TALLAHASSEE — Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham entered the 2018 governor's race on Tuesday, joining a field of Democrats who hope to reclaim an office their party hasn't held in nearly two decades.
"We do not have time for typical politics because this is the time to paint Florida's future in sharp lines and bold colors,” said Graham, making her announcement in a Miami Gardens park next to Miami Carol City Senior High School.
Graham, 54, a lawyer and former Leon County school system administrator, will make education one of her themes, promising to “end high-stakes testing” in the kindergarten through high school system.
“As governor, I won't just criticize this culture of teaching to the test. I will end it because high-stakes standardized testing has led us to one-size-fits-all learning,” Graham said.
Graham spent Monday participating in a “workday” at the nearby high school, where her father, Bob Graham, a former governor and U.S. senator, held his first “workday” in 1974, teaching a civics course at the school.
Gwen Graham will continue using workdays in her campaign, beginning Wednesday by installing solar panels in Orlando and participating in an “environment-focused” workday Thursday in Tampa. She will be in her hometown of Tallahassee on Saturday, talking about public schools.
A native of Miami, Graham moved to Tallahassee in 1978 to live in the Governor's Mansion after the election of her father, who served two terms as governor and three terms in the U.S. Senate. She earned an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina and a law degree from American University.
After raising three children and working as a lawyer, Graham got her start in politics in 2014, unseating U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., for a congressional seat in Northwest Florida that included Tallahassee and Panama City and all or parts of 14 counties.
Graham was one of two Democrats in the nation who defeated incumbent GOP congressional members in the 2014 elections. Graham opted not to run for re-election last year after a new redistricting plan tilted her congressional district heavily in favor of Republicans.
On other issues, Graham promised to support “commonsense economic policies,” including raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave. Graham said she would oppose oil drilling off Florida's coasts and would support a fracking ban. She also acknowledged the threat of climate change.
“We all know climate change is real. It's already harming our state. Tides are rising in Miami, fires are ravaging our forests,” she said, noting Republicans have downplayed the threat.
Graham is entering a competitive Democratic primary for governor. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Christopher King are already running. Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine are considering the race.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam became the first big-name Republican to enter the governor's race when he announced his candidacy Monday.
Gov. Rick Scott cannot run again next year because of a two-term limit and could challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. The last Democrat elected governor was Lawton Chiles, who won in 1990 and 1994. Neither Graham nor any of her potential primary opponents have run for a statewide office, putting them on a level playing field.
Graham may get a boost by sharing her father's name, which once was a potent brand in Democratic politics, although he hasn't been on a ballot since 1998.
Graham quickly picked up an endorsement Tuesday from Emily's List, a national organization seeking to advance Democratic women in politics.
“A tireless advocate for the middle class, Gwen has time and again fought for all the people of her state by building consensus, finding common ground and defending our progressive values,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily's List.