Andrew Skerritt: Gwen Graham victory in North Florida is reason for hope

I live in Tallahassee — a sea of blue surrounded by red. Gwen Graham beat Republican Steve Southerland to become the first woman elected to the Second Congressional District seat.

On a bleak night for Democrats nationwide, Graham’s less-than-3,000-vote margin of victory felt like a landslide. She can thank the voters of Leon County, where she got 31,000 more votes than Southerland.

Southerland couldn’t escape who he is, a reactionary pol who holds a men’s-only fundraiser and then jokes about it. His lack of originality and imagination was reinforced with each campaign ad. Having women drive around with pink “women for Southerland” stickers rubbed salt into the already sore paternalistic wounds.

Graham had her ace in the hole — her last name. She’s the daughter of the still popular former Florida Gov. and U.S Sen. Bob Graham. His face and voice on campaign commercials was a reassuring echo for those in this part of the country who haven’t forgotten when Florida possessed leadership we could be proud of nationally, when embarrassment was not part of each sentence in which the governor’s name was mentioned.

It is interesting that the Graham name prevailed while the legacy of other fathers was not enough to rescue (Michelle) Nunn in Georgia, (Mark) Udall in Colorado and (Mark) Pryor in Arkansas.


Graham’s race was smaller geographically, but its importance cannot be exaggerated. The Graham name is a reminder of the kind of leadership the South once took pride in but has since been exchanged for the close-minded, conservative, race-baiting leadership that Southerland represents, that harkens back to events of 150 years ago.

Meanwhile, the Democrats reminded us of what they used to be like when they inhabited the political wilderness of the 1980s and early ‘90s, the pre-Clinton years — weak-kneed, retreating, vacillating, and disorganized.

Rather than surrender, they needed to ask voters when was the last time Republicans did anything for us, the 99 percent. The party is bent on ensuring that this president fails. It seems their mantra is: Destroy the country to save it from Obamacare. It worked.

Republicans win big because voters forget. They forget the chaos. They forget the stupidity, obduracy, the posturing, the shutdowns, the threats. They forget Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Great Recession. Why would you entrust leadership of government to a party whose stock in trade is distrust and derision of everything government stands for?

Graham’s victory, however, is a reminder of what’s possible. If it can happen in North Florida, then it can happen elsewhere. The triumph of her persona and her name is a reminder of the kind of leadership we can only hope for. Out of the ashes of this defeat, embers of hope glimmer — 2016 can’t get here fast enough.

Andrew J. Skerritt is author of Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South. He lives in Tallahassee. Follow him on Twitter @andrewjskerritt. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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