Joe Henderson: Gwen Graham may have Democrats’ best message, but can she sell it?

in 2017 by

If you’re looking for the theme Gwen Graham will use in her run for governor, I think we have found it.

After she raised $2.25 million in the first month since announcing her candidacy, Graham released a statement Tuesday that read in part: “Florida families understand that after almost twenty years of Republican rule in Tallahassee, we’re running out of time.”

That simple declarative sentence might be the best line of attack Democrats have against Republicans in a statewide election. Republicans have won five consecutive races for governor, starting with Jeb! Bush in 1998 and, as Ronald Reagan might put it, “Are you better off today than you were then?”

That’s the question Graham seems to be asking.

Whatever the condition of the state – good or ill – Republicans own it all. They hold a 14-1 winning edge over Democrats in statewide legislative races in this century. Only Alex Sink’s win for Chief Financial Officer over Tom Lee in 2006 kept it from being a clean sweep.

Republicans are 18-4 overall in such races dating to when Jeb! broke through in 1998.

They control both branches of the Legislature.

All of this has happened even though Democrats have held a solid (but shrinking) edge in the number of registered voters.

Republicans shifted statewide policy dramatically, turning Florida into a gun-friendly state – most notably with the passage of Stand Your Ground laws. Environmental laws gave way to runaway development as the state’s population surged. Public schools have been under siege from Republicans, who continually push for more state money to go to for-profit charter schools.

Mass transportation remains a pipe dream in many parts of the state, while commuters have had to get used to the GOP’s ever-increasing love of toll roads.

Gov. Rick Scott, who is nearing the end of his second term, has made job creation a priority and most estimates agree with his boast of adding more than 1.3 million jobs since taking office in 2010.

However, a 2016 report from the Florida Legislature Office of Economic and Demographic Research noted the state’s average wage was only 87 percent of the national average.

Democrats clearly have some things to work with in their effort to become relevant again on a statewide level.

Republicans will counter that Scott helped lead the state out of the Great Recession, which hit Florida harder than most places. They will tout Florida’s bustling tourism industry, and they will say we must be doing something right because millions of people keep moving into the state.

All true.

But being solely in charge means there is no one else to blame for things that go wrong. That creates the opportunity for an opposition message that says, “Hey, wait a minute.”

Democrats have repeatedly fumbled that message for the last 20 years, but Graham may be on to something.

Now, all she has to do is get the voters’ attention.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.