1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

Chris King vows to eliminate death penalty, legalize pot, push voting rights for felons

The Orlando businessman concedes in his bid for Florida governor that his vision on criminal justice will be hard to achieve, but says it's the first step in "Turning the Tide."
Democratic candidate for Florida governor Chris King, right, during a campaign appearance in St. Pete. Also pictured: Former Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Pete. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON | Tampa Bay Times]
Democratic candidate for Florida governor Chris King, right, during a campaign appearance in St. Pete. Also pictured: Former Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Pete. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON | Tampa Bay Times]
Published May 15, 2018|Updated May 15, 2018

Democratic candidate for governor Chris King called Tuesday for the elimination of the death penalty and legalization of marijuana in Florida.

In debuting his criminal justice platform, King, a longshot candidate, called his ideas "big and bold and progressive."

"They're going to be hard to accomplish," he said during a small roundtable at the Enoch Davis Center. "We have to sort of be the North Star and say this is where we want to go, and then we need to get there with good ideas."

The platform falls in line with King's effort to stake out a left of center position in a crowded Democratic field. A millionaire and entrepreneur from Orlando, he faces several more established political candidates, including former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and the deep-pocketed former mayor of Miami Beach, Philip Levine.

King further called for a reduction in mass incarceration, saying that he would set a goal of cutting the inmate population by 25 percent over the next five years, and 50 percent over the next 10.

"Florida has become a leader in the wrong thing," he said. "We have become a leader in locking people up."

In the governor's office, he said, he would seek to lessen mandatory sentences for non-violent offenses, expand the amount of gain time inmates can receive to reduce their sentences and grow diversion programs across the state. He said he wants to legalize marijuana to roll back laws that have disproportionately affected people of color. He vowed to use the savings from reduced incarceration to support education, child care and inmate rehabilitation.

King also said he supports restoring the rights of felons in Florida to vote and ending state contracts with private prisons.

The platform announcement comes amid turmoil for the Florida criminal justice system. The state Department of Corrections recently announced a plan to cut $28 million in substance abuse programs, mental health treatment and some re-entry services. Legislators this spring passed an unbalanced budget that left a shortfall for the prison system.

King admitted his vision would be difficult to enact in a state controlled by a Republican legislature but said he would use line-item vetoes and the power of the Cabinet to push forward with changes.

He offered details of his plan alongside Tampa state Rep. Sean Shaw, a Democrat running for attorney general. Shaw backed King's platform and said Democrats will need to take control of the Cabinet if they want to implement any ideas in Florida.

"We're not going to do anything as a Legislature unless you elect different people," Shaw said.

The roundtable was the first event in King's planned two-week "Turning the Tide" tour on criminal justice reform.

He is scheduled to speak again in Dunedin at 7 p.m. Tuesday during a North Pinellas Democratic Club meeting and at 8 p.m. during a meeting of the Pinellas Young Democrats in St. Petersburg. The tour will then move Wednesday to Melbourne.


This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge