Chris King wants to convince Florida voters that the state really doesn’t have it so good, that the economy has stagnated for this entire century, and that it’s the Republicans’ fault since they’ve been in charge the whole time.
King, the Winter Park developer who’s seeking the Democratic primary nomination to run for governor of Florida in 2018, offers data charts, tables, and statistical analysis from various U.S. agencies to back up his claims. He weaves them into almost every speech, highlights them at virtually every event.
Those numbers, showing Florida losing ground, dramatically in some cases, to almost every high-population state regarding household income growth, poverty rates, and per-capita gross domestic product, provide the foundation for King’s theme: a Democrat who talks economics and business strategy.
“This was the big ‘Aha!’ for me. That was the decision to run, run now; and that this would be our message; and that I would be the economy candidate in the Democratic Party,” said King, the 39-year-old political novice whose closest friends say has been preparing for politics his whole life.
King sat down last week with FloridaPolitics.com to discuss his economic vision for Florida.
He described a plan based on his view that under the past 19 years of one-party, Republican rule, the state’s growth has progressed little or regressed, especially compared with rival states; and that it’s time to abandon strategies aimed at attracting low-wage businesses. He said his focus would be on investing in long-term strategies to promote higher-paying jobs while at the same time investing in affordable housing and environmental technologies.
“I will be heavily contested on this concept that Florida is a back-of-the-pack state,” King added. “They will fight me hard on this. But the basic suppositions I make is [based] on 15 years of one party rule, from 2000 to 2015 – it’s obviously been longer than that, but that was the period I really studied. And that during that period it is undeniable, based on Florida’s numbers, state numbers, that when we compare to our peers, Florida went backward.”
King’s background with a Harvard University education and a law degree from the University of Florida, and as a businessman, may give him preparation for such a debate. But he is new to public debate.
Unlike his current rivals and most of his potential rivals, King has little real-world experience in government economics, having never been tested with challenges of competing public interests, taxes, and legislative budget fights.
On the Democrats’ side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has run a city. Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham has waged public money battles in Congress. On the Republicans’ side, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam had run a state department, and before that wrestled with public finances in Congress and the Florida Legislature. Potential candidates include Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, Republican Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, and Republican Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. They likely will relish going after King’s inexperience in public spending and taxing policies as he pushes his economic vision.
Still, King has something most of them do not, save Levine and another potential Democratic candidate, Orlando lawyer John Morgan: a record of high success in running businesses that made him wealthy and created significant equity and jobs.
King spoke of using the governor’s office pulpit and the line-item veto to create a “culture change” in the state’s economic approaches.
“So, Republicans, or our one-party state government, would argue we are growing. And they would point to unemployment numbers being low. They would point to a AAA bond rating, which establishes credit for the state. And a good and healthy rainy-day fund,” King said. “My critique would be: At what cost have those things come? And if those jobs are not paying a wage that a family lives on, or an individual can survive on, isn’t that a problem?”
Point one of his critique: Adjusted for inflation, Florida’s median household income has declined 7 percent from 2000 to 2015, to $49,000, which is well below those of the other four highest-population states, California, Texas, New York, and Illinois, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Point two: Florida’s 2015 per-capita, gross domestic product of $39,000 was virtually unchanged this century, and is at least 27 percent lower than those of California, Texas, New York, and Illinois, which all saw far more growth in GDP this century, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau.
Point three: Florida’s poverty rate has increased dramatically since 2000, reaching 16.2 percent in 2015, moving it well above the poverty rates in California, New York, Illinois, which saw far-more modest increases in poverty, and in Texas, which saw its poverty rate decline during the same period, according to the Census Bureau.
“We haven’t had a leadership who have wanted to invest in the hard things that create long-term value,” he charged. “For two decades we have been spending huge amounts of time and money to recruit out-of-state, large corporations to open up, not flagship offices, not headquarters, but satellite offices, with low-paying jobs.”
King offered broad ideas he wants to pursue but said his detailed proposals would be rolled out this fall, focusing on three themes: promoting small business, driving down the cost of living, and creating pathway options for children.
Among specific ideas he said he would embrace:
— Addressing access to small-business and start-up capital, particularly for new college-graduate, minority, and military-veteran entrepreneurs, through tax policies, small state business incentives, micro-lenders, and financial institutions.
— Aggressively developing affordable housing, including stopping raids on the affordable housing trust fund, and pushing to invest $250 million to $350 million in state money into public-private matches for affordable housing partnerships, which he said would create nearly $1 billion in housing investments. “It’s a winning formula,” said the affordable housing developer, who added his companies do not accept public money for their projects.
— Investing more in community colleges, trade schools, and access and affordability for four-year universities “I’m going to be a governor who is a big, big fan of our community college system in Florida,” he said.
— Increasing money for university research, especially in already-established, commercially-promising specialties such as the University of Central Florida’s optics science and technology programs.
— Fostering openness to diversity in universities, and that includes foreign students and immigrant faculty and researchers, to attract “the best and the brightest.”
— Accepting Medicaid expansion, if it’s still available.
— Pushing for passage of the Florida Competitive Workplace Act, which he said will signal nationally that the state is welcoming.
— Opening markets and business opportunities for solar energy, which he said the market is moving on already, as evidenced by the high numbers of jobs in such states as Massachusetts. “We should not be just a national leader; we should be an international leader in solar,” he said.
— Promoting technologies, research, insurance products, commerce, development, and planning strategies to address rising sea levels. “It’s scary. The next governor has to be, he or she, somebody, who is not only trying to address these issues, but is trying to build markets, the products, and services of the future, to position Florida to survive this challenge,” King said. “I don’t think of it just as a problem. This is an opportunity for businesses and organizations and our best thinking.”