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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Reject racist attacks on Gillum

Times Columnist Dan Ruth. [Times file]
Published Sep. 6, 2018

Well, this didn't take long did it? By the time the last election night victory party balloon hit the floor at Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum's celebration as the state's first black nominee for governor from a major political party, the clouds began to form.

Only hours after Gillum's win, Republican nominee DeSantis was fretting on Fox News that if Gillum is elected governor the Democrat would "monkey this up." DeSantis did acknowledge Gillum is awfully "articulate," even for a socialist.

Dog-whistle? Not quite. Not even close. This was a Hound of the Baskervilles of race-baiting.

Of course, DeSantis denied that. He was merely using a figure of speech few people have ever heard. We pause here to offer the reminder the linguistically challenged Republican nominee for governor is a graduate of both Yale and Harvard.

But wait. It gets even scarier.

Before the week was out, an Idaho-based anti-Semitic, anti-black, anti-whatchagot, neo-Nazi group had launched a robocall campaign targeting Democratic voters in Florida.

The calls featured a voice claiming to be the candidate saying: "I is Andrew Gillum," who then holds forth on mud huts while the sounds of drums and monkeys can be heard in the background. Concede this much for these neo-Nazi types — they can't be bothered with nuance.

Last weekend, we witnessed the memorial service for Arizona Sen. John McCain, which featured eloquent tributes from two former presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, one a Republican, one a Democrat.

Both men touched upon a prevailing theme of McCain's long life of heroism, decency and public service — that in times of national strife or a rising tide of fear-mongering fueled by demagoguery, we are "better than that."

And we are. But it takes work. It takes vigilance.

Florida is a festering haven for hate groups of all stripes. The robocalls spewing their invective weren't a fluke, a mere one-off of bigotry.

Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report that ranked Florida second in the nation with the greatest number of active hate groups at 63, trailing only California at 79. We have it all here — Nazis, Ku Klux Klan chapters, anti-Muslim groups, Holocaust deniers, revisionist history Confederate folks and your all-purpose white supremacists. You name it, somebody out there hates it. And they might live next door to you.

A spokesman for the Gillum campaign, while decrying the spurious, racist robocalls, also asked not to give the Nazis "undeserved attention."

That's fair enough but naive.

A candidate to become Florida's next governor should spend his time talking about education, taxes, climate change, economic development, transportation and public safety. You should explain your priorities.

But you also need to take on what you are fighting against.

Because he is the state's first black nominee for governor of a major political party, Gillum isn't just running against a single Republican opponent.

It may not be fair, or right. But Gillum is also running against a deep, bigoted strain that runs through Florida.

There will be more robocalls. There will be fliers on doors. There will be social media campaigns appealing to classic illiterate fears of the Other.

This is Florida after all — a historic Deep South state of intolerance.

Who knows if Gillum would be a good governor? That's why we have campaigns to find out.

But Gillum ought to be able to make his case to voters without the added burden of fending off racists and the blitherings of neo-Nazis.

Shouldn't we be better than this?

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