Villagers rub shoulders with trio of Democratic candidates for governor

More than 600 people attended the Governor’s Forum sponsored by The Villages Democratic Club on Saturday morning at the Savannah Center.

The Villages Democratic Club, the largest democratic club in Florida, invited all four of the democratic candidates vying to be the next governor of Florida. Three of the candidates were able to attend: Andrew Gillum, Chris King and Phillip Levine.

The candidates opened with a brief statement and then answered questions submitted by club members for ninety minutes.

Andrew Gillum, current mayor of Tallahassee, recounted his warm reception at a previous visit to the club. He said that as he travels the state, he talks about The Villages all the time.

“People are shocked and amazed that there are Democrats in The Villages. I have to show them the selfie I took with the large crowd behind me,” said Gillum.

Leone Gentner with candidate Andrew Gillum.

Chris King identified himself as the I-4 corridor candidate. He also mentioned a previous visit to The Villages.

“I’ve never been to a club meeting where they passed the hat. We made a lot of money that day,” he said.

Candidate Chris King with Karen Guarn.

In his opening remarks, Miami Beach mayor Phillip Levine acknowledged that he and his fellow candidates have similar views on the issues.

“If anyone of us is the governor come November, Florida will be a much better state,” said Levine.

Kathy and Curt Morgan with Phillip Levine, center.

Following opening remarks, moderator Bob Janson asked the candidates questions ranging from public education to solar energy to the NRA.

On taking money from the NRA: A resounding NO from all three candidates. All vowed to fight for more gun control.

“Weapons of war have no place on our city streets,” said Gillum. “I don’t think YES would be a very popular answer in this room,” said King.

On Public Education: All three were for improving public schools and not supporting charter schools. “Why are we spending public money to fund someone else’s business?” asked Levine. He proposes giving each teacher a $10,000 raise. Gillum wants to raise the staring salary for teachers to 50,000 and get rid of the high stakes testing. King has a plan to make community college and trade schools free for all students in Florida.

On Solar Energy: Florida should be the solar capitol of the United states. Solar is the way of the future, King and Levine agreed. King, who attended Harvard, said, “In Massachusetts it is dark by 3 or 4 in the afternoon during some parts of the year. Yet, they have more solar jobs than Florida. We need to change that.”

On working with a Republican statehouse: All are hoping the blue wave makes this a moot point. “I am hoping for a blue tsunami,” said Gillum. “When I was in business, I never asked whether someone was a Democrat or Republican,” said Levine. He added that he would find the places where both sides could compromise. “I don’t know any Republicans that don’t want to also bring more business to Florida.”

Medicaid expansion:  All agreed with expansion. “If someone can’t take care of themselves medically, they can’t work. If they can’t work, they can’t take care of their families,” said Gillam. “Health care is not a privilege, it is a right,” said Levine. “For those who can pay, it should be affordable. For those that can’t, they should be covered.” King sees that it might be necessary to cover additional people.

The candidates mingled with the attendees before and after the program. Leone Gentner is leaning in one direction, but wanted to hear from all the candidates before making up her mind.

Mary Schulz, Gary Davis and Barbara Lawrence didn’t know each other before Saturday. Striking up a conversation at the water cooler, they said that they were here today to hear from all before making a decision.

Village residents Mary Schulz and Gary Davis with Barbara Lawrence right, who came down from Ocala for the event.

Curt Morgan said he is a Gillum supporter.

“There was never a doubt from the first time I saw him at the Democratic club. All I want is honesty and integrity and he has that. He is down to earth. I don’t get the feeling he is blowing smoke,” said Morgan. “Plus he is already in Tallahassee, making it an easy move. We are saving money right there,” joked Morgan.