democratic Party supports policies that regulate semiautomatics and accessories, including but not limited to, all semi-automatic weapons; armor- piercing ammunition; high capacity magazines or clips that can hold more than 10 bullets at a time; and bump stocks or any accessory that simulates the ability of a fully automatic weapon.”

There was an environmental resolution that also thrilled Alan Newell, chair of the Democratic Environmental Caucus.

“I look at the kind of things that have been done environmentally against the people’s interest in the state of Florida for the last seven or eight years … The DEP has been decimated, we can’t mention the words climate change, it’s against the law in Tallahassee, and I think that’s just awful and that shouldn’t people what the peel in the state of Florida should be paying for.”

‘Trailblazing’ Pat Frank endorses Gwen Graham

Hillsborough County Clerk Pat Frank, “a trailblazing female elected official,” has endorsed gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, the campaign announced Friday.

The endorsement comes right before the Florida Democratic Party’s statewide conference this weekend in Orlando.

“Now more than ever, we need a woman to straighten out Tallahassee — and Gwen Graham is the right woman for the job,” Frank said in a statement.

“The Republican politicians have turned Florida’s public school system into an education industry that profits special interests,” she said. “With her experience as a mother, PTA president and public school official, Gwen understands we need to put parents, teachers and local school districts back in charge of education. As governor, she will end high-stakes testing, support our teachers and always put students first.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

Frank was one of the first women to attend the University of Florida and began her career in public service as a member of the Hillsborough County School Board, where she was a fierce advocate for desegregation.

She also served in the Florida House and Senate, where she sponsored legislation in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, the Florida Commission on the Status of Women, and mandatory kindergarten in public education. Before her election as clerk in 2004, Frank also served on the Hillsborough County Commission.

“I’m able to run for governor today because of trailblazing Florida women like Pat Frank,” Graham said. “I’m honored to receive Pat’s endorsement and will work every day to follow her example of public service.”

Graham has been endorsed by Democratic female leaders across the state and is energizing young women to participate in the 2018 election.

“After 20-years of Republicans passing policies that hurt Florida’s families, women can’t afford to sit on the sideline,” Graham said. “Our campaign is carrying on the momentum from the Women’s March and working to empower female leaders across the state. Starting in November 2018, the future of Florida is female.”

Florida Democrats to gather this weekend in Orlando

First, do no harm.

Physicians are expected to adhere to the Hippocratic oath; it’s also a piece of advice Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel should (perhaps) take to heart this weekend as the party gathers for its annual state conference at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando.

It will be the first mass gathering of state Democrats since June’s Leadership Blue debacle in Hollywood, where complaints from black state lawmakers about being snubbed on stage led Bittel to call them “childish” and accuse them of “playing the race card.”

Bittel apologized in the aftermath and promised to be more sensitive to racial issues.

The mood in Orlando will no doubt be buoyant, considering Annette Taddeo’s victory in the Senate District 40 special election — bringing the number of Democrats in the 40-member Senate to 16. Her win is raising hopes that 2018 could be a big year for the Party, with the top prize of the governor’s mansion, which has eluded Democrats for nearly two decades.

The Pprty has also invested heavily in St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s re-election contest next month. Expect that race to be mentioned as well.

And while all eyes Saturday night will be on gubernatorial hopefuls Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham and Chris King when they convene for their third candidate forum of the year, two men who will not be there won’t be far away in some Democrat’s minds.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is expected to announce his entry into the race next week, while John Morgan‘s tease about the race to continue into early next year.

To date, fundraising for the three announced candidates has been less than robust, with combined September totals from Graham, Gillium and King ($529,000) which was less than half the $1.1 million raised by Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Congressman Keith Ellison, the DNC’s deputy chair, will headline a Saturday morning breakfast; former Housing and Urban Secretary Julian Castro (along with Sen. Bill Nelson) will be the Saturday lunchtime speaker.

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