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Gwen Graham passes civics education initiatives in House

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Three civics education initiatives proposed by U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are set to become law as part of the just-passed Every Child Succeeds Act, approved Thursday by the House 359-64.

Graham’s camp says the Tallahassee Democrat shepherded language into the bill by working with a bipartisan group of members to sway Education Committee Chairman John Kline to include language in the sweeping rewrite of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.

Specifically, Graham sought authority and money to establish academies to teach civics; authorize grants for nonprofits develop programs for underserved students in history, civics and geography; and allow certain funding to be spent to support student financial literacy.

“Encouraging greater civic engagement has been a lifelong passion of my father’s since he performed his first Workday teaching a high school class in 1974,” said Graham in an announcement trumpeting the move. “I’m proud to help carry on his legacy and work encouraging young people to become more engaged.”

Graham herself is perhaps living through the most vivid advanced civics lesson imaginable.

The boundaries of her 2nd Congressional District in the eastern Panhandle are set to evaporate after years of legal wrangling over faulty maps brought to light by an anti-gerrymandering amendment approved by voters in 2010, five years before Graham took office.

The Fair Districts Amendments, as they are commonly known, were probably the most significant “good government” initiative since the advent of the state’s famous Sunshine Law, passed during the “Golden Age” of Florida politics, when Bob Graham was a key state lawmaker.

Then-Governor Graham also made open government history — and likely, a lot of civics teachers proud — when in 1984 he vetoed a move to water down the Sunshine law that would have allowed legislative committees to meet in secret.

Gwen Graham, a promising Democrat in a state with a thin Democratic bench, will likely be drawn out of her current district when new maps are enacted. The first-term lawmaker is widely seen as a leading candidate for governor in 2018.

Graham also has not endorsed in the ongoing Democratic U.S. Senate primary in 2016, leaving the door open for a run to replace Marco Rubio or perhaps a run for Senate against Gov. Rick Scott in 2018 should Bill Nelson decide to retire.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at

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