Gwen Graham has the name, political network, personal appeal, and widespread perception that she is the likely Democratic nominee for governor. Philip Levine has the big bucks, brash, can-do businessman's persona and looks clearly like the biggest threat to Graham. Andrew Gillum, once the buzziest candidate, now has an FBI corruption looming over his City Hall and the aura of a dead man walking.
That leaves Winter Park businessman Chris King, who generates plenty of respect and kudos from activists playing close attention to the race, but not much talk of him being a leading contender. The Buzz checked in with King to see where things stand.
Q: Your campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination appears to face an uphill climb against Gwen Graham, who has a name and lots of contacts, and Philip Levine, who already is leading the field in campaign resources. What's your path to winning the nomination, and are you sure you won't drop out before qualifying or shift to another office, such as CFO?
A: I am an unconventional candidate. And I embrace that.
I haven't spent years in office climbing the ladder, plotting a race for governor. I'm not shopping for an office.
I see an unmet need. Our state needs a new vision and a new direction. And I'm confident I can provide it. We need a new economic strategy—because the old one isn't working. We need reforms that make government more responsive to the people of this state—because after decades of one-party government, it's not.
I'm running for Governor because that's the office that can lead and execute a big new vision for our state. The people of Florida are hungry for a new direction, new ideas and new leadership. Think of the struggling minimum wage workers, who wonder whether there will be a place for them in the changing economy. Think of the fledgling small businesses that can spawn jobs and innovation, but need a champion committed to their success. Think about the young people, just starting out. We can do so much better for them if we're not a back of the pack state. That's how I'm going to win this race.
Q: A central part of your argument has been that you offer voters not only a progressive vision for Florida, but also a private sector, entrepreneurial background that should inoculate you from being attacked in the general election as a tax-and-spend-liberal? Philip Levine is a very successful entrepreneur himself, so doesn't he crowd your lane, so to speak?
A: We need more than just a business person. Rick Scott has taught us that.
We need someone who brings a fresh perspective and a fresh set of eyes to our state's problems. My business background provides good evidence that I can look at tough, challenging problems and create innovative solutions. It shows that I can build a team and lead it to execute on an ambitious vision. So yes, my business background is important because it is evidence of my ability to offer a fresh vision and executive leadership.
What voters understand is that executing a bold vision is only as good as the vision itself. Which is why my candidacy is different. I've built a career around being a progressive entrepreneur—combining a business skill set to advance progressive goals. That experience shows that we can do well by doing good, like providing affordable housing options for our seniors. So, my business background also shows the great power of building an organization around our bedrock values.
If we are going to get Florida going again, our people need a leader who has proven that they can offer a fresh vision built on our values, and ability to get things done.
Q. Spell out what makes you the strongest candidate in a field that includes Graham, Levine and Andrew Gillum.
A. We need a fresh perspective and a new direction for the state of Florida.
I'm the only candidate who has never held office, and I think that stands out in how I have approached this race.
I've had a structured and disciplined approach to analyzing the condition of our state, understanding the root causes underneath some of our toughest challenges and exploring ways of solving them.
This has been on display in our debates. I'm not bogged down by conventional thinking that says "you can't do this" and "you can't do that." I have a straightforward assessment of our state, based on the facts and the numbers. I've been laying out common sense solutions, and this race is young. We're just getting started.
As I consider how I will compete with more conventional candidates, I am reminded of the words of Israel's former Prime Minister and Nobel Prize winner Shimon Peres: "We must use our imagination more than our memory." My candidacy represents a fresh vision for Florida, one that requires the sort of imagination that has been lacking in our party in recent decades.
Ultimately, if the people of Florida want that kind of disciplined problem-solving and new ideas I'm offering, I think they'll place their trust in me.
Q: Do you think John Morgan could win if he ran for governor in 2018 without party affiliation?
A. I'd never underestimate John Morgan.
But it's our job as Democrats to offer a fresh, compelling vision of the future that appeals to a broad cross section of Floridians.
If we do that, voters won't feel they need to look elsewhere.
If we fail to be bold, if we fail to show a new direction, if we fail to meet the moment, we'll be leaving a lot of votes behind for someone else, be they Republican or non-party.
Q: What have you learned since launching your first campaign for public office?
A: As a someone who wasn't in elected office, I was always frustrated with the poll-tested or gobbledygook answers politicians have offered when faced with the toughest questions that don't really say anything. Or their unwillingness to think differently, boldly or innovatively about our toughest problems.
What I've heard and learned from people in every corner of Florida has confirmed that this feeling is universal. Whether it was being the first candidate to call for Confederate monuments to come down, or refusing to take campaign contributions from Big Sugar, or putting out a plan for free community college, our campaign has tried to offer a fresh vision of leadership that speaks directly and boldly about the challenges in front of us.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people.
I once competed on the court with superstar NBA legend Vince Carter. I was a high school sophomore competing in a Central Florida invitational when I was asked to guard the then standout Florida high school phenom from Daytona Beach. I scored one time on him that night and used four fouls, keeping him from plastering my image on the local news being dunked on. The most humbling part of the night was when my high school girlfriend and future wife asked for and received Vince's autograph after the game. Apparently she knew who was going places on the hard court.
Q: As governor, your top two priorities for your first legislative session would be ….?
We need an economic plan designed for the 2020's not the 1980's. My top two priorities will be ending the sweeps of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund and introducing tuition-free community college and trade school. These are parts of a comprehensive set of economic reforms that will spur an explosion of small business growth, create jobs, develop the skills of our workers, and drive up wages. This is how we'll move Florida toward the front of the pack.