Gary Farmer knows his stuff in Se­nate Dis­trict 34

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Voices & Opinion -

State Sen. Gary Farmer, the in­cum­bent se­na­tor from Dis­trict 34, has the knowl­edge, or­a­tor­i­cal skills and en­ergy to help re­viv­ify a statewide Demo­cratic Party that dur­ing the past quar­ter cen­tury has proved it­self in­creas­ingly adept at los­ing elec­tions.

The Sun Sen­tinel Ed­i­to­rial Board rec­om­mends that vot­ers in the Demo­cratIc pri­mary again choose Farmer as their nom­i­nee. He’s op­posed by former state Rep. Jim Wald­man, who ran against him in 2016, when Farmer was elected to the Se­nate seat af­ter court-or­dered re­dis­trict­ing.

Farmer, a trial lawyer, has been a strong ad­vo­cate of is­sues dear to the ma­jor­ity of Demo­cratic vot­ers. He sup­ports in­creased pay for pub­lic school teach­ers and op­poses di­vert­ing more money from tra­di­tional pub­lic schools to char­ter schools.

He’s also a strong ad­vo­cate of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion who un­der­stands the ur­gency of ad­dress­ing the grow­ing prob­lem of al­gae blooms in and around Lake Okee­chobee that threat­ens pub­lic health and the tourist in­dus­try. And as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a coastal dis­trict, he un­der­stands the need to ad­dress prob­lems caused by a ris­ing sea level.

He also sup­ports ex­pand­ing Med­i­caid to a larger seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion.

Farmer’s ten­ure has not been with­out mis­steps. Chief among them was his “no” vote on com­pro­mise gun leg­is­la­tion passed by the Leg­is­la­ture soon af­ter the Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School tragedy in Park­land.

We, too, wanted the Leg­is­la­ture to ban the sale of mil­i­tary-style, high-ve­loc­ity, semi-au­to­matic ri­fles — the weapon of choice in Amer­ica’s epi­demic of mass shoot­ings. But it wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen, no mat­ter the per­sua­sive ar­gu­ments Farmer of­fered dur­ing a rare Satur­day ses­sion. The bill — the most im­por­tant gun leg­is­la­tion passed in Florida in a gen­er­a­tion — passed the Se­nate by one vote.

Wald­man pounced on this vote as proof that Farmer is a lackey of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion.

“Gary showed up and said all the right things, but pressed the wrong but­ton,” Wald­man told the ed­i­to­rial board. “For what­ever rea­son, he wasn’t go­ing to sup­port this agenda for gun con­trol. He’s been praised by the NRA for his vote. He’s on the side of the NRA.”

As proof, Wald­man of­fers up a let­ter that NRA lob­by­ist Mar­ion Ham­mer sent Farmer last month ex­press­ing her “pro­found grat­i­tude” for his vote against gun con­trol leg­is­la­tion.

The let­ter is clearly a po­lit­i­cal stunt, meant to help Wald­man, who en­tered the race last month.

Any­one who knows Farmer knows he’s Farmer not be­holden to the NRA, which gives him an “F” rat­ing. He says his “no” vote was a strate­gic move aimed at de­feat­ing a weak bill and forc­ing Repub­li­cans to vote again, but on a stronger mea­sure. Given the in­tense pub­lic pres­sure for ac­tion, he says, Repub­li­cans would not have left Tal­la­has­see with­out pass­ing a tougher gun con­trol law.

“I could not vote to put guns in the hands of teach­ers,” he told us. “They were say­ing coun­ties could opt out of the pro­gram, but if they do, they lose tens of mil­lions of dol­lars. It’s why Broward County is try­ing to cob­ble some com­pro­mise po­si­tion. They know 60 pe­cent of par­ents don’t want guns in the hands of teach­ers.

“The sell­ing point was, ‘This is baby steps. Do this now and we’ll get more next time.’ I said then, ‘There will be no sec­ond step, no sec­ond bill that deals with the root cause.’… I’m all for men­tal health fund­ing. We don’t have enough guid­ance coun­selors. But this took that money out of base ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing. I be­lieve the bill was deeply flawed. We could have passed a bet­ter bill.”

On that, we’re not sure he’s right. And some­thing is bet­ter than noth­ing.

Farmer also stum­bled in his quest for the job of Se­nate Demo­cratic Leader, a choice that re­mains on hold un­til af­ter the elec­tion. He sug­gested that fel­low South Florida se­na­tor Lau­ren Book, who is also seek­ing the post, might not have the time to do an ad­e­quate job be­cause she is car­ing for year-old twins. The re­mark sent shock­waves through the Demo­cratic Party es­tab­lish­ment and gave Wald­man and oth­ers the am­mu­ni­tion to call Farmer “sex­ist.”

Farmer’s com­ment was bone­headed, but he isn’t the first politi­cian to move his lips be­fore en­gag­ing his brain. On is­sues im­por­tant to women in the Demo­cratic Party’s base, in­clud­ing abor­tion rights and pay eq­uity, Farmer has es­tab­lished his bona fides. He apol­o­gized to Book, and un­less fu­ture com­ments or ac­tions prove far more egre­gious, his mis­step should be for­given, al­though not for­got­ten.

On the whole, Farmer has served his dis­trict well. He stands up for peo­ple, knows his stuff and makes the case in a way Se­nate Democrats need.

On the other hand, as we said the last time th­ese two men faced off, Wald­man was not a stand­out law­maker dur­ing his time in the Leg­is­la­ture.

Farmer, 54, lives in Light­house Point. He re­cently dis­solved his pri­vate prac­tice and now works for the Mor­gan & Mor­gan law firm. Wald­man, 60, also an at­tor­ney, is in-house coun­sel for sev­eral ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions. He is a res­i­dent of Pom­pano Beach. Repub­li­cans did not put forth a can­di­date in the heav­ily Demo­cratic dis­trict, which runs along the coast from county line to county line, but there will be a write-in can­di­date in Novem­ber.

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