I know socialism all too well. On Christmas Eve 1964, my family and I were forced to leave Cuba. We arrived in Mexico as undocumented immigrants and eventually moved to the United States where I became a member of the Republican Party.
On Nov. 6, Florida faces a stark choice in the gubernatorial election. Republican Ron DeSantis, the candidate of my traditional party, is deliberately misleading voters by calling Mayor Andrew Gillum a socialist. That’s a false accusation.
This tired dog whistle is only the latest sign of disrespect from a Republican Party that I no longer recognize. It has strayed far from the “compassionate conservatism” it used to preach. From separating children from their parents at the border to DeSantis’ shameful commercial teaching his own child to “build a wall,” the new Republican Party of Donald Trump and DeSantis has continued to show its disrespect for our community.
We will not fall for their scare tactics.
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Andrew Gillum is not a socialist. To exploit our suffering is an insult to the countless people in Florida who fled socialist regimes and brutal dictatorships.
The truth is that Gillum, as the son of a school bus driver and construction worker and the first in his family to graduate college, has much more in common with our story than DeSantis ever will. In fact, his story is very similar to my own.
Coming of age in the United States, I studied hard and worked every day after school. I joined the military. After my service I began a career as a door-to-door insurance salesman. Since then, I have started and acquired 27 companies. I have succeeded in America beyond my wildest dreams. These companies have created thousands of jobs, and I am proud to have contributed more than $100 million to benefit children’s education and healthcare.
As a successful businessman, I can tell you that Andrew Gillum is the better choice in the upcoming election. Under Gillum’s leadership, Tallahassee has one of the the fastest growing economies per capita of any Florida city. With Gillum as mayor, Tallahassee was the first city in the state to eliminate a local business tax, allowing businesses to grow, invest and thrive. Bottom line? Job growth is up, and crime is at a five-year low in Gillum’s city.
Meanwhile, in my native Cuba, a military dictatorship created a socialist economy with disastrous results for my family and the millions of others trapped on the island. I know what socialism is and so do the countless Floridians who have found refuge in our state from repressive and violent regimes.
If DeSantis is worried about socialist dictatorships, then he should look no further than Donald Trump, the man who propelled him to victory in the primary, a leader who attacks the press, threatens to jail critics, and admires dictators like Vladimir Putin.
DeSantis may be Trump’s pick for governor, but not mine. This lifelong Republican is voting for Andrew Gillum.
I support Gillum because his plans for affordable healthcare, a great education for every child, good-paying jobs and opportunity for everyone are the pillars of the American Dream. These are what made my story possible and these are the things Gillum will fight for.
Gillum has a vision to make our state work for all Floridians, including families like mine who came to our state in search of a better life.
I am a proud immigrant who fled socialism and lived the American Dream. I am voting for Andrew Gillum to be Florida’s next governor.
Mike Fernandez is an American healthcare industry businessman, investor and philanthropist.. In 2017, he launched the IMPAC Fund (Immigration Partnership and Coalition Fund), which focuses on elevating the voice of the business community in the immigration debate and the protection of immigrants.