Race issues big part of Florida governor’s race

By Carolyn Guniss, cguniss@miamitimesonline.com | 11/6/2018, 8:20 a.m.
The issue of race opened up Florida’s gubernatorial challenge. And race is what may seal the deal on who gets ...
Andrew Gillum Contributed

The issue of race opened up Florida’s gubernatorial challenge. And race is what may seal the deal on who gets a pass to move into the Governor’s Mansion.

After Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum pulled off a come-from-behind victory to become the Democratic nominee, his Republican opponent made a racist dog whistle, on Fox News the next day.

“The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda …,” former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis said.

The statement was immediately disavowed by the station and Republicans and Democrats alike. The DeSantis camp denied he was trying to recruit racists to attack Gillum but racist robocalls began shortly after.

DeSantis’ campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson called the accusation of racism “absurd.”

“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses,” Lawson said. “To characterize it as anything else is absurd.”

But race became a theme throughout the contest between the two candidates, reflecting a national tone of intolerance between Americans with ideological and obvious differences such as skin color and place of origin. The bitter battle between Gillum and DeSantis was overshadowed last week when intolerance manifested itself on Oct. 24, the day of the scheduled, second debate.

That day, more than 12 pipe bombs were delivered allegedly by Cesar Sayoc — who has ties to South Florida, to prominent Democrats — including two former presidents. And on Saturday, while a Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh worshipped, alleged gunman Robert Bowers entered and shot to death 11 people and wounded six, leading Gillum to tell DeSantis, “I was born Black; I have been Black all my life, I will continue to be Black and I am going to die Black.”

DeSantis would lose his cool Oct. 24 during the second debate between he and Gillum. When moderator Todd McDermott asked DeSantis why he accepted $20,000 from Republican Steven Alembik, who has called former President Barack Obama a “MUSLIM N*GGER,” in a tweet, according to Politico, DeSantis became visibly agitated.

“How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?” DeSantis shouted in Bailey Hall at Broward College in Davie. “I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness.”

Gillum responded coolly to DeSantis’ outburst: “My grandmother used to say, ‘A hit dog will holler, and it hollered through this room.”

Gillum would come close to calling DeSantis a racist: “I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”

After the debate, Gillum’s surrogates spoke of his temperament and his display of knowledge about the issues.

“He has public service in his DNA,” said Alan Williams, former state rep from Tampa, adding that he was proud of Gillum. “Gillum has the temperament, the compassion and the fortitude to be the next governor of Florida.”

Race was also a factor in the first debate, when Gillum confronted DeSantis about his earlier “monkey it up” comment.

“The congressman let us know exactly where he was going to take this race the day after he won the nomination,” he said. “The ‘monkey up’ comment said it all. He has only continued through the course of his campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin. The truth is that I am Black. I have been Black all my life. So far as I know, I will die Black.”

During campaigning last week in Miami, Gillum surrogate Congressman John Lewis of Georgia asked students at Miami Dade College to dial back the rhetoric.

“We live in one house, the American house and we must all learn to live together as brother and sister,” Lewis said.

Lewis gave the students a charge: “And send this young brother, send this young leader to the governor’s office.” Lewis then turned to Gillum and said, “You will be a governor for all people,” as if it were a challenge and a reminder.

Gillum said on Showtime’s The Circus on Sunday that he isn’t playing the race card, but added, “If I am playing the race hard, they dealt that’s the hand I was dealt.”