Demo­cratic can­di­dates de­bate their best case

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JAVON AN­THONY LLOYD

MIRAMAR, Fla. – Four of the five Demo­cratic can­di­dates vy­ing to be­come Florida’s next gov­er­nor wasted lit­tle time ap­peal­ing to a crowd of en­thused lib­eral vot­ers dur­ing Monday night’s highly an­tic­i­pated de­bate or­ga­nized by state and lo­cal com­mu­nity groups.

The two-hour event hosted at the Miramar Cul­tural Cen­ter gave nearly 800 at­ten­dees the op­por­tu­nity to hear di­rectly from each can­di­date on a va­ri­ety of is­sues, in­clud­ing the ban of as­sault weapons, in­creas­ing the state’s min­i­mum wage, af­ford­able hous­ing, crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form and more.

Mod­er­ated by WLRN’s Luis Her­nan­dez and the PBS News Hour’s Yamiche Al­cin­dor, the de­bate fea­tured Tal­la­has­see Mayor An­drew Gil­lum, Or­lando en­tre­pre­neur Chris King, for­mer Mi­ami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and for­mer U.S. Rep. Gwen Gra­ham – all of whom mostly casted their dif­fer­ences aside and in­stead blasted lo­cal, state and na­tional Repub­li­can law­mak­ers for their failed poli­cies.

Bil­lion­aire and real es­tate in­vestor Jeff Greene, who filed pa­per­work to run for gov­er­nor ear­lier this month, did not par­tic­i­pate in the de­bate.

The two mod­er­a­tors jumped right into ques­tions, be­gin­ning first with the is­sues of gun vi­o­lence and gun con­trol leg­is­la­tion.

Each of the can­di­dates agreed that they would ban as­sault weapons as gov­er­nor and vowed to in­crease back­ground checks, while also work­ing to in­vest more in re­sources for men­tal health.

“Sense­less laws like stand-your-ground have no place in the state of Florida, and we ought to re­peal it as soon as we can,” said Gil­lum, who ac­knowl­edged vic­tims and fam­ily mem­bers im­pacted by the 2016 mass shoot­ing in Or­lando. “We know of the mass shoot­ing in­ci­dents of Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High, Pulse night­club, the at­tempt at the Ft. Laud­erdale air­port, but what about the count­less gun vi­o­lence in­ci­dents that rav­age neigh­bor­hoods and com­mu­ni­ties ev­ery day of the week?”

On the econ­omy, the Demo­cratic can­di­dates were all in fa­vor of rais­ing the min­i­mum wage.

Cur­rently, a per­son mak­ing min­i­mum wage earns an av­er­age of $17,000 an­nu­ally, while the cost of liv­ing con­tin­ues to in­crease for many Florid­i­ans.

For­mer U.S. Rep. Gwen Gra­ham vowed to work to­ward rais­ing the min­i­mum wage to $15 per hour or more, ac­knowl­edg­ing that many fam­i­lies across the state are still strug­gling to make ends meet.

“Al­most 50 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in Florida is one pay­check away from fi­nan­cial ruin,” said the for­mer con­gress­woman. "When I hear Rick Scott say 'jobs, jobs, jobs,' I hear yes – you're go­ing to have to work three jobs just to get by in the state of Florida."

The can­di­dates were also asked about af­ford­able hous­ing, specif­i­cally what they would do to en­sure that low-in­come in­di­vid­u­als through­out the state are not driven out of their com­mu­ni­ties if or when big com­pa­nies such as Ama­zon, Gen­eral Elec­tric Co., and Google re­lo­cate to South Florida.

Or­lando-na­tive Chris King said the is­sue of af­ford­able hous­ing was what most in­spired him to run for gov­er­nor.

King, along with his fel­low Demo­cratic con­tenders, crit­i­cized Florida Repub­li­cans for di­vert­ing mil­lions of dol­lars away from the Sad­owski Trust Fund, a pro­gram de­signed to use money gen­er­ated by doc­u­men­tary stamp taxes on real es­tate trans­ac­tions to help fund and de­velop af­ford­able hous­ing.

“I’ve seen what it’s like when fam­i­lies are pay­ing 50 or 60 or 70 per­cent of their in­come in rent. It’s tragic when you’re hav­ing to choose be­tween hous­ing and medicine or hous­ing and food,” said King. “I be­lieve that it’s the num­ber one eco­nomic chal­lenge of Florida, and we haven’t had any­one in Tal­la­has­see for 20 years in lead­er­ship on the Repub­li­can Party who even talks about af­ford­able hous­ing.We need a gov­er­nor who is go­ing to be an in­no­va­tor and a de­fender of fam­i­lies who are re­ly­ing on us for safe, clean and qual­ity af­ford­able hous­ing.”

One of the big­gest top­ics of the night fo­cused on crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form.

Florida has one of the high­est in­car­cer­a­tion rates in the na­tion, and many res­i­dents across the state have called for the end of pri­vate pris­ons, cit­ing that they rely heav­ily on large prison pop­u­la­tions in or­der to profit.

“Clearly, we all agree that these pri­vate pris­ons are hor­ri­ble. We are giv­ing com­pa­nies an in­cen­tive to lock peo­ple up,” said Levine, who promised not to ac­cept any funds from the pri­vate prison in­dus­try.

“It’s time that we le­gal­ize mar­i­juana. We need to stop lock­ing peo­ple up for petty crimes and cut the pipe­line of African Amer­i­can men to pris­ons, and the only way that we’re go­ing to be able to get there is to make sure that we of­fer greater eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties," said Levine.

South Florida is known as “ground zero” for Democrats, with Mi­ami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties ac­count­ing for more than 1.5 mil­lion reg­is­tered Democrats within the state, ac­cord­ing to the Florida Depart­ment of State.

Politico re­cently re­ported polls show­ing Levine ahead in the gu­ber­na­to­rial race, fol­lowed by Gra­ham, Gil­lum, King and Greene re­spect­fully. Two-term in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Rick Scott is term-lim­ited and is in­el­i­gi­ble for re-elec­tion.

Pri­mary elec­tions for gov­er­nor of Florida will take place on Aug. 28, with the gen­eral elec­tion slated for Nov. 6.

PHOTO BY JAVON LLOYD FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES

Tal­la­has­see Mayor An­drew Gil­lum de­bates in the race for Florida Gov­er­nor.

From left to right:Tal­la­has­see Mayor An­drew Gil­lum, Or­lando en­tre­pre­neur Chris King, for­mer Mi­ami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and for­mer U.S. Rep. Gwen Gra­ham. Bot­tom pho­tos in­clude Chris King and Gwen Gra­ham.

PHO­TOS BY JAVON LLOYD FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES

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