In Florida, there are five Democrats and two Republicans running viable campaigns for governor — a position responsible for overseeing a sprawling $89 billion bureaucracy tasked with handling education, energy, the environment, healthcare, criminal justice, tourism, and public safety, among a litany of other issues.
What’s a voter to do?
Campaign commercials don’t say much. And most voters don’t have time to visit every website to figure out where the candidates stand on the issues — if that information is even available.
So, in order to help you out, the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau has put together a voter guide with answers from the candidates explaining their positions and policies. With absentee ballots already out and early voting starting Monday in Miami-Dade County, consider this a guide to help you make an educated choice for who will represent your party in the November general election.
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Question: How would you alter the state’s standardized testing system for public schools, and would you abolish the school grading system?
ANDREW GILLUM (D): The high-stakes testing regime, implemented through Florida’s failed education reforms, has let down our state’s children, parents, and teachers. Our current system demonizes our teachers, instead of supporting their work to mold, shape, and educate humanity. Our education system doesn’t prepare children from the earliest stages — 100 percent of our state’s children should be reading at grade level.
Testing and teaching to the test doesn’t show us what our kids know, just how well they test. As Governor, I’ll ensure a culture of accountability that views assessments as a data point, instead of the single, punitive arbiter of student, teacher, and school success.
GWEN GRAHAM (D): We should use public school standards, assessments, and accountability to empower and uplift teachers and students — not to punish schools. As Governor, I will end the high-stakes testing that only serves to profit the education industry. And I will end the arbitrary system of school grades.
I also strongly believe that a broad, comprehensive curriculum is essential to the overall educational development of our students. Subjects like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are vital. But so are art and music, which increase cultural understanding and provide creativity within STEM fields that helps to solve real problems. As governor, I will work with the Legislature to provide extended technical and career education to our students here in Florida.
JEFF GREENE (D): Our current testing and grading system is deeply flawed. Both students and teachers live in fear of high-stakes tests. It’s time to treat teachers like the professionals they are, not force them to teach directly to tests.
As Governor, I would end high-stakes testing, change the school grading system and revisit how these grades are used. One test should not be the single determinant of a student, teacher, or school’s success. The true measure of a student’s progress should be gauged by several benchmarks inside the classroom.
CHRIS KING (D): I support ending the current grading system and replacing it with a rubric that supports schools, rather than punishing teachers and students.
The FSAs are an improvement over the FCAT and while Florida is moving in the right direction when it comes to standardized testing, there’s still much more work to be done to end our state’s over-reliance on testing.
Over the last 20 years, a small group of lawmakers who are completely removed from classrooms have controlled the education policy-making process without teachers being properly represented. We must take a hard look at our testing policies and make sure that teachers, students and parents are all at the table.
PHILIP LEVINE (D): The state has a responsibility to provide a high-quality education to every student. We abandon the achievement of this goal when we use assessment measures incorrectly and inappropriately, specifically, high-stakes testing. The role of assessment should be formative and diagnostic, not evaluative of overall achievement for the student. Done correctly, testing can help flag students who need extra help.
When used as the central standard for assessing overall achievement, high-stakes standardized testing distorts the whole education process. The state’s role in testing, then, should be to serve school districts, to help them with their own assessment strategies, and to provide them with research based best practices.
As highlighted by this news outlet, in the ‘failure factories’ series, we must be diligent in reforming the current evaluation & funding systems so that schools in minority neighborhoods aren’t further punished for poor grades, but given extra attention and help to work towards the goal of top-notch public schools in every community.
The law should be changed to enable school districts to form and submit their own excellence strategies and assessment plans and to build a state level capacity to collect and disseminate best practices. I would not abolish the school grading system — It is fair to develop robust measures of school performance to help achieve the goal of providing every child with a high-quality education. As Governor I could create a more comprehensive scoring system that takes more factors into account than standardized test scores.
RON DESANTIS (R): Candidate did not respond.
ADAM PUTNAM (R): As a product of Florida’s public education system, the father of four children enrolled in public schools, and the husband to a former teacher, I recognize the importance and value of a high-quality public education. I have also witnessed firsthand the changes to the state’s accountability system.
I understand why parents and teachers feel disenfranchised. The relentless churn in Florida’s education policy seems to have lost sight of the original intent behind testing and accountability, and instead resulted in a complex web of policies that lack common sense.
As Governor, I will return common sense to the classroom by simplifying the Florida Standards and reestablishing the idea that testing is about improving student outcomes. We need to bring transparency and openness to our school accountability system so there are clear expectations for parents, students and teachers.
This means making tests available to the public, providing all students and parents with access to high quality study materials, and giving parents and students a clear understanding of results so students can make measurable improvements.
Question: What is your commitment for increasing spending on public education, and how would you pay for that investment?
ANDREW GILLUM (D): As a product of Florida’s public schools, I know how a quality public education can interrupt intergenerational poverty. That’s why as Governor, I’m committed to investing $1 billion into our public schools — and I’m the only candidate with a plan to pay for it.
As Governor, I’ll adjust our state’s corporate income tax rate and recoup $1 billion from Donald Trump’s tax giveaway. I’ll use those funds to pay new teachers a $50,000 starting salary, raise pay for veteran school teachers and staff to the national average, invest in SHOP 2.0 and vocational training, and rebuild our crumbling public schools.
GWEN GRAHAM (D): I am strongly committed to increasing spending on public education. The Florida Education Association endorsed me for this reason and I am proud to have their support. Increasing spending on public education includes paying those who teach our children the salaries they deserve.
Our teachers, educators, paraprofessionals and all support staff who work in the public education system are heroes and the pillars of our local communities. While Rick Scott and the Republican legislature have failed to properly pay educators, I will fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and increase educators’ salaries so that no teacher has to work two jobs just to provide for his or her family.
I will also work to increase technology in our schools, create innovative education opportunities, promote vocational training, and fully funding Bright Futures and other scholarship programs. These investments can be financed through savings found in a complete review of private vendor state contracts. In 2016, the Florida Government Efficiency Task Force reported that state contracts with private vendors waste $1.4 billion annually.
As governor, I will direct my administration to review these contracts and renegotiate or cancel any contract that demonstrates waste, inefficiency, or favoritism. I will also hold the Florida Legislature accountable for full funding, which I define to include the cost of inflation and student population growth as well as any additional funds needed to ensure Florida lives up to Article IX of the Florida Constitution.
Additionally, instead of using taxpayer money to benefit private or charter schools, I will refocus our attention on our underfunded public schools. In the last 20 years of Republican rule, Tallahassee has been bought and sold by the education industry, with corporations making millions off for-profit charter schools and high-stakes testing. When I’m governor, I’ll end the undue influence of the education industry.
JEFF GREENE (D): After 20 years of Republican rule in Tallahassee, Florida’s education system is in a state of emergency — their report card is out: Our schools are 40th in the country. It’s no coincidence that Florida is also 38th in the percentage of our state budget spent on education. That’s no coincidence. Florida is not a poor state — we’ve got a $78 billion budget and a tailwind of residents and tourists flocking to our state. It’s all about priorities, and education will be my #1 priority as Governor.
We will start by cutting corporate welfare and stopping the flow of public dollars to private and charter “schools with no rules” to pump an additional $2 billion into education. From there, we’ll have to take a look at the budget and see what else we can sacrifice to increase our K-12 education budget.
CHRIS KING (D): At the first televised Democratic gubernatorial debate, held at WTVT-TV in Tampa, a number of my opponents were unable to state the amount of money Florida spends on K-12 education each year. I knew the figure because I’m outraged that while 90 percent of children in Florida attend public schools, 90 percent of the attention in Tallahassee goes to everything but public schools.
My “Turning the Tide” plan to reform our state’s broken criminal justice system and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline includes hundreds of millions in new revenues for K-12 education and our state college and university system, which should be free to attend.
We estimate that by reducing mass incarceration of non-violent offenders by 50 percent and legalizing, taxing and regulating the sale of recreational marijuana, the state will generate roughly $1 billion from cost savings and new revenues, about half of which should be invested into Florida public education.
PHILIP LEVINE (D): First and foremost, Florida’s teachers are paid almost $10,000 less than the national average — this is shameful, and a failure to our students. My administration will fight to raise teacher salaries by $10,000 or more. We need to invest in our teachers and our children’s futures.
To do this we’ve identified several revenue sources, some of which can bring new funds into our state’s general revenue fund and others that reprioritize existing spending and tax laws to better reflect the priorities of Floridians — for example we need to require combined reporting for all corporations doing business in our state.
This will work to level the playing field in our tax system and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Also, our plan to legalize recreational marijuana will generate an estimated $600 million annually, which will be used to fund addiction treatment, mental health services, and our public schools.
RON DESANTIS (R): Candidate did not respond.
ADAM PUTNAM (R): Democrats claim education is their number one priority, but they don’t even know how much Florida spends each year on education. They’ve made clear that they’ll put the interests of the teachers’ union above the interests of our children.
For the last eight years, Governor Scott has made historic levels of investment in our state’s public school system. I am committed to continuing this trend and, as Governor, will ensure that Florida schools have the resources necessary to prepare our students for successful careers.
My top priority as governor is to bring vocational and technical education back to middle schools and high schools so that all students have an opportunity to pursue the American Dream. Florida currently spends nearly $2 billion on career training across multiple state agencies (including state colleges). Through consolidating efforts and eliminating duplicative efforts, we have the opportunity to increase funding for these programs within our public schools and state colleges.
Question: How would you revise the state’s energy policy, including such issues as goals for renewable energy and conservation requirements for utilities?
ANDREW GILLUM (D): Rick Scott has been an unmitigated disaster for Florida’s environment and energy innovation. Florida is the Sunshine State — that means we should be the world leader in solar energy production. Unfortunately, while our state ranks third among U.S. states for rooftop solar potential, we’re only 12th for cumulative installed solar capacity.
As Governor, I’ll establish a renewable energy portfolio standard that harnesses all of our potential energy sources, including biomass, wind, solar, and other technologies. I’ll reinvest in the solar energy rebate program that incentivized residential solar installation and created good, clean energy jobs that can’t be outsourced. Meanwhile, our unique waterways are just too important to allow both pollution and inaction to run rampant.
As Governor, I’ll demand that Florida Forever is properly funded at its original levels, ensure that the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir, filtration marshes, and water restoration projects are done right — not done with big industries in mind — I’ll make sure that our nutrient standards are strictly enforced, and I’ll insist that our utilities commit to the energy efficiency and conservation measures that state law requires them to.
GWEN GRAHAM (D): Renewable energy is vitally important to Florida’s future and to fighting climate change. As governor, I will implement a renewable energy standard that makes our state less reliant on fossil fuels and continues President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to transition away from coal.
I will also ensure balance on the Public Service Commission by appointing consumer advocates and commissioners who believe in science. Additionally, I will advocate giving solar and other renewable energy companies a real chance to compete, and will push for changes in the law to facilitate greater investment in renewable energy.
Our state should push for stronger requirements on Florida’s utility companies to reduce the wasteful use of water and power, and to fulfill the need for additional infrastructure to support renewable energy.
JEFF GREENE (D): The first step is to reform the Public Service Commission (PSC). Thanks to the last 20 years of Republican rule, the PSC has been filled with individuals who align with utility companies over rate payers. Over the past few decades, utility companies have received billions of dollars from rate payers to build nuclear plants which have not come to fruition and may not be necessary. I would support incentives to increase solar use in public and private spaces — we are the Sunshine State after all.
Large corporations and governments currently use performance-based contracts to pay for improvements to their HVAC systems, which lowers their utility costs and conserves energy. We ought to look at a program that does this for low-income residents to enable them to make improvements to their homes that are more energy effective over time.
CHRIS KING (D): It is crazy that Massachusetts, a state where it starts to get dark at 3 p.m., is ahead of the Sunshine State in terms of solar energy. Plenty of Democratic politicians talk about harnessing Florida’s status as the sunshine capital of the world and turning us into the “Silicon Valley” for renewable energy, but remain silent on the sugar industry’s influence on setting environmental policy in our state.
Florida’s energy policy should be forward-looking and account for the reality of climate change that is already affecting our communities. We are long past due to institute an aggressive renewable energy standard in Florida — a policy that states ranging from Texas to Ohio to California have implemented.
PHILIP LEVINE (D): My administration will do everything within its power to find innovative ways to transition our state to renewable energy. It’s time we end the chokehold big businesses has on energy and end the anti-competitive policy Florida has adopted in recent years, it hinders progress and holds us back.
We must encourage and incentivize the use of renewable and sustainable energy, and the growth of companies in the clean energy sector. The people of the Tampa Bay area and I are on the same page — solar startups and companies have been popping up in this region at an amazing rate. Groups like the St. Pete Solar Co-op are allowing people to save money and better our environment with renewable energy. Initiatives like these are a model I would look to expand.
I will work with the new Attorney General to establish liability for the costs imposed on the public by the fossil fuel industry. These multinational corporations are culpable for a big share of the damage caused by climate change, and taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for their harm. As Mayor of Miami Beach, our city joined the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 initiative — a pact to move cities toward being 100 percent reliant on renewable energy sources.
As Governor, we will take that statewide and move Florida into the future. Florida will join with California, New York and Washington, many major cities, and progressive U.S. corporations, by pledging to meet the targets set by the Paris Climate Accords — as the federal government turns its back on science, Florida will join the states that are leading on this issue. I will have the courage to stand up to the big utilities by having Florida establish a Renewable Portfolio Standard that puts this state on track to meet those accords.
My administration will explore reinstating Florida’s renewable energy consumer subsidies, requiring Florida’s utility companies to allow virtual net metering and community solar energy. I will mandate power purchase agreements for solar deployment in the State University System and the Florida College System. These agreements will be models for the development of community purchasing mechanisms. As we shift Florida’s energy grid into the 21st century, we will need capable and effective leaders to implement these policies.
My administration will create a Chief Energy Office and a Chief Energy Officer to manage the innovative energy initiatives across the state. The Office will develop a statewide plan to meet its goals under the Paris Accords, grid modernization, study best practices for subsidies, and develop a distributed energy generation plan to reduce the need for new power plants and increase security, an important aspect of resilience.
RON DESANTIS (R): Candidate did not respond.
ADAM PUTNAM (R): While an ‘all of the above’ strategy is vital to our energy security, I’m committed to protecting Florida’s sensitive shorelines, supporting our record-breaking tourism industry and not putting our military training missions in the Eastern Gulf at risk.
As Governor, I will continue to protect our shorelines from oil drilling and work to ensure that Florida keeps the exemption approved by the Trump Administration. Meanwhile, the Democrats want to put Florida families at a disadvantage by imposing a complete renewable economy in our state which would only result in skyrocketing prices.
Question: How would you improve transportation, and what emphasis would you place on investing in mass transit and new technology such as driverless vehicles?
ANDREW GILLUM (D): I don’t believe we’ll be able to asphalt our way out of Florida’s future transportation needs. We need a wholesale shift in thinking when it comes to moving people across our cities and state, including a greater emphasis on light rail and mass transit powered by clean energy sources.
Unlike Rick Scott, I’ll never turn down federal funding to improve our state’s transportation options. While autonomous vehicles offer a glimpse at our transportation future, we need to take a cautious approach that doesn’t risk the lives of innocent Floridians.
GWEN GRAHAM (D): The first step I will take in improving transportation in Florida is to fix our roads, airports, and bridges which are desperately in need of repairs and upgrades. After 20 years of Republican Rule, Florida’s transportation infrastructure is crumbling. We can’t have a 21st century economy without a 21st century infrastructure.
Companies with high-quality high-paying jobs won’t come to Florida until we fix our crippled public transportation system, on which so many hardworking Floridians and their families rely. Florida’s mass transit systems need to be improved not only for the sake of the economy, but also for the sake of safety.
When Hurricane Irma hit Florida last year, our highway and transportation systems were not ready. I listened to evacuees who faced almost 20 hours of traffic driving to North Florida. The Turnpike and interstates turned into parking lots on northbound lanes. Better mass transit options in our state would have made this problem less severe and would have enabled Floridians to reach safety more quickly and effectively.
As governor, I will work with federal, state, and local partners to improve Florida mass transit systems across the board with an emphasis on how those systems can be used to enhance Florida’s hurricane preparedness. As new technologies pertaining to driverless vehicles continue to improve, my administration will study how those technologies can safely be incorporated into Florida’s transportation system.
However, the safety and economic advantage to Floridians will be paramount in this study. Trucking provides 330,000 jobs to Floridians and while driverless vehicles may provide improvements, those improvements must be an improvement to all Floridians — to include those that depend on trucking for their livelihoods.
JEFF GREENE (D): Florida needs to fight for federal transportation dollars, and Republicans simply haven’t been willing to do it. Our state has a tourist economy, and we don’t receive credits in population count for visitors who crowd our roads. Rick Scott gave away money for high-speed rail expansion — I see that as a part of Florida’s future. Florida needs a multi-modal transportation system. Growth management policies push development into more suburban and urban areas, which require cars.
We need to redevelop those policies and encourage redevelopment of urban infill areas that will take people out of cars and put them into mass transportation to cut down on traffic and fuel emissions. When it comes to building new roads, I support public-private partnerships and tolled lanes, as long as they’re converted to high-occupancy vehicle lanes once the work has been paid for.
CHRIS KING (D): In Florida, if you’re wealthy and well connected, our state is a great place to live — but if you’re not, this state can be a tough place to make a living. There’s no clearer example of that than in our state’s broken transportation systems. Florida’s use of express lanes rewards those who can afford to pay more with faster speeds. I’d favor designating express lanes as HOV lanes to encourage carpooling, ride-sharing and public transit to take more cars off the road.
I believe Governor Scott made a huge mistake and our state missed an historic opportunity when he sent away billions of dollars offered by the federal government to build high-speed rail across Florida in 2011. Seven years later, Floridians are still sitting in traffic while other states are reaping the benefits.
PHILIP LEVINE (D): First off, express toll lanes are a 20th-century solution to a problem that is too complicated for them to solve. They are inefficient and inequitable — enabling a fraction of people to pay extra to escape congestion does not get at the underlying cause of the problem. For example, this region struggles with congestion issues that have left residents frustrated for years.
Congestion comes from the fact that we have built out our highway system to the point where it simply cannot handle the volume of traffic. Our cities aren’t linked in an efficient manner, getting from Tampa Bay to Pinellas or Orlando both have their unique challenges. It feels like the I-4 corridor has been under construction for an eternity. Relieving traffic congestion from the Howard Franklin and Gandy bridges will be no easy task, but it’s going to take strategic, deliberate, and immediate action to make any progress.
The transportation system of the future should include intercity, regional and local planning. It should reduce dependence on automobiles, be energy-efficient, and sustainable. Our transportation plans should be updated now in anticipation of autonomous vehicles — this smart technology is coming and Florida should make sure we are prepared to best utilize it while keeping communities safe.
Autonomous vehicles can provide transit across regions, feeding from smaller cities on the fringe of bigger cities to the downtown core or the regional airport. Smaller autonomous vehicles could provide ‘last mile’ transit for short distances — there are many possibilities to integrate this technology and streamline transportation systems. Data from this technology will be utilized to reduce accidents and traffic jams while increasing efficiency — the state has an opportunity to begin with a new “Connect Florida” project to build the data analytics capacity.
With a forward-thinking, 21st century transportation initiative, we can build an autonomous vehicle coordination system that allows autonomous and human-driven vehicles to map their travels in real time so accidents and traffic jams can be greatly reduced. This will allow transportation officials to have real-time data to base solutions on, which will enable Floridians to get where they are going faster and safer. Transportation technology is advancing quickly — soon data will be available from all vehicles, which we can use to modernize our system and improve it. Mileage, speed, and other factors could allow us to base toll costs on road usage, rather than a flat fee.
People who go small distances on toll roads shouldn’t pay the same amount as someone who has put more wear and tear on the road during a long trip. Under Governor Rick Scott, public transportation took a backseat to politics. The decision to not take the federal government up on their funding for high-speed rail was wrong and was made on the basis of partisanship, not on what is best for the people of Florida. As Governor, I’ll be proud to get our state — and our economy — moving again with real transit infrastructure solutions. This is an important opportunity for our state to modernize and take a forward-thinking approach to make innovative progress on transportation solutions.
Our transportation infrastructure ties directly into our state economy and the health of our environment. Constant construction can hurt local economies — an issue we’re currently seeing that is hampering small businesses on Flagler Street in Miami-Dade County. Not investing in mass transit options and building more and more roads, leads to more cars, which means more traffic and emissions — this isn’t a sustainable or responsible long-term approach to life in the sunshine state.
RON DESANTIS (R): Candidate did not respond.
ADAM PUTNAM (R): Florida has led the way in infrastructure investment over the last eight years, but there remains more to be done. With more than 1,000 new people moving to Florida every day and more than 120 million visitors each year, our state’s transportation network is being placed under ever-increasing demands. Florida needs a Governor who recognizes the challenges facing Florida. I know Florida best, and I will always put Florida first.
As Governor, I’ll invest in our state’s transportation infrastructure so that our economy can keep moving. This requires a broad approach that includes investing in our seaports, airports, rails and roadways. We must also remain flexible in our transportation planning, adapt to changing technologies and meet the needs of each region, from our rural regions to our urban cores.
Question: How would you reform the state’s tax system?
ANDREW GILLUM (D): Florida’s tax structure has meant that while working families pay their fair share, the richest corporations pay little or nothing towards our state’s prosperity. Ninety percent of Florida businesses pay no corporate income tax, and those that do pay too little.
Our corporate tax rate is lower than bordering states like Georgia and Alabama. My “Fair Share for Florida’s Future” plan will adjust the state’s corporate tax rate from 5.5 percent to 7.75 percent, a rate competitive with neighboring states. This will generate at least $1 billion for investment into our state’s most worthy priorities — because I don’t believe we become a great place to do business by being the cheapest date.
We’ll attract more top-tier companies by investing in our workforce and a strong quality of life for their employees like better schools and highways.
GWEN GRAHAM (D): First, one important step in maximizing the tax revenue that Florida already receives is to minimize needless pet projects on which Tallahassee politicians waste tax dollars.
As governor, I’ll push back against these pet projects, banish the special interests, and work with the Legislature to restore our promise to public schools, protect our environment, and build an economy that works for every Floridian.
Second, we must ensure that the Florida Department of Revenue is led by the best and brightest. The department has serious problems that must also be addressed in order to efficiently maximize Florida’s tax revenue policies, and it should be staffed by the very best tax experts that Florida has to offer. Yet under Rick Scott it has become filled by unqualified and inexperienced political appointees. These sort of games will end when I am governor.
Third, we need to completely review private vendor state contracts. In 2016, the Florida Government Efficiency Task Force reported that state contracts with private vendors waste $1.4 billion yearly. As governor, I will direct my administration to review these contracts and renegotiate or cancel any contract that demonstrate waste, inefficiency, or favoritism.
Finally, a recent Supreme Court ruling has determined that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes. This ruling will help provide fairness to brick-and mortar businesses, and could also enhance revenue by an estimated $200 million annually -- funds that could be used to improve the lives of everyday Floridians.
JEFF GREENE (D): Over the past 20 years of Republican governors, the state has repeatedly cut corporate taxes — to the detriment of our social services and public education systems. We have less revenue to do some of the things that are the most important for Florida’s children and families, including public education and workforce training.
As a result, we’re left with a low-wage, low-skill economy and limited ability to succeed in a global marketplace. Republicans have cut taxes but increased fees in emergency situations. We need to stop corporate tax cuts and reprioritize how we spend our public dollars to best serve the people of Florida.
CHRIS KING (D): We should recognize that Florida has benefited from its low-tax environment, but I’m concerned that many of the large corporations doing business in Florida aren’t paying their fair share by avoiding the corporate income tax. We should close all of the loopholes allowing companies to skip out on paying it, and I’ll be unafraid to stand up to the special interests impeding our progress.
PHILIP LEVINE (D): It’s time to level the playing field for all Floridians. For too long, corporations have taken advantage of tax laws to essentially avoid paying state taxes — paying fewer taxes than the ordinary family. As Governor, I will strenuously push to institute combined reporting, where corporations would have to pay their fair share if they do business in the state of Florida.
That alone can account for hundreds of millions in annual revenue for the state that we have lost out on year after year. My administration will also end any giveaways to special interests in Florida’s tax structure — we currently have one of the most regressive tax systems in the country, where the many pay far more of their income towards state and local taxes than the wealthiest few. That too will change.
RON DESANTIS (R): Candidate did not respond.
ADAM PUTNAM (R): Under the leadership of Governor Rick Scott, we’ve balanced our budget and we’ve cut taxes every year. We can’t let Democrats reverse Governor Scott’s successful efforts to foster job creation, reduce red tape and slash taxes. I believe that Floridians — not the government — know best how to use their money.
When I’m Governor, I will continue Governor Scott’s legacy in cutting taxes and fees on Florida families and Florida businesses so that Floridians can keep more of their hard-earned money. That’s why I am the first candidate in the race for Florida Governor to sign the Americans for Tax Reform Pledge, pledging to Florida taxpayers that I will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes when I am Governor of Florida.
Question: How would you expand access to healthcare?
ANDREW GILLUM (D): I believe that access to quality, affordable healthcare is a fundamental right, not a privilege. But Rick Scott, Donald Trump, and Republican lawmakers have threatened that access for more than 1 million Floridians with ACA coverage — and blocked it for 1 million more who need Medicaid expansion. While I believe that Medicare For All should be our goal as a nation, I’m also the only candidate to propose a comprehensive set of healthcare policies that will protect Floridians’ care.
As Governor, we’ll work to pass the nation’s strongest protections for those with pre-existing conditions, ensure that women aren’t charged more for coverage than men, and protect access to no-cost contraception for women. No Floridian should face the inhumane choice between bankruptcy and healthcare.
GWEN GRAHAM (D): Healthcare issues are personal to me. I experienced how difficult it is to go through a health crisis when my husband, Steve, was diagnosed with stage-four prostate cancer. We met with doctors, attended chemo treatments and faced the physical and emotional challenges, together. Today, Steve is in full remission — and I’m fighting to make sure every Floridian has affordable access to insurance, healthcare, and positive outcomes. In order to expand access to healthcare, Florida must take Medicaid expansion — and I will do that when I am governor.
People are dying because Rick Scott has refused to expand Medicaid in our state. If the Legislature refuses to expand Medicaid, I will take the issue to the people through a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. As governor, I will also work to protect and advocate for Obamacare as I did when I was a member of Congress. Now that the federal government has walked away from Obamacare outreach, I will lead as Governor to make sure Floridians know their rights and opportunities under the Affordable Care Act.
Additionally, I will support a public option in our state so Floridians can buy into the same healthcare coverage to which Tallahassee politicians have access. I will also take steps to make healthcare more affordable by minimizing premium increases. I will work with the Legislature to pursue these healthcare priorities — and if they won’t, I will veto their priorities until they are willing to listen to the priorities of everyday Floridians.
JEFF GREENE (D): I have a 5-point plan to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for Floridians:
1. NEGOTIATE LOWER HEALTHCARE COSTS — I will use the billions of dollars of purchasing power of the State of Florida to negotiate lower healthcare costs and higher quality healthcare.
2. FULLY FUND MEDICAID — I will ensure Florida fully funds Medicaid, and expands it to cover more than 700,000 Floridians who currently can’t afford the care their families need.
3. CREATE A STATE INSURANCE EXCHANGE — Florida is one of 28 states without its own insurance exchange, which would give Floridians better health insurance choices at better prices.
4. EXPAND HEALTH INSURANCE OPTIONS — Florida ranks 5th to last in the percentage of state residents with health insurance. I will expand options for low-cost, high value plans.
5. ADVOCATE FOR LOWER PRESCRIPTION COSTS — As Governor, I will be a strong voice advocating to allow Floridians to purchase prescriptions from Canada, allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug costs, and end prescription advertising which increases costs.
CHRIS KING (D): Medicaid expansion is the biggest idea on the table and it’s unacceptable that the governor and Florida Legislature haven’t been able to get it done. We have 2.6 million people in Florida without access to a doctor who knows their name — it’s shameful and wrong.
We have got to expand Medicaid in Florida to give upwards of a million Floridians access to quality, affordable healthcare while standing up to GOP-led efforts to sabotage the private health insurance exchanges. When it comes to fighting opioid and prescription drug abuse and the scourge of mental illness, Medicaid expansion would provide addiction and mental health services to more than 300,000 Floridians who desperately need it.
PHILIP LEVINE (D): In Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties about 15 percent of people are uninsured — I think it’s time to start treating access to affordable, quality healthcare as a right for all Floridians. Expanding Medicaid in Florida is not a question of if — it’s a question of when.
My administration will compel the legislature to expand Medicaid in Florida — when thousands of people are dying on wait lists and millions can’t access the healthcare they need, we must take action immediately and deliver results. And if they refuse to act and do the right thing, the people will govern — we will put the full weight of the Governor’s Office behind a constitutional amendment to expand Medicaid and take care of Floridians. On both a fiscal and a moral level, this is the right thing to do.
By expanding Medicaid, we can also work to cut down waiting lists that have led thousands of Floridians to suffer in limbo, not knowing whether or not they’ll get the care they need. Doing the right thing is also the wisest action to take — just by itself, Medicaid expansion is estimated to save the state of Florida approximately $500 million annually. Additionally, my administration will put a priority on investing into community health centers and increasing funding for the two programs with wait lists — APD’s Developmentally Disabled Waiver Program and AHCA’s Managed Long Term Care Waiver Program.
One particular revenue stream will come from an additional $300 million per year, which will come via a comprehensive, forward-thinking plan for the legalization of recreational marijuana. By investing in the health of Florida’s working families, we will create a state that is more attractive for business, creating more economic opportunity and more good-paying jobs. This, in turn, will translate into more people with better healthcare coverage.
RON DESANTIS (R): Candidate did not respond.
ADAM PUTNAM (R): Floridians are worse off under Obamacare, choices have gone down, and costs have gone up. In Florida, over 40 counties only have access to one insurance provider through the exchange, and one-third of our state’s budget is now spent on Medicaid.
One in five Floridians are already on Medicaid. It is intended to be a safety net for those who have no other option — not a long-term solution for healthcare. The best thing we can do to increase Floridians’ access to high quality healthcare is to help them get a job. This is why I rolled out my Florida Jobs First Agenda that focuses on putting vocational and technical education back into our middle schools and high schools and investing in our state college system so that all students have the opportunity to get the skills needed to find rewarding careers.
As Governor, I will be focused on bringing costs of healthcare down while expanding choices for consumers, including our growing population of seniors. I will also make it a priority to foster pro-growth policies that will allow Florida business to create new jobs and offer high-quality healthcare to their employees.
Question: What are your priorities for improving the state’s public universities?
ANDREW GILLUM (D): While we’re all proud to see many of Florida’s universities rising in national rankings, some disparities exist in how we allocate resources among our institutions of higher learning. The current funding system unfairly punishes several universities, including our state’s only institution dedicated to educating people of color.
All state universities should have improvements measured against their own performance, not by a one-size-fits-all formula that harms those universities’ students and teachers. I also believe that anyone willing to commit four years of employment in our state should be able to achieve a debt-free college education.
GWEN GRAHAM (D): My priorities in improving our state’s public universities are keeping tuition low, fully funding need-based assistance programs, supporting Florida’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and encouraging more partnerships between the companies looking to hire Florida students, and the universities who will educate them.
Our economy is dependent on universities that turn out world class students and we must support our universities with better resources and policies that empower them to educate the future leaders of our state.
JEFF GREENE (D): There is no reason why a state as large as Florida with a $78 billion state budget does not have some of the top law, business, and medical schools in the nation. We have strong public universities, but I know we can continue to improve our higher education system to be one of the very best in the country.
One way Florida can improve our state universities is by hiring the best administrators for the job, versus the current system of political patronage. Our universities graduate the leaders of tomorrow, and I am fully committed to working toward creating one of the best public education systems in the country.
CHRIS KING (D): Investing in public education means not only focusing on K-12 education, but also boosting funding to state colleges and universities. We have an affordable living crisis in Florida, where the costs of housing, healthcare and education keep rising but wages are staying flat.
We should make community college and public trade schools free to attend. From Tennessee to New York to Maryland, other states are investing in tuition-free higher education to lower costs, raise wages and develop their workforces — and doing it with Republican support, too.
PHILIP LEVINE (D): College is one of the greatest pathways into the middle class and it has historically been the greatest determinant of economic mobility. For those who earn a degree from one of our institutions of higher learning, we should offer a scholarship if they pledge to stay in Florida and contribute to the local economy.
To keep tuition low, I’ll urge our legislature to fund our universities at the necessary levels, so no one is priced out of an opportunity for a better life. Successful development of vital state economies always involves major research universities as core resources. When investing in higher education, we invest in research and development that furthers scientific breakthroughs, attracts the best and brightest, and can help move our economy into the 21st century.
However, college is not the answer for everyone and it isn’t the only route towards success. We need to invest in our community college system — one of the strongest in the nation — as well as vocational training and apprenticeship programs. Through this we can build our state into a state of upward mobility, where everyone has a fair shot at the American dream. In addition, I believe more local control should be taken into account for our universities.
For example, with the recent issue of USF campus consolidation, our Board of Governors should work closer with local leaders in the community and not look to Tallahassee for the answer.
RON DESANTIS (R): Candidate did not respond.
ADAM PUTNAM (R): Florida has a world-class university system thanks to the investment and the hard work of Governor Scott and the Legislature. Our state university system is an economic engine that has played a role in driving our state’s growth, creating new industries and preparing students for successful careers.
As Governor, I will build on this success by focusing on improving our universities’ standings across the nation so that we can compete with states like California and Texas — and win. We must invest in our universities in order to propel them to new heights.
This means having a Florida university ranked in the Top 5 in the nation, another in the Top 10, and adding a second university to the prestigious Association of American Universities, which recognizes the top research universities in the nation. It also means recognizing the unique capabilities and missions of each of the state’s 12 universities and creating performance standards that hold them accountable to taxpayers while comparing each Florida university to peer universities across the country.
Question: How would you reform the criminal justice system?
ANDREW GILLUM (D): People make mistakes every day, sometimes serious ones — and when they pay their debt to society, they should be given a second chance. But Rick Scott and this Republican cabinet have created barriers to positive re-entry and kept Floridians from being full participants in our society.
As Mayor, I “banned the box” — [a decision] that helped former offenders find employment — invested in restorative justice programs that helped reduce recidivism in at-risk communities by 90 percent, and implemented community policing to build trust between citizens and law enforcement. My actions have paid off, with Tallahassee at its lowest crime rate in five years. As Governor, I’ll push to legalize marijuana, generating new revenue for our state and reducing the mass incarceration of people over low-level offenses.
We’ll reform our bail system so that we stop disenfranchising people of lower economic means, and work with the legislature to find common ground on minimum sentencing reforms. And my first priority as Governor will be appointing three new Supreme Court justices who share the values of this state, and I’ll appoint diverse, qualified judges who represent the breadth and depth of people in this state.
GWEN GRAHAM (D): I will implement a comprehensive criminal justice plan that addresses nine major policy areas to combat injustice, ensure equality and decrease Florida’s inmate population. For too long, the politicians in Tallahassee have ignored the inequity and pervasive prejudice in Florida’s criminal justice system. While they’ve failed to act, Floridians have been hurt by mass incarceration, increasing costs and devastating cuts.
We face a crisis today and cannot afford to continue with the status quo. As governor, I will fight for impactful progressive policies that can pass the legislature with bipartisan support. Ineffective drug laws, unfair minimum-sentencing punishments, and archaic bail policies systematically hit communities of color and poor Floridians hardest.
Working in the criminal justice system and with rehabilitation groups, I have seen firsthand that we can reduce inequality, give citizens second chances and make our state safer. This is an area Democrats and Republicans agree we can take progressive action — and, as governor, I will lead them in passing these reforms. I am the only candidate for governor with a plan that addresses juvenile justice reforms.
My proposal requires that each state attorney’s office conducts a review process before a juvenile can be charged as an adult, limits adult charges for juvenile offenders to those with past felony delinquency or charged with violent felonies, and makes it easier for youth offenders to expunge criminal records.
JEFF GREENE (D): Our criminal justice system is broken. Our recidivism rate is 1 in 4, and Florida jails and prisons currently incarcerate more than 150,000 people. First and foremost, Florida must restore the voting rights of those who have served their time and want to be productive, voting members of society, and immediately repeal dangerous Stand Your Ground Laws — which are tantamount to legalized murder. I will fight to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, reform the unfair bail system, and appoint judges who represent Florida’s diverse communities.
I vow to eliminate private prisons from the state of Florida, who have no incentive for rehabilitation. I support decriminalization of marijuana, expanded use of civil citations for low-level, non-violent crimes, and strengthening reentry programs to decrease chances of recidivism. Strengthening public schools and job training will also help strengthen communities and divert crime — and we need to stop criminalizing addiction, and expand access to treatment for those who need it.
CHRIS KING (D): I’ve laid out a bold and progressive plan to end Florida’s culture of overcriminalization and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. I rolled out my “Turning the Tide” plan to reform Florida’s broken criminal justice system in Pinellas County, where you are six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use if you are black than if you are white.
I’ve proposed reducing mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders by 50 percent over 10 years, restoring voting rights, ending private prisons and the death penalty, legalizing, taxing and regulating recreational marijuana, and investing roughly $1 billion into K-12 education, state colleges and universities, the justice system and corrections, and early child development programs.
PHILIP LEVINE (D): The school-to-prison pipeline is very real in Florida — the only way to move forward is through creating a stronger PreK-12 public school system and building economic development and opportunity partnership programs that allow our kids a chance to be successful. It starts with investing in our public schools and paying extra attention to communities that are struggling.
Right here in Pinellas, as highlighted in the ‘hot wheels’ piece, your community is dealing with a difficult problem of middle and high-school students stealing cars at an alarming rate. This is a multi-faceted issue, rooted in several causes. Solving the problem can’t be done with a single action but it starts with taking action to address the problem on the front-end with input from the entire community.
On top of that we must work hand-in-hand with local governments to build apprenticeship courses and career technical training programs to help students learn skills that will allow them to earn high-wage jobs. We must create opportunities in every part of our state and that starts by investing in every community. Fixing Florida’s criminal justice system is not a simple task and it can’t be done with one approach.
As Governor, I will ensure our justice system is led by experts, people passionate and impatient about solving these problems, who will take action and implement the most effective and innovative approaches to deliver results. To take effective action and reduce Florida’s prison population I would do the exact opposite of what Governor Scott is doing right now — I would fully fund and prioritize substance abuse and mental health programs for inmates.
Too many in prison need treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues and our corrections system isn’t functioning to achieve its main goal — to rehabilitate individuals and reintegrate them into society. I would also move to oversee the release of non-violent, aging inmates who are driving up costs — many of these offenders pose no threat to our communities and release could free up to $80 million annually in our corrections budget.
We must empower Florida’s judges with the agency to depart from mandatory minimums, especially on non-violent, small-scale possession drug crime. Further, I would build on the work of Representative David Richardson, who exposed rampant amounts of fraud and abuse in private prisons. These contractors are required, by law, to save the state money — if they aren’t meeting their requirements, and are failing to deliver on their services, the contracts would be immediately terminated under my administration.
RON DESANTIS (R): Candidate did not respond.
ADAM PUTNAM (R): Democrats want Florida to become a sanctuary state and reverse the policies that have made Florida’s 47-year decline in crime possible; that won’t happen in a Putnam Administration. I am the only candidate in this race who has detailed a plan to secure our borders and put a stop to spending nearly $100 million a year on criminal illegal aliens.
We must continue to stand by the laws that have helped drive Florida to historically low crime rates. As Governor, I will support law enforcement officers, increase penalties on drug traffickers that are fueling the opioid epidemic, and ensure maximum penalties for violent felons and repeat offenders.
I am proud to have the endorsements of 45 Florida Sheriffs, including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee and Sarasota counties, the Florida Fraternal Order of Police, the Police Benevolent Association and Florida Professional Firefighters. These brave men and women have endorsed me because they know I will always put Floridians’ safety first.
Question: How would you diversify Florida’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism, agriculture and construction?
ANDREW GILLUM (D): Nearly half of Florida’s families struggle to make ends meet. I know what it’s like to have your parents choose which bills to pay before services get cut off. Our state’s devastating income inequality forces families to live paycheck to paycheck, because our economy isn’t built for everyone to succeed. As Mayor, I’ve presided over Florida’s fastest-growing local economy, President Obama named Tallahassee a TechHire city for our commitment to training workers, and we eliminated our local business tax, saving businesses $2 million annually.
I believe the way forward for Florida’s economy starts with ensuring workers get the vocational and technical training they need for good jobs, attracting those good jobs by investing in our state’s schools and infrastructure, and embracing technology — from ride-sharing and home-sharing to renewable energy production — that will remake Florida into an innovation economy that works for all.
GWEN GRAHAM (D): I believe that we must diversify Florida’s economy to complement our tourism and agriculture industries, with new jobs in technology and robotics, solar energy, and healthcare. We must build an economy with jobs that will keep our children and grandchildren living and working in our communities.
We should also lean into our home as a gateway to Latin America, by not only continuing to improve our ports, but also to encourage greater economic ties with countries throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America. Simple diversity among industries will not be enough to strengthen Florida’s economy, however.
We must also implement common-sense ideas that other states have already done, like raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave to workers. We must also invest in Florida’s infrastructure — improving our roads, bridges, mass transit and other infrastructure to relieve our congested highways, improve our quality of life, and attract new businesses to our state.
JEFF GREENE (D): It all comes back to education. I pledge to transform Florida’s public schools, ensure two years of Pre-Kindergarten for every 3-and-4-year-old in the state, and provide a world-class education to every student — regardless of their zip code or the size of their parents’ paycheck.
This works in two ways: 1. Education is the foundation for lifelong success, and with the ever-changing global economy, Florida’s children need to be able to compete. 2. When companies that pay higher wages are considering where they’ll open new offices or operations, one of the first things they look at is the quality of the schools.
Right now, Florida just doesn’t cut it; we’re seeing a lot of new jobs, but they’re low-wage, low-skill jobs. I’ll also expand workforce training to ensure everyone is able to find a job that helps them make a good living, even if their path doesn’t lead them to a college or university.
CHRIS KING (D): This is one of my biggest frustrations with Florida’s economy. For decades, we’ve been talking about how we’re a low-wage state with an overreliance on a few large industries — and today in Florida, roughly half of our state’s jobs pay less than $15 an hour.
This is a question of the state’s priorities. We have relied far too heavily on incentive packages and artificial sweeteners to lure large, out-of-state companies to move into Florida and set up satellite offices with low-paying jobs. We should be investing in homegrown businesses that pay Floridians good wages and keep profits in our state, rather than investing in companies sending profits out-of-state. We can start by offering free community college and trade school to increase opportunity for every Floridian and raise their wages.
Additionally, the state should increase its funding of the Florida Small Business Development Center Network, which uses state, federal and private funding to help Florida entrepreneurs and small business owners create, retain and save tens of thousands of desirable jobs. Finally, we should provide small businesses and entrepreneurs with access to capital and I will look to encourage programs like StartUP FIU, Tech Runway at FAU and the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research.
PHILIP LEVINE (D): To diversify Florida’s economy, the answer isn’t bribing out of state companies with tax incentives — we need to foster a culture of excellence and it starts with growing and investing. If elected, I’d bring my business experience to Tallahassee, enacting a jobs plan that values quality over quantity.
After all, what good is low unemployment if the majority of jobs are part-time minimum wage positions that have people living paycheck-to-paycheck? We have an enormous opportunity to build a 21st century economy by investing in the aerospace industry, renewable energy, and high-tech innovation.
These jobs will need to be filled with skilled workers — whether from universities or vocational training programs — the investments we make now into education to develop the workforce and pay off huge in the future. With the proper investments, all of our colleges and universities can have innovation zones that serve as entrepreneurial hubs and power our local economies — USF & UT are already leaders in the startup scene; we must empower them to do more.
Partnerships like these will diversify our economy while allowing us to develop the jobs of the future. Our Space Coast can truly be the new Silicon Valley and anywhere there is sunshine in our state, there is an area where the solar industry can make a difference — reducing our dependence on fossil fuels while providing folks with good-paying jobs. As Governor, we’ll get it done and move our state into a 21st century economy.
RON DESANTIS (R): Candidate did not respond.
ADAM PUTNAM (R): My number one priority as Governor is to strengthen workforce training so that every Floridian has the skills they need to pursue good paying careers and find their piece of the American Dream right here in Florida. I’m going to put vocational, career and technical education back in to middle schools and high schools.
That’s why I’ve laid out my “Florida Jobs First Agenda,” which will enhance career training by partnering businesses with career training programs to ensure curriculum is designed to prepare students for real jobs and modernize vocational education programs to include 21st century skills like coding and advanced manufacturing.
We will build apprenticeship programs so students can “earn while they learn” the trades that lead to good-paying careers and empower schools to create curriculums that are locally tailored so that school districts produce graduates who are ready to enter the workforce. We need to give our students the skills to pursue good paying careers before pressuring them into student loan debt for a degree they don’t want and can’t use.
Name two policy areas where you agree with the opposite political party in Tallahassee.
ANDREW GILLUM (D): I believe that both parties share a commitment to our state’s veterans; this is critical, as Florida is home to more than 1.5 million veterans, the third-largest population in America. I also share their commitment to vocational training, because higher education isn’t for everyone. Our high school students should graduate ready for college or a career.
GWEN GRAHAM (D): While I have serious differences with Republican leaders in Tallahassee, I believe in working across party lines to achieve progress that benefits Florida families. Finding common ground has long been one of my top priorities. As chief negotiator for the Leon County School District, I worked side-by-side with union leaders to craft fair contracts that benefited our students, public schools and teachers — as well as paraprofessionals and support staff.
As a member of Congress, I worked with Democrats and Republicans to craft bipartisan solutions. Throughout my career I have been a bridge builder, and I will continue to be one when I am governor. While there are many policy areas where I disagree with Republicans in Tallahassee, I hope we can find initial consensus on the need to improve our education system, boost Florida’s economy and ensure fiscal responsibility in spending Florida tax dollars.
Unfortunately, while Florida Republicans talk at length about these policy areas, they rarely implement sound policy. The actions of Republicans in Tallahassee have too often prioritized corporations and special interests over everyday Floridians who are struggling to make ends meet. My goal as Governor will be to make sure results match rhetoric.
JEFF GREENE (D): While many of our values and ideas may be different, I have found common ground with the Republicans in Tallahassee who have prioritized workforce training and trade schools, and raise the minimum age for gun purchases to 21.
CHRIS KING (D): While I vehemently disagree with their efforts to arm teachers and school staff, I supported the Florida Legislature’s moves to ban bump stocks and raise the age limit on purchasing rifles to 21. I also believe we can find common ground with Republicans on passing the Florida Competitive Workforce Act to end LGBT discrimination in public accommodation and I’ve pledged to sign it into law in my first session.
PHILIP LEVINE (D): A staple of criticism Republicans have lodged against Democrats over the years has been over-reliance on regulation as a means of solving complex problems. To an extent, I agree.
The answer, however, is not to give up governance all together and to turn everything over to a market in policy domains, where true markets do not exist, or the market fails without any governance. So, we need to establish constant reviews of existing regulations, not necessarily to get rid of them, but to evaluate whether or not they are achieving their goals.
We also need to establish flexible democratic governance for common pool resource management where the state establishes hard targets for what outcomes locals need to hit, but enable them to use democratic processes to get there — local government shouldn’t be preempted, we should build a stronger partnership with community leaders to move forward. In recent years, some Republicans have been pushing for criminal justice reform — this is an issue that action is way past due on, it needs to happen immediately.
RON DESANTIS (R): Candidate did not respond.
ADAM PUTNAM (R): Candidate did not respond.