Philip Levine – Florida Politics

Philip Levine, Chris King look for votes in deep red Charlotte

Chris King in Charlotte County

While Charlotte County can safely be called Republican country, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Philip Levine and Chris King weathered pouring rain to speak to voters there on Saturday.

The two candidates spoke at the Politics in the Park event at Harbor Heights Park near Punta Gorda. There, Levine touted his record as a climate-conscious mayor in Miami Beach while King promoted his history fighting against Big Sugar.

Even as candidates try to break ahead in a crowded Democratic field, Levine drew the greatest contrast between himself and outgoing Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for Senate this year, and regular Democratic punching bag President Donald Trump.

“We know that Rick Scott is Donald Trump’s BFF, Best Friend Forever,” Levine told a crowded gathered under a pavilion. “It’s not that he actually robbed the bank with Donald Trump, but I know Rick Scott was the driver.”

King’s boogeyman of choice was the sugar industry, and he shared the story of how a trip to Clewiston last week turned sideways, spinning it as a badge of honor. “The environment and taking on Big Sugar has been a huge part of my candidacy,” he said.

Philip Levine in Charlotte County

He later spoke to Florida Politics about how he doesn’t want to dismantle an entire industry, but wants the government to return to protecting the government instead of allowing pollution, and stressed his campaign of message of being a the first voice of a new generation standing up to sugar. And he figures as Charlotte and other coastal residents deal with algae in rivers, it’s a good time to talk about the issue.

“Here is Southwest Florida, these discharges seem to be issues one, two and three, and these will keep happening unless we start thinking about things differently,” King said.

Levine stressed his own green credentials, noting Miami Beach’s efforts during his eight-year tenure as mayor to strengthen building codes to deal with sea level rise brought on by climate change. Labeling Scott’s Department of Environmental Protection as a department of environmental exploitation, he promised to make sure state regulators don’t snuggle to polluters.

“One thing I won’t do is nothing,” he said.

Despite the make-up of attendees at the Democratic event, Charlotte County may prove a tough place to sell a progressive message in November. Trump carried the county by nearly 29 percent in November 2016.

But King and Levine both see reason to rally as many votes as possible here.

“We just can’t keep losing these areas by huge margins,” King told Florida Politics. “We have to speak to people everywhere.”

Levine, who later headed from Punta Gorda to open a Fort Myers campaign office, said no region could go untouched if Democrats are to win in November.

“I don’t see areas as red or blue. I see areas as Floridians and that’s it,” he said. “We’ll be everywhere, in every town and every county.”

Where will candidates for governor be today?

From a Democratic get-together in Punta Gorda to meet-and greets in Jacksonville, candidates for governor will spend this weekend connecting with voters. Here’s where you can find some of the major players.

For Democratic candidates for governor, South Florida this weekend is the place to be.

Philip Levine today will speak to Charlotte County Democrats at noon at the Politics in the Park event at Harbor Heights Park in Punta Gorda. Then he will head down the road to Fort Myers to open a new campaign office on Cleveland Avenue at 4 p.m.

Chris King’s “Keeping The Promise” tour continues today into Punta Gorda, where he also will attend Charlotte County Democrats’ Politics in the Park event at 1 p.m. King plans to focus on health care issues including Medicaid expansion and the opioid crisis.

Andrew Gillum will spend the day in South Florida. The Tallahassee mayor will rally supporters in Miami Gardens at the Unrepresented People’s Positive Action Council Community Forum’s Gubernatorial Community Forum, an event that runs from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Greater New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Then he opens a West Palm Beach campaign office on Corporate Way at 2 p.m. before heading back to Miami for the Wilkie D. Ferguson Bar Association 40th Annual Gala at Briza on the Bay at 8 p.m.

And on the Republican side, Ron DeSantis will meet voters bright and early for a Duval County Meet and Greet at The Local in Jacksonville, where doors open at 8:30 a.m. Then he heads to Orange Park for a Clay County Meet and Greet there, held at La Nopalera Mexican Restaurant with doors opening at 1:30 p.m. and the program starting at 2 p.m.

Adam Putnam will meet with firefighters today at the Florida State Forest Service Association’s executive board meeting.

Gwen Graham and Jeff Greene have not announced any public events today.

But following up on a similar event in Fort Myers, Sen. Bill Nelson plans to meet with health care professionals at a roundtable in Deltona at the Community Life Outreach Center at 2:30 p.m, part of his re-election effort. Then he plans to visit Bethune Cookman University for a tour of Mary Mcleod Bethune before a Volusia County canvassing event. He’ll end the day with a keynote address at the 7 p.m. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Gala at Hilton Daytona Beach Ocean Front Resort.

Gov. Rick Scott, who is challenging Nelson, will join Puerto Rico Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón for a Valrico rally at Rico Frappe Latino at 2:15 p.m. He will then meet with Puerto Rican leaders there. González-Colón endorsed Scott in May.

If more events get announced, this story will be updated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Greene will participate in tonight’s Democratic gubernatorial debate

The latest debate among Florida’s Democratic candidates for governor will have a newcomer: billionaire developer Jeff Greene.

Greene is joining the other four candidates Wednesday night at Florida Gulf Coast University in his first debate since his late entry into the race.

The Palm Beach resident has already spent $10 million in ads, mostly his own money. He now hopes to shake up the race even more during the live exchange with former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando-area businessman Chris King.

The winner of the Aug. 28 primary will face the Republican nominee in November. The Republican candidates are Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post.

Aramis Ayala endorses Andrew Gillum in governor’s race

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

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

She also joined him for an announcement in downtown Orlando.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Gillum sees his path in five-way primary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Sink endorses Gwen Graham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gwen Graham buys TV time in Jacksonville, West Palm Beach

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is finally going up on television in Jacksonville and West Palm Beach.

Per a media release from her campaign: “The new ad, ‘Lessons,’ introduces Graham as a mother, former PTA president, congresswoman, and daughter of popular former Governor and Senator Bob Graham. Like her previous ads, the new spot contrasts 20 years of Republican rule with Graham’s progressive priorities of restoring public schools and expanding health care.”

“Everything I do is through the prism of being a mom,” Graham says in the ad. “The Florida Legislature have not taken Medicaid expansion. They have hurt education. They have used the lottery to reduce funding — but we’re gonna take it back.”

The media release notes that despite having spent just $3.8 million this campaign, “far less than her self-funding opponents” Jeff Greene and Philip Levine, Graham is still in the mix in polls. The results of a recent survey conducted by St. Pete Polls and commissioned by Florida Politics shows Graham ahead of Levine and trailing Greene by just a tenth of a percentage point.

The ad’s message will be familiar to those paying attention to this campaign.

“Twenty years with one party running everything…with all the wrong priorities. The Florida Legislature have not taken Medicaid expansion they have hurt education. They have used the lottery to reduce funding — but we’re gonna take it back,” Graham says in the spot.

Philip Levine: In politics, six weeks is ‘eternity’

Hot on the campaign trail for Florida Governor, Philip Levine offers a political truism: Six weeks can be “an eternity.”

Anything can happen.

Firmly in the top-tier of Democratic hopefuls in the race, the former Miami Beach mayor swung through Jacksonville over the weekend, part of a three-city tour of the state.

Saturday afternoon, Levine met with volunteers, canvassers and reporters during a stop at his downtown headquarters.

While Levine’s camp is pushing internal polls showing strength along both the I-4 corridor and south, traction in Jacksonville appears not to be as solid.

Gwen Graham, Levine’s main Democratic opponent, is reaping many of Northeast Florida local endorsements. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has the rest, as well as drawing the most impassioned crowds on swings through Duval.

Levine, in the campaign headquarters visit, rallied roughly two dozen volunteers and staff with brief remarks. Jacksonville was the third stop of the day.

Northeast Florida is pivotal to the Levine operation, which has 11 field organizers here. Now with 14 offices statewide, Levine was able to say (with some credibility) that his campaign is “literally everywhere” with “sneakers on the ground.”

Nevertheless, while the campaign downplays internal polls of his Northeast Florida performance, it is safe to wonder if Levine is as strong in Northeast Florida as elsewhere.

Talking to Florida Politics, complete with his family in tow, Levine was confident, yet shying away from remarks that other camps would consider bulletin-board material.

“From what we see, we’re doing well across the state of Florida,” Levine said. “This is a very competitive primary. I believe it will be a competitive general election. What do we have, six weeks to go? We are running hard, going to every county, every town.”

When asked if his campaign was the front-runner, Levine was diplomatic.

“So they say,” he replied. “We take nothing for granted. We have to fight every day. Things are always going to be competitive in a race like this.”

A reporter also inquired about the entry of Jeff Greene, the billionaire from Palm Beach, and if it was especially dragging on Levine’s momentum.

“What I think it does,” Levine said, “is truly makes it more competitive for everybody … gives a greater selection.”

“People get to look at your strengths, see what’s right for them and what’s not,” he added. “We’re obviously very different, all five of us.”

Levine also appraised the candidacy of Andrew Gillum, in light of his “victory” in the George Soros/Tom Steyer primary.

On Gillum as a leading candidate, Levine again took a diplomatic tack: “I think everybody in this race is a top-tier candidate. I say it everywhere I go: if any of us become governor on the Democratic side, the state’s in a better place than it is today.”

“Six weeks is an eternity in politics,” Levine quipped.

This cycle, that has proved to be the case, as seemingly inevitable front-runners early in the governor’s race (from both parties) return to the pack as the home stretch to the Aug. 28 primary begins.

Gwen Graham: Election could reverse Florida abortion rights

Abortion rights could be stripped away under a new-look U.S. Supreme Court, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham told a group of women Friday, and she said that as the only woman running for Florida governor she’s in the best position to preserve those rights in the state.

Graham met with more than 20 women to discuss the future of abortion in Florida, and one-by-one they told her that they were afraid rights to a safe, legal abortion could be set back decades.

Graham told them that if President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is seated on the bench, then Roe v. Wade will “probably” be overturned.

“And then the line of defense for women’s health care rights — for women to be able to determine their own rights with their own bodies — becomes the states. The states will either protect a woman’s right to choose or not,” she said. “We all know what’s on the line.”

In Florida, that could be particularly important. Republicans have held the governor’s office and both legislative branches for nearly 20 years. During that time, they’ve passed several laws making it more difficult to get an abortion. Some of those have been overturned by a liberal-leaning state Supreme Court.

Three liberal justices are retiring on the same day a new governor is sworn in. That could enable the next governor to stack the court on the issue for years to come.

The two top Republican candidates — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis — favor further restrictions on access to abortion.

Graham promised to veto any bill that in any way restricts access to abortion. She said nobody should have to worry “that we or our daughters would have to go back to the time of backroom abortions, where people were dying.”

But the women in the room did express their fear.

“If we move backward on abortion, abortions aren’t going to stop. They’re going to continue for people of means and people who have the ability to go to a different locality,” said Madelyn Skene. “They’re going to stop legal abortions for poor people, but they’re not going to stop abortion. They’ll go to the back alley.”

While Graham’s four opponents for the Democratic nomination — former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; Orlando-area businessman Chris King; and billionaire Jeff Greene — have similar positions on abortion, Graham said gender makes a difference on the issue.

“It’s time we’ve had a changed world in which women are equally represented in any conversation about our health care options,” she told reporters. “No man should ever be telling a woman whether a health care decision that she needs to make should be made thinking that government … is influencing the decision.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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