Florida has long been a bastion of conservative politics, but it has not always been this way. Since gaining statehood in 1845, Florida had voted for the most part Democratic. The state began to turn red in the 1960s when the Republicans implemented the Southern Strategy, which aimed to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans.
The last time Florida had a Democratic Governor was in the late 1990’s when Lieutenant Governor Buddy MacKay succeeded Lawton Chiles following his death in 1998. MacKay would go on to be soundly defeated by Jeb Bush, which began a winning streak for Republicans occupying the governor’s mansion.
But Republican leadership in Florida has been a nightmare for working class people.
Two decades of Republican control in Florida have resulted in almost half – 45% – of households in the state qualifying as working poor, but this November Floridians will have the chance to reject that harmful legacy at the ballot box.
In the spring of 2000, Jeb Bush did something unprecedented for a state as populous as Florida. He completely dismantled the state’s department of labor, which carried out tasks such as tracking workforce statistics, enforcing safety standards for businesses, running a hotline for workers to learn about their rights, and fielding complaints of minimum wage violations.
As bad as that sounds, no Governor has done more damage to Florida as Rick Scott, the incumbent and 2018 U.S. Senate candidate in the state. Scott’s record is awful, including refusing to let his employees use the term climate change, trying to test poor people for drugs before they’re allowed to receive government aid, allowing companies to dump more cancer-causing chemicals into Florida’s water supply, supporting oil drilling in the Everglades, trying to defund Planned Parenthood while setting up abortion waiting periods, and disenfranchising almost two million Floridians with prior felony convictions who have served their time.
Earlier this month, the Miramar Cultural Center in Broward County hosted the “Freedom Forum for the Florida Democratic Gubernatorial primary,” a debate between Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Miami Beach Mayor Philllip Levine, Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, and businessman Chris King. The candidates made their case during the debate as to why they should be the Democratic candidate for Governor this November.
Rather than attacking each other, the Democratic candidates spent most of the debate arguing over the disastrous consequences of Republican control in Florida and presenting their vision for the state moving forward. Rick Scott’s refusal to tackle or even acknowledge climate change, the State Legislature raiding $2 billion from an affordable housing fund since 2001, Donald Trump’s horrible response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s failure to review the results of federal background checks on concealed carry permit applications were some of the topics addressed.
When laying out their platform, the Democratic candidates differed more in style than substance. While Gillum and King clearly took the most progressive stances of the night, they all more or less agreed that banning assault weapons, raising the minimum wage, increasing teacher pay, fighting climate change and protecting immigrants were priorities that they would tackle of elected. The crowd reacted with thunderous applause when Gillum said he’d raise the corporate tax rate and King said he’d generate lots of new tax money by legalizing recreational marijuana and ending mass incarceration.
The choice for Floridians this November was clearly laid out during the Miramar forum. On one hand, Republicans have controlled the state for two decades, resulting in stagnant wages, lack of access to healthcare, damage to the environment, the criminalization of immigrants, voter suppression, attacks on unions, and limited reproductive rights. The Democratic candidates spoke of a unifying vision in which the diversity of Florida is celebrated, and working-class families can live meaningful lives without worrying about how they are going to pay the bills or if an unexpected illness will bankrupt them.
Make the right choice, Florida.