Op-Ed

We stand by our ad: Gwen Graham is not a progressive candidate

Former Rep. Gwen Graham is running for governor.
Former Rep. Gwen Graham is running for governor. via Getty Images

Last week, The Collective Super PAC launched an ad campaign in a few Florida markets to educate voters on democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham’s voting record while serving in Congress. Instead of responding to the content of the advertisement, Graham and establishment Democrats spent an entire week attacking my organization for highlighting her conservative voting record and her choice to stand with GOP leaders over President Obama.

Graham falsely labeled our organization a “dark” money group even though The Collective Super PAC reports its contributions and expenditures monthly to the Federal Elections Commission. All 13,000 individual contributions from more than 6,000 individuals can be found at FEC.gov. A host of groups of similar size and structure have worked on behalf of Gwen Graham throughout her career and were given a hospitable welcome. Now, because we’re simply seeking accountability, we’re being accused of doing something suspicious, illegal or unethical.

We launched The Collective in 2016 to be the “Emily’s List” for progressive black candidates. We recruit, train and fund candidates who we believe in because, for so long, there has been a lack of institutional support for black candidates from start to finish. To date, we’ve helped elect 24 African Americans to public office, including leaders such as U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Florida, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California. We’ve gotten financial support from groups such as Planned Parenthood Action Fund, MoveOn, Onward Together and Priorities USA Action. We are not a shadow group conducting shady business. We are only seeking to educate Floridians on the truth about Graham.

And in true fashion —and during the same week no less — Graham has proven us right: She is considering standing with a Republican in 2018. Politico reports that, “Graham is considering Republican David Jolly as a Florida gubernatorial running mate.” It boggles the mind that she would even contemplate choosing a GOP running mate in the midst of a Democratic primary, but this is exactly what our advertisement points to — Graham is not the progressive she claims to be.

Instead of launching baseless attacks on our organization, Graham and her allies should inform Floridians why she stood against President Obama 52 percent of the time, why she trashed Obamacare, why she voted with the big banks, why she voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline — twice — and why she’s considering a Republican running mate?

As expected, The Collective Super PAC is being held to a different standard than others — an all-too-familiar reality facing African-American political candidates and organizations that support them. Some would have you to believe Graham is a victim in this situation and that she deserves support because of her biography, her family’s political legacy or her ability to be bipartisan.

But I’d ask you to remember that Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is the son of a bus driver and a construction worker who’s the first in his family to graduate from college. As a progressive leader he’s stood up to and beat the NRA. He has a plan to fix teacher pay and build and economy that works for all Floridians, and he won’t compromise our values to appeal to those who put profit over our collective wellbeing. Most important, Gillum knows math.

Florida Democrats have a 250,000+ person voter registration advantage against Republicans, and the last gubernatorial election was decided by fewer than 65,000 votes. While we support bipartisanship, Democrats need an inspiring, progressive champion as the gubernatorial nominee this fall. And we don’t believe an inspiring, progressive champion would have voted against President Obama 52 percenet of the time while in Congress.

Floridians are in a unique position to change the political landscape this campaign season. That includes the possibility of electing the state's first African-American governor and attorney general, flipping key congressional seats including Florida districts 18 and 27, re-electing Sen. Bill Nelson to the U.S. Senate and restoring voting rights to residents who have served their time.

There is a lot at stake, and Florida Democrats must nominate someone who will inspire the base to vote in November. I believe Gillum is that choice, and The Collective Super PAC will unapologetically use every tool at its disposal to help him win the Democratic nomination and be elected governor in November.

Quentin James is founder and executive director of The Collective Super PAC.

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