Chris King gathered with local leaders outside South Tampa's Plant High School on Tuesday afternoon to discuss his ticket's plan to invest $1 billion in Florida schools.
But the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor – running mate of nominee Andrew Gillum – spent equal time highlighting what he says is a failure by the Republican ticket to address educational needs.
Former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the GOP candidate for governor, "does not have ideas," King said. "He does not have solutions to some of our biggest problems. So, it is my view that the only way he defeats a visionary candidate like (Gillum) is to distract and to create division."
That statement was in reply to a question about DeSantis' proposal to require a review of the state's textbooks to ensure there's no anti-Israel bias being taught.
"This is not a problem," King said. "This is a distraction.
"What we are focused on in this campaign are the types of issues that are going to impact the families who have children in those schools. That is what we are focused on and we are not going to let him take us off their game."
With the billion-dollar investment, King said, Gillum – now the mayor of Tallahassee – would ensure a starting salary for public school teachers of $50,000.
That elicited cheers from the group that gathered with him, including state House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, Hillsborough County School Board vice chairwoman Tammy Shamburger and Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association President Rob Kriete.
"We are seeking to represent a state where today as we stand here we are 45th in the nation in compensating and caring for our teachers. We now pay them $12,000 less than the national average. Our per pupil investment … is at 2007 levels."
Both gubernatorial campaigns have stressed the importance of vocational training as part of education efforts.Pressed on how his campaign's vision differs from that of DeSantis, King replied that he and Gillum authentically care.
"What I would suggest is that DeSantis' late last-minute turn to these issues is a bit disingenuous when he is also supportive of cutting Pell grants, cutting federal education dollars and doubling the rates on school loans. To me those things don't mesh."
King said DeSantis gave no thought to improving the state's education system until late in the campaign.
"He has been at this for nearly a year," King said. "This is one of the biggest issues in Florida. So, it is very difficult for me to give much seriousness to his ideas because I believe they are still a work in progress."