Stark Differences in Florida Governor’s Race

With only one day to go before the election, it’s critical for voters still deciding between Florida’s  two major candidates for governor to focus on the single most important element of this campaign: what each candidate’s policies would do to the state.

Rarely has the Sunshine State been presented with such a stark contrast between the two candidates and the two parties they represent. Florida Republicans appear ascendant, having weathered a populist infusion sparked years earlier by Ross Perot and NAFTA, spurred on more recently by the Tea Party, and culminating with President Donald Trump supporting a victorious Ron DeSantis over longtime GOP establishment favorite Adam Putnam.

Nationally, Republicans control the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Mirroring the state of play nationally, Republicans in Florida control the governorship and both houses of the state legislature.

For Florida Democrats, however, the question remains whether they weather a left-wing populist infusion that delivered Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum an upset victory over Gwen Graham, the daughter of state party icon Bob Graham?

I suspect not, and it comes down to two primary factors: first, the economic approach that carried Gillum to his surprising victory; and, second, which faction can lay claim to representing the Democrat Wing of the Democratic Party?

As comprehensively detailed in the James Madison Institute’s Election 2018: Platforms, Proposals, Projections”: “The confluence of term limits, macro-economic outlook, and the political environment have combined to place Florida as ground zero in the economic policy debate being waged nationwide.” As the closest thing to a bellwether state among the mega-state four (Florida, Texas, New York and California), it’s fitting that we have served as the staging ground for such an important national debate.

On one side of the debate, here is Gillum in a nutshell:

  • increase the corporate tax rate significantly,
  • almost double the minimum wage,
  • sharply expand government-controlled health insurance, and
  • mandate a $50,000 starting salary for teachers.

These positions are radical departures from anything previously contemplated in Florida by a gubernatorial candidate of a major political party. They reflect a left-wing populist strain more attuned to Bernie Sanders than the Hillary Clinton/Gwen Graham Democratic Party establishment. Their approach is indicative of efforts preferred by what I like to call the FreeShiznitArmy. These progressive regressives seem to scream presumptuously, “You’ve got the money, dammit, what are you bitching about?”

Of course, the question is immediately at war with the concept of liberty and the idea of limited government. But Gillum has the political advantages of being educated in-state and feeling at home working from the seat of Florida government. In fact, everything about Andrew Gillum is government, government, government.

Like Gillum, Ron DeSantis is a native Floridian though he received his post-secondary education out-of-state. After service in the U.S. Navy, he came home to Florida. Serving three terms in Congress, DeSantis is firmly grounded in the populist mood of the political day (he’s a House Freedom Caucus member and favorite of President Trump’s) as well as deeply grounded within traditional Republican themes.

Fancying himself a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” DeSantis has deftly navigated the environmental sensibilities of Florida while pounding home some tried-and-true GOP themes:

  • small business growth and development;
  • an emphasis on K-12 public education, including greater parental choice;
  • ending judicial activism by appointing constitutional conservatives to the Florida Supreme Court;
  • cooperation with the federal government to end illegal immigration;
  • limiting the size and reach of the bureaucracy of federal and state government.

As a well-coordinated #BLEXIT campaign ripples throughout Black America—including the very important African American voters in Florida—some of the historical punch associated with Andrew Gillum’s campaign for governor may be slightly stunted. In what was previously viewed as conventional wisdom among the American electorate (circa 2012), this type of campaign would have been enough to imperil Gillum’s candidacy.

Several polls show Gillum running ahead of DeSantis. But barring a surprise equal to his victory over Gwen Graham, Gillum’s campaign is likely to fail—perhaps by a larger-than-imagined percentage. Should it come to pass, the primary reason for that failure would be the dramatic departure of his economic plans from those of the desired approach in the bellwether center-right state of an increasingly center-right nation.

Photo credit: John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images

About J.B. White

J.B. White is a semi-retired resident of Tallahassee, Florida, and currently serves on the board of CREOLE, Inc., a nonprofit corporation engaged in an agri-business development strategy in northern Haiti. A native Floridian from Jacksonville and U.S. Army veteran, he holds degrees from the University of Florida (Political Science) and Florida State (Juris Doctor). @RattlerGator is his online presence on Twitter.

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