Democrat Chris King seeks the ‘bold and progressive’ lane in governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King campaigning west of Delray Beach on Monday. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

WEST DELRAY — As he tries to break out of a crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary field, Winter Park businessman Chris King — the only candidate who has never run for elected office — told a liberal group here Monday that he’s the candidate of new ideas and “a new politics.”

“In a nutshell, I am the candidate that says that this is a moment for new ideas and fresh ways of thinking,” King told about 50 women at a meeting of a group called SEE. “I am the candidate that folks say is willing to take very bold and progressive positions, not always because they’re helpful politically, but because they’re right for the future of our state.”

Those positions include flat-out opposition to the death penalty, support for legalizing marijuana for recreational use, free community college and trade school, expanded affordable housing programs and a pledge not to accept any money from the sugar industry.

Monday’s appearance was part of an 11-county “Turning the Tide” tour focused on criminal justice reforms that King began last week.

Chris King says “big ideas” separate him from his Democratic primary rivals. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

King, 39, has languished in single digits in most Democratic polls, but a Florida Atlantic University poll this month showed him getting 10 percent of the Democratic vote — within striking distance of former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine (16 percent) and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham (15 percent) and ahead of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. And that was before King went on the airwaves with his first TV ad last week.

The SEE group, which President Dana Aberman said was formed the day after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, displayed a sign that said “Womens Rights are Human Rights” at the meeting and one that depicted a clenched fist with “Rise and Organize.” Another sign offered Laurence W. Britt‘s 14 “Early Warning Signs of Fascism,” which include “Powerful and Continuing Nationalism,” “Controlled Mass Media” and “Corporate Power is Protected.”

There was much discussion of gun control in the aftermath of Friday’s mass shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. King supports a ban on “assault”-style weapons and universal background checks for gun purchases. He said the 2016 Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando and February’s mass slaying at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have created a new type of activist who is not only interested in gun control.

“They want a new politics. They want an aspirational politics. They want to take on folks that have not gotten things done, whether it’s gun safety or affordable housing or health care and they want new leaders who are willing to do big things. And that’s been our story,” King said.

King said he wants to “end the death penalty once and for all” — a position that puts him to the left of his Democratic rivals.

Graham “personally opposes the death penalty but will enforce Florida law,” her campaign said Monday. Gillum “is in favor of it, but very sparingly,” a campaign spokesman said. Levine’s campaign said he is “not an advocate of the death penalty,” but “in certain and rare circumstances, the death penalty should not be ruled out.”

King said in an interview that his willingness to stake out such positions should convince a plurality of Democratic primary voters “to see me as the candidate of fresh ideas and a new perspective on politics, a Democrat who can win and a Democrat who can be transformative. So everything I do will be trying to convince folks of that.”

With a little more than three months until the Aug. 28 primary, King said, “the race right now is incredibly wide open…..I’m going against three candidates that have been in the political world – they or their families – for years and years and years. I’m the new guy. So I have more of a burden to introduce myself. But I think there’s an incredible opportunity to do that.”