This Democratic state Senate primary is an unfriendly affair

Andrew Korge and Dwight Bullard
Andrew Korge and Dwight Bullard

Dwight Bullard and Andrew Korge are both Democrats, but their primary election has the elements of a bitter partisan fight.

Bullard, an incumbent state senator running in a new district, accused Korge of offering him $25,000 to switch to a different Senate race. The state attorney’s office opened an investigation into the allegations. Former Republican state representative and school board member Ana Rivas Logan entered the race as a Democrat in May and dropped out about a month later, citing a need to take care of her parents and a disdain for “in-the-gutter” campaign tactics.

Bullard recently met with the state attorney’s office regarding the alleged offer of payment and said the exchange was “very candid and very open.”

“I know that Mr. Korge’s reactions have been that I’m making this stuff up and keeping it in the media to stir the pot,” Bullard said. “I’m not stupid in the sense of wanting to endanger my livelihood and reputation to disparage another person for political gain.”

In a statement to the Miami Herald, Korge said: “I unequivocally deny the accusation that I offered Dwight Bullard $25,000 cash.”

In a subsequent interview, Korge added: “Dwight solicited me, it is very clear, there is clear record of that. It’s a sophisticated political attack he’s employing because he thinks it’s the only way he can win.”

Bullard denies asking Korge for money to switch districts.

Korge is raising serious money in the race, nearly $350,000 since the beginning of 2015, while Bullard has raised just over $85,000 in the same period.

“One of the interesting things is that he’s always framed himself as a true progressive,” Bullard said of Korge. “If our ideologies shape up similarly then what context do you have for running?”

Korge didn’t attack Bullard on ideology but said that the incumbent “technically hasn’t gotten anything done in eight years.”

“If I haven’t done anything in eight years I’ll retire,” Korge said.

The candidates

Korge, who works in real estate but considers himself “an entrepreneur at heart,” helped to build three organizations that trained young progressive leaders: Gen44, Florida New Leaders Council and the Millennial Action Project .

He says that the Democratic Party needs to do a better job of building candidates.

“Start young people early like [Republicans] did with [U.S. Sen. Marco] Rubio,” Korge said. “It’s a perfect case study, there’s 410 municipalities. We should be recruiting candidates to run at the municipal level. We need a 21st century platform that can relate to people in Miami and Jacksonville.”

Korge, the son of Hillary Clinton fundraiser Chris Korge, says that his experience working on the Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns showed him that Tallahassee needs to invest in entrepreneurship in an era of increased automation.

“We need to invest in incubators, high-speed fiber optic cables,” Korge said. “I believe if I had a golden ticket to pass legislation I’d pass after-school programs for all children where they learn things like coding, robotics, financial literacy and civics.”

Bullard, a teacher at Coral Reef High School, has served in the state Senate since 2012 after four years in the state House. He says his record in office and work in public schools gives him a unique perspective in Tallahassee.

“My take on education isn’t just based on what the teachers’ union is telling me, or what the school reform crowd is trying to get promoted,” Bullard said. “The voucher program we have set up in the state is undermining education.”

Bullard, who is black, says that ending the mass incarceration of young black and Hispanic males and reforming the criminal justice system is the other major component of his work in Tallahassee. He argues that legalizing marijuana for medical and personal use will lead to fewer people in prison.

“The reality is one in four black men have or will be involved with the penal system in the state of Florida,” Bullard said. “It’s happening to people who look like me.”

Bullard says his experience serving majority-minority communities like Overtown and Liberty City in his current district will make him a better senator in District 40. The newly redrawn district in central Miami-Dade is compact, densely populated and majority Hispanic. Florida’s Turnpike runs through the middle of the Kendall-based district.

Missalys Perez, a Hialeah resident, is also on the ballot in the Democratic primary. She did not respond to a request for an interview and is not actively fundraising.

The winner of the Aug. 30 primary will take on Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles and no-party candidate Mario Jimenez in the general election.