1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

Will Parkland parents sway Florida governor race with endorsements?

It's been six months since the Parkland shooting, and the families of vicitms are mulling a bigger role in politics.
Patricia and Manuel Oliver, parents of 17-year-old Parkland shooting victim Joaquin Oliver, embrace during a press conference in Wynwood Miami, in June. [Miami Herald]
Patricia and Manuel Oliver, parents of 17-year-old Parkland shooting victim Joaquin Oliver, embrace during a press conference in Wynwood Miami, in June. [Miami Herald]
Published Aug. 9, 2018

In the roughly six months since the Parkland shooting galvanized a new generation of activists fighting for tougher gun laws, the young leaders of the March for Our Lives movement and the families of those killed have elevated the issue of guns in America back to the forefront of political discourse.

But despite standing alongside political figures at rallies and public appearances, Parkland activists have for the most part avoided endorsing any particular candidates for office, even those who have supported them since the beginning.

While there have been exceptions — Parkland father Andrew Pollack tweeted a Rick Scott endorsement in April, and March for Our Lives star David Hogg has publicly opposed the governor's campaign against the Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — the strategy has largely been to endorse policy over policy maker.

Fred Guttenberg and Manuel and Patricia Oliver — the parents of two students who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — broke that mold Tuesday as they appeared in TV ads for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine, the first ads in the race to feature Parkland parents.

"I decided not to stay out of it," said Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was among the 17 students and faculty killed during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. "I know he is committed to an issue that is more important to me than anything."

The $500,000 Parkland ad push is part of a larger $3 million advertising buy by the Levine campaign that will run until Aug. 19.

In each 30-second TV spot, the parents praise the former Miami Beach mayor's views on enacting stricter gun laws and his reputation as a "doer."

"We are together, and we are gonna keep this fight for the rest of our lives," Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin, died in the shooting, says at the beginning of a 30-second TV spot that first aired Tuesday. "I really believe that Philip is a doer and he can show it — he's part of that team that we are looking for."

Patricia Oliver added, "We're demanding gun reform now — that's why we're voting for Philip Levine. And we ask every parent to do the same."

The ads were mostly filmed outside Levine's campaign headquarters in Miami, where last month Manuel Oliver — known for the anti-violence murals he creates as part of his Change the Ref movement — unveiled a new mural featuring his son, Parkland activist Emma Gonzalez and historical figures posing underneath a message that reads "We Demand."

Around that time conversations started about creating an ad, Guttenberg said. He said his endorsement should not be taken to mean that he is at odds with the other Democrats in the race.

"It was more about deciding that I like [Levine] a lot," he said. "We're gonna work hard to hopefully help him be successful."

A request for comment made to a representative of the Olivers was not immediately returned.

While all the Democrats running for governor in Florida more or less share the same views on guns — they want to ban assault-style rifles and enact more stringent background checks, among other proposals — Guttenberg said he was drawn to Levine after seeing him march for gun control in Tallahassee and use his platform to stand with the Parkland student activists.

Recent figures from Mason-Dixon Polling show former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham with a lead over Levine among registered voters.

"Like me, he not only demanded stronger gun laws but he marched on Tallahassee to make it happen," Guttenberg says at the start of his TV spot.

"Levine's a doer, not a talker. If you're serious about protecting our children, we need him now. No parent should have to experience what I did."

After the announcement of the endorsement, Levine said the following in a statement: "The courage and drive that these parents have shown is inspirational — this is how movements start and how change is made. I'm honored to have earned Fred, Manuel, and Patricia's support and am committed to standing beside them as we work together to make gun reform a reality in Florida."