2018 August Ballot Recommendations: State Executive Offices (Democratic Primary)

There are three state executive offices on the Aug. 28, 2018 ballot: Governor, Attorney General, and Commissioner of Agriculture, and both Republicans and Democrats have primaries. People pay attention to the Gubernatorial race, but the others, especially the AG race, matter too. I’m a Democrat, so I’m only going to write about those races as I doubt I would have much credibility opining on the GOP primary anyway.

In most–but not all–cases my rule of thumb for elections that have primaries is that in the primary you vote your heart, and in the general election you vote your head (a process that also sometimes requires the very firm application of fingers to hold nose).  But not always. Sometimes you have to vote tactically.  Is this year’s Governor race one of those occasions?

Because I have the most to say about the Governor’s race, I’ll start with the others, so they don’t get left out.

Commissioner of Agriculture

The what? It’s actually an important job. The Ag Commissioner deals with consumer complaints, gun permits, gas pump and amusement park inspections and so on.  And it can be a stepping stone to better things too.

I like Roy David Walker He’s a genuine environmental scientist, and he’s also a advocate for the environment — he’s President of the South Florida Audubon Society, and sits on the Everglades Regional Conservation Committee.  He has a very unassuming and pleasant demeanor (plus he’s a 5th generation Floridian — how many white people can say that?) — that should work well on the stump; unlike the other candidates, he’s not a suit.  I’d be amazed if he beats the other candidates, the Mayor of Homestead and a local lawyer/lobbyist, but who knows.

Attorney General

State AG’s are really important.  Think of all the harm Pam Bondi has done.  We are fortunate to have a good candidate in the race — and also an even better one.  The good candidate is Ryan Torrens, who while ever so slightly nebbishy (not that there’s anything wrong with that except when you are trying to get people to vote for you) seems like he’d be a perfectly fine AG.  Then there is Sean Shaw, who deserves to be AG, would be a major force in state cabinet meetings (Florida has them, and they vote on some policies) and could be a rising star in the Democratic party.  I’ve seen them both speak.  Torrens is fine. Sean Shaw is TERRIFIC.  (He also has a nice campaign video.)


There are seven candidates on the ballot, and at least four, maybe five, of them are for real.

Andrew Gillum

Andrew Gillum, the Mayor of Tallahassee is the most inspiring candidate.  He’s also the most progressive.  If you want a Governor who’s whole-heartedly for expanding access to healthcare, for taking climate change seriously, and fixing the state educational system, to mention only some of the headline policies, Gillum is your guy.  Even the Miami Herald, which endorsed someone else, admitted that “Of all the candidates, [Gillum]’s the most razor-sharp about governance.”

There are however, two negatives to be aware of.  First, every poll suggests Gillum isn’t going to win.  Second, there is chatter about a lingering scandal emanating from the Tallahassee city administration.  The FBI is investigating.  Gillum says he’s been assured he’s not a target, but just by failing to exonerate him the FBI has severely damaged Gillum’s candidacy and opened the door to whisper campaigns that “it” will all come out once he is nominated.

If there were anyone else that I’d actually feel good about voting for in this primary, those two facts might be enough to get me to cast a tactical vote for another more likely candidate.  Whether that person exists I can’t quite decide.

Gwen Graham

Gwen Graham is to politics what MOR is to radio.  Graham advertises herself as “mom, PTA President, Congresswoman”.  Despite those accomplishments, she’s best known as former Governor Bob Graham’s daughter.  Because it’s fashionable, Graham now claims to be a ‘progressive’.  But she’s not.  During her one term in Congress, Graham voted against Obama administration policies more often than she voted for them. She was awful on Obamacare, trying to sell a bothsiderism ‘they’re both wrong’ approach to Obamacare and the GOP’s fake alternatives (in so doing she demonstrated either ignorance or duplicity, arguing against some aspects of the plan that were necessary for it to function).  In this campaign, Graham has talked about having a Republican running mate. Indeed, to many of her fans, that mushy middle-of-road instinct is a feature, not a bug: her fans think of her as “electable”.

To me, not only is Graham only vaguely a Democrat, but worse she’s not electable.  She’s boring, over-cautious, and shifty (or under-informed) on the issues. I look at her, or listen to her, and I see Alex Sink (lost 2010), Jim Davis (lost 2006), Bill McBride (lost 2002), Buddy MacKay (lost 1998).  None of those guys had any charisma (try googling for ‘Buddy Mackay charisma‘, it’s almost funny), and even Sink didn’t have enough–and Graham has far less spine than Sink did.   I don’t see Graham winning even if nominated, and I don’t see her making much impact even if elected.

Jeff Greene

Another billionaire who wants to be a leader in politics without paying dues.  Jeff Greene‘s claim to your vote is that he’ll spend what it takes to get elected. Given the lousy polls for Democrats in Florida, and the financial advantage that the Republicans will have with Rick Scott running for Senate, that’s something to consider.  So too, for better or maybe worse, are the misleading attack ads Greene has run against Graham and Levine.  I’ve seen Greene speak; he’s not so bad on the stump, with a near-rags-to-great-riches story, although there is plenty of fodder for folks who say he can’t run a campaign (or a government?). He sounds sincere about wanting to give every kid a chance at a good education.  His issues page online has some good progressive stuff on it. He claims to be for higher taxes on the wealthy and a higher minimum wage.

But. While Greene now says he’s anti-Trump, back when Greene was a Mar-a-Lago member he spoke very warmly about the new President.  There’s the complicated legal/financial baggage. Plus, Greene likes to sue newspapers for libel. On the good side, however, according to Wikipedia Greene signed the Giving Pledge in 2011, although the link to the source seems broken.

Philip Levine

On paper Philip Levine looks formidable. He’s the Mayor of Miami Beach. He has a somewhat plausible case as a progressive, much better than Graham’s anyway.  His track record as Mayor isn’t bad, and he’s certainly done what he could to hold back the rising waters and raise roads. Levine says good stuff about the environment, education, and he’s for marijuana legalization.

On the other hand, a remarkable number of people I know who know Levine (this is pure hearsay – I’ve never met him) say what a horrible person he is, even when they support his positions on the issues. It’s perhaps no accident that in 2015 Levine was in a scandal involving a PAC he helped set up that, as the Herald put it, “was accused of strong-arming city vendors, developers, large commercial property owners and other businesses into making sizable “donations” that helped elect a slate of three commission candidates who had reportedly pledged their support to Levine. The PAC did receive the approval of the city attorney, but many considered it borderline unethical.”

I guess after Gillum, Levine would be my second choice, on the “our sonofabitch” theory.  And he’s a multi-millionaire, so maybe some self-funding could happen.

Chris King &tc

Chris King seems to have the makings of a real candidate, but he got little traction in this crowded field. Which is more than I can say for the other two candidates, whoever they are.

Bottom Line

According to the polls, Graham is in the lead, with Levine either a little or more than a little behind. If you are voting your heart, it is Andrew Gillum all the way.  Voting your head, tactically,  would be a vote for Philip Levine, because if Graham wins then I think any Republican with a pulse will have a good shot. Fortunately (?) the GOP leader, DeSantis, not just has a pulse, he has Trump’s endorsement. That could backfire; but, in Florida, it also might not.

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