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Andrew Gillum opens ‘people-centric’ campaign for Florida governor

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Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum took on Rick ScottDonald Trump, and the National Rifle Association during the opening speech of his campaign for governor Saturday, and promised to “bring Florida home” for the state’s working people.

“Together, we will build the kind of campaign that will move across this entire state and make this state proud — we’ll stand up for every Floridian,” Gillum said.

“That gives them hope in every family, no matter where their backgrounds are, where they come from. This campaign will win the governorship in 2018, and we’re going to put this state back on a pathway to success and opportunity for all,” he said.

“Let’s put Floridians to work at every rung of the income ladder. Let’s bring it home for Florida. Let’s invest in the clean energy that provides good-paying jobs and protects our natural resources, and makes a strong statement that Florida is about to become the capital of this country when it comes to producing solar energy that puts people to work right here.”

Gillum warned of “powerful headwinds” and interests “that own this Capitol, as they see it. And own this governor’s mansion, as they see it.

“But we’re going to run a race that is powered by people. It’s going to be your $25 dollar contributions, you’re $5, you’re $10, that’s going to make it possible for a people-centric message to break through. Because we need to tell these special interests that we run this state, not them. That there are more us … than there are of them.”

He conceded he was engaging upon an “improbable mission.”

“Improbable it may be. Possible, it completely is. We’re about to show the rest of this state what it means,” he said. “We can do this. We can do this together.”

At 37, Gillum is young to enter a governor’s race. But he was elected to the Tallahassee City Commission at 23. He was elected mayor in 2014.

He’s made some early missteps. On the morning of his rally, the Tallahassee Democrat reported that he had repaid the city for using its email system to campaign, and that he’d had to correct campaign documents that included his old address.

He made no mention of that during his speech, focusing on people “who are struggling, are finding hard to make a way for themselves, and make a way for their families. Who want to be optimistic again and also want to believe that they’re included in the future of this state.

“We deserve our voice, too,” he said. “And we’re going to get our voice back, I assure you.”

Gillum described how his grandmother anointed his head with oil as he headed to school as a child, and instilled in him the responsibility to care for his six brothers and sisters and neighbors.

“It really is what shapes my own political belief system and how I approach public policymaking. What she was telling me is that we’re all in this together. That if I did good, we all did good. If I go far, we will all go far.”

A couple of hundred supporters gathered in Tallahassee’s Kleman Plaza as a chilly wind died down and the day warmed, dishing into a large stack of pizzas while they waited for the candidate.

Several of his high school teachers stood among the crowd. One of them, Linda Aubrey, from Gainesville High School, testified that he was “a natural leader with a big heart” even then.

“I want to thank y’all here in Tallahassee who gave a 23 year-old skinny by from Florida A&M University the chance to be your city commissioner. I want to thank you for giving that same young man the opportunity to be your mayor,” Gillum said.

“Now I’m asking for your blessings and your good will, for all the hope and all the love and all the ideas that you’ve instilled in me over this period of time — I want to ask your permission to share just a little bit of what you’ve put in me with the rest of the state of Florida.”

Gillum is the first candidate to enter the governor’s race. Among Democrats, Orlando businessman Chris King filed campaign papers this week, and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, also of Tallahassee, is considering running. Other possibles include Democratic mayors Bob Buckhorn of Tampa and Philip Levine of Miami Beach.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam so far is the most likely Republican candidate to announce a run for 2018.

Gillum outlined a jobs platform built on education — young childhood, K-12, vocational, and college, to help people “who are under pressure and under the squeeze in this state.”

He slammed Scott for refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, killing a $1 billion high-speed rail system that would have provided jobs, and minimizing the threat of climate change and rising sea levels.

“We need to bring Florida home for Florida’s workers, Florida’s working people. We need a plan for Florida’s economic future that doesn’t rely on tourism alone but that catalyzes the assets of this state, which includes our best assets — our people. Y’all. Me. Us.”

Gillum spoke of his own record as mayor — encouraging technology jobs and employment for young people, building a 200-acre solar farm at the airport, eliminating $2 million in local business taxes, granting $5.6 billion in energy rebates, and limiting job discrimination against people with criminal records.

“I want to bring these forward-looking ideas into state government. Florida has everything it needs to be the strongest economy in this country. We just need the leadership and the willingness to get us there,” he said.

He decried education reforms that he said teach kids to take tests.

“I don’t believe that our teachers are evil. And I don’t believe that their union is evil. Does our system deserve correcting? Absolutely. But we do that by demonizing the people who are responsible for creating that better system?”

When some local officials stopped granting marriage licenses to avoid having to give them to same-sex couples, “as the mayor of this city, I said, ‘Come to Tallahassee, where we recognize that love is love is love.’ ”

When Trump “targeted immigrants … I spoke up boldly and I said that we could do both — we could protect our national security interests and have secure borders without tearing our families apart,” he said.

“And when the NRA decided that it wanted to join in a lawsuit against me because I refused to repeal a law that said you can’t fire a gun in our city parks — that you can’t fire a gun in a park where our kids play and our families picnic, common sense … we won that fight twice,” Gillum said.

“I recognize that it will not be easy. Change is hard. Pursuing a people-focused agenda to boost our economy and provide access to quality education will take vision, and it will take the courage of our convictions,” he said.

“Too many of our political leaders lack all three. But standing up for people in this state, and standing up to powerful interests is not something that I’m not used to.”

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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