Democrat Philip Levine brings ‘purple’ message to deep-blue Palm Beach County

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a 2018 Democratic candidate for Florida governor, speaks to a Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee meeting in West Delray on Thursday night. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County Democratic activists are used to hearing a tub-thumping liberal message when candidates come through the deep-blue county seeking primary votes.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine checked off many of the requisite boxes for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate when he spoke at a county Democratic Party meeting on Thursday night. But Levine also spoke of being “pro-business,” of having the state emulate the “most admired companies in America” — and even of wooing some Fox News viewers.

“I’m pro-people, I’m pro-business as an entrepreneur. I always say I’m not right, I’m not left, I’m forward,” Levine told the crowd of about 200 at the South County Civic Center west of Delray Beach.

“We live in a purple state. The way you make purple is you mix blue and red,” Levine said.

Levine noted he often appeared on cable TV in 2016 as supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

“I was the only Democrat who used to go on Fox regularly. I’d wear my Kevlar vest and I would go on Fox,” Levine said of the network that’s a favorite of President Donald Trump and many Republicans. “Those people that are watching Fox, we need a portion of those folks to vote for us if we’re going to win.”

Levine is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor against former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King.

Levine talks to people in the lobby outside Thursday night’s Palm Beach County Democratic Party meeting. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Levine touched on crowd-pleasing Democratic issues such as addressing sea-level rise, a “living wage,” body cameras and other reforms for police and spending more money on K-12 and college education. Taxpayer dollars should go to traditional public schools rather than charter schools, Levine said.

To entice younger Floridians to stay and work in the state, Levine said: “If you can’t afford to go to college in the state of Florida because your parents don’t make a certain amount of money, we need to make sure that you can go to our universities, don’t have big debt when you graduate if you commit to work in our state for a certain amount of years going forward.”

He called a Trump Administration proposal to open the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling “a disaster.” Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio have also criticized the idea.

Levine also said he’s a supporter of Obamacare. When an audience member asked if he supports “single-payer Medicare for all,” Levine said Florida should seek a public-private solution to guarantee everyone in the state is covered.

“I don’t believe necessarily that we have one public government answer for all of health care,” Levine said. “I believe if you can’t afford health care, we must provide it for you, absolutely, 100 percent. But if you can afford health care, it needs to be affordable, it needs to be reasonable and we need to make sure about it and your employer probably needs to pay for it as well.”

He added: “Is there one single-payer system? I’m not so sure….I’m a private-sector guy. I believe there’s a public-private answer to that.”

Levine said the governor’s race is the world’s most important election in 2018.

“I believe that I can actually help the people in the state of Florida, help our country and help our world because this governor’s election, I tell people all across the country, it’s not only the most important election in the state of Florida, it’s not only the most important election in our country, it’s the most important election in the world,” Levine said. “So goes Florida this year, so goes our country in 2020. OK? That’s how important this governor’s election is.”

Speaking to The Palm Beach Post afterward, Levine said he’s espousing a “progressive, pro-people, pro-business message…My message is the same message, I always say, of the most admired companies in America, whether it’s GE or Apple or Amazon or Lockheed or Boeing, my message is the same message: Treat your people really well and we’ll all do better together.”

Scott has emphasized a business-friendly climate and job creation in his two terms as governor, but Levine took issue with his approach.

“He (Scott) wants jobs. He doesn’t care if they’re $8.10-an-hour jobs or $8.25-an-hour jobs. His vision is a state of Walmarts and McDonalds,” Levine said. “My vision is different. My vision is a state of Boeings, Lockheeds, Amazons, Apples, GEs and the most admired companies in America that will look to Florida as a place for them to expand.”

Democratic and Republican candidates tend to appeal to their respective party bases in primaries, but Levine struck a different tone.

“I’m not a partisan guy. Never going to be. I’m pro-people,” Levine said. “No one has a monopoly on good ideas – not Democrats and not Republicans. Good ideas can come from everybody. As I said, I don’t know any admired company that’s Republican or Democrat. They’re just pro-people and pro-business.”