Philip Levine talks opioid crisis, marijuana legalization, race in Boynton Beach

Democratic candidate for governor Philip Levine joins others in a prayer led by Pastor Tommy Brown of New Disciples Worship Center before a discussion on opioids in Boynton Beach. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

BOYNTON BEACH — Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine listened to local clergy and others talk about the opioid crisis this morning in a conversation that also included a lively debate on marijuana legalization and a plea to address racial disparities in drug enforcement.

Levine spent about an hour at a meeting with 15 people organized by local activist Rae Whitely of the Boynton Beach Coalition of Clergy and a group called Black Votes Matter.

Levine recently announced his support for legalizing, regulating and taxing the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and older, which he said would generate $600 million a year in tax revenue. Levine wants to use $300 million of that for opioid addiction treatment programs.

Much of the room seemed to agree with the idea, but there was some dissent.

“If you’re going to give our children something that’s going to destroy their brain cells and legalize it, how is that helping? Just because you’re going to get financial gain from it – it’s not helping our children,” said Cheryl Grimes, a nurse who is director of health and wellness at an assisted living center.

Levine said he supports legalization because a criminal conviction for marijuana can ruin a person’s life. He also said arrests and prosecutions for marijuana use fall disproportionately on the black community.

James W. Rorie, a minister at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church, said he’s fine with legalizing medicinal marijuana, but not recreational pot.

“Marijuana in the smokable form? I disagree with that because it’s for the high. We have alcohol, you can drink alcohol, that’s a problem in itself. But to legalize something else for a high? Absolutely not,” Rorie said.

“Yes, marijuana is bad,” said another man who didn’t want to give his name. “But it has some benefit as an alternative, as a public policy, to hard-core drugs.”

Whitely said that while the opioid crisis has captured national attention, he’s worried that other types of drug abuse won’t get needed attention.

“When crack was dominant, we never had this conversation at all. And I’m afraid that the crack epidemic will be lost in the opioid conversation. We will just stop talking about it. There are still people that smoke crack. They’re still here,” Whitely said.

“The national conversation is opiates. How do we have an inclusive conversation and really, really set different policies to make sure that black and brown people are not treated as criminals when they truly have an addiction?” Whitely said.

Levine said afterward that the meeting underscored the importance of educating the public on the opioid crisis and “making sure the police force is educated in how to deal with these issues because they’re different from normal crimes.”

He also emphasized the need to create a “bridge” from recovering addicts to return to society.

Levine said he understood the opposition to marijuana legalization, but, “the bottom line is, I believe, and I think a lot of people in the room believe, that legalization, properly regulated, is the right thing to do. And the reason being is that it will stop locking people up for the wrong reasons and it will stop ruining people’s lives and careers for the wrong reason.”

 

 

Dems’ net worth: $3 billion-plus gap between candidates for governor

Florida Democratic candidates for governor, alphabetically from left: Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King, Philip Levine.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum often describes himself as the only non-millionaire in the crowded Democratic primary for Florida governor.

Financial disclosure reports released Monday underscore his point.

As Florida’s candidate qualifying period opened, Gillum listed a net worth of $334,200 on the disclosure form required for all candidates for state office. Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham pegged her net worth at $14.4 million. And former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine estimated his at $133 million.

Candidates have until noon Friday to file disclosures and other paperwork and pay a $7,816.38 filing fee to qualify for the 2018 ballot.

Billionaire Palm Beach real estate investor Jeff Greene and Winter Park businessman Chris King have yet to file among Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls. If Greene lists a figure in the $3.8 billion neighborhood estimated by Forbes last year, that’s more than 11,000 times Gillum’s net worth.

Neither of the leading Republican candidates for governor, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam or U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, has filed yet, either. Putnam listed a $7.8 million net worth four years ago when he ran for a second term as ag commissioner.

Poll: Levine, undecideds top Democratic governor race

How Democratic candidates for governor rank in a new poll by Democratic firm SEA Polling and Strategic Design.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who has spent about $10 million on a TV advertising campaign since November, has opened up a big lead in the race for Florida’s Democratic nomination for governor, a new poll says.

But Levine is in a virtual tie with “undecided” in the new poll by Democratic firm SEA Polling and Strategic Design, suggesting there’s plenty of room for other candidates to improve.

Levine gets 32 percent support among likely Democratic voters with 31 percent undecided. Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who began her TV campaign Wednesday, gets 16 percent and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum 11 percent in the survey.

Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, who filed candidate papers last week, gets 4 percent support in the new poll while Winter Park businessman Chris King gets 6 percent.

The poll of 600 voters, conducted Sunday through Thursday, has a 4 percent margin of error. Pollster Tom Eldon said the survey was commissioned by a group of Democrats interested in the race but not tied to any campaign.

“When you have one campaign spending money for a sustained period of time, basically statewide, it doesn’t surprise me” that Levine has taken the lead, Eldon said.

“Undecided is basically tied for first place still,” Eldon said. “There’s a lot of people who haven’t engaged in this race.”

 

Two Democratic gubernatorial debates coming; will Jeff Greene participate?

Florida Democratic candidates for governor, alphabetically from left: Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King, Philip Levine.

Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene filed papers last Friday to run for Florida governor, but he hasn’t made any public statements since and it’s not clear whether he’ll participate a pair of upcoming Democratic debates.

Democrats Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine plan to attend a Saturday debate in Pinellas County and a Monday debate in Miramar.

“We wish we knew” whether Greene is participating, said Vickie Dunn, whose Indivisible FL 13 group is organizing Saturday’s forum along with Women’s March Florida and Fired Up Pinellas. “We’ve made all kinds of efforts to contact him. We’ve set up our logistics so we can accommodate and we’re getting nothing back.”

Saturday’s debate runs from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and can be viewed at http://www.baynews9.com or http://www.mynews13.com.

Monday’s debate is being organized by the Service Employees International Union and other groups. The SEIU’s Eunic Ortiz said Tuesday that organizers had not heard from Greene.

 

Gwen Graham joins the Democratic gubernatorial air war with new TV ad

Former Democratic Florida Gov. Bob Graham makes an appearance in daughter Gwen Graham’s new TV ad as she seeks the governorship.

The first TV ad for former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham‘s gubernatorial bid debuts today with a $1 million buy in the Orlando and Tampa TV markets.

The 30-second spot highlights her status as a mom who was active in the PTA and as the daughter of former Florida Democratic Gov. Bob Graham. And while Gwen Graham has at least four rivals for the Democratic nomination, her ad has a general-election feel, urging voters to end two decades of Republican control of the governor’s mansion and Florida Legislature.

“Twenty years with one party running everything with all the wrong priorities,” Graham says in the ad. “The Florida Legislature have not taken Medicaid expansion, they have hurt education, they have used the lottery to reduce funding — but we’re going to take it back.”

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine leads several Democratic polls after spending about $10 million on TV ads since November. Winter Park businessman Chris King began spending more than $1 million on TV ads last month. A PAC supporting Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum bought ads last month accusing Graham of not being liberal enough. A fourth Democrat, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, entered the race this week and another Palm Beach County Democrat, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, is expected to announce soon whether he will run for governor.

Levine’s internal poll shows him leading Democratic primary for governor, 33 percent undecided

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at a Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee meeting in January. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Public polls on the Florida Democratic gubernatorial race and internal polls that the campaigns choose to make public seem to agree on two points: Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is ahead — but a large number of Democratic voters haven’t made up their minds as the Aug. 28 primary approaches.

Levine’s campaign released an internal poll today that says Levine leads the Democratic field with 30 percent, followed by former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham at 20 percent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum at 12 percent and Winter Park businessman Chris King at 6 percent with 33 percent undecided. PPP conducted the poll of 583 likely Democratic voters last Monday and Tuesday. It has a 4 percent margin of error.

Gillum’s campaign released an internal poll recently that showed Levine at 20 percent and Gillum and Graham tied at 13 percent in an initial ballot test. That poll showed 52 percent of voters were undecided.

Potential candidate Patrick Murphy commissioned a poll that showed Levine at 20 percent and Graham and Murphy tied for second at 14 percent with 41 percent undecided in an initial ballot test.

A Florida Atlantic University poll this month showed Levine holding a within-the-margin-of-error lead over Graham with 42 percent undecided.

Levine has been advertising on TV since November and no other candidate was on the air until King launched a $1 million TV campaign two weeks ago. Gillum and Graham have not gone on TV yet.

Levine’s poll shows him leading Gillum, the only black candidate in the race, by a 27-to-19 percent margin among African-American voters. The poll shows Levine leading Graham, the only woman in the race, by a 30-to-17 percent margin among female voters.

Legalizing marijuana: Why nobody is winning the John Morgan primary

After his success with a medical marijuana referendum in 2016, attorney John Morgan favors full legalization but isn’t impressed with pot postures of this year’s Democratic candidates for governor.

The four Democrats running for Florida governor all favor some degree of legalizing or decriminalizing recreational marijuana use.

But John Morgan is not impressed.

Morgan, the Orlando-area trial lawyer who poured a combined $7 million into the losing 2014 medical marijuana campaign and the victorious 2016 follow-up, says Democratic frontrunners Gwen Graham and Philip Levine are too timid on the issue of full legalization. And he’s dismissive of the legalize/regulate/tax stances of Andrew Gillum and Chris King.

On the GOP side, gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis oppose legalized pot.

After his success with medical marijuana, Morgan says he’s not interested in pursuing another pro-pot referendum. Instead, he has already pumped more than $450,000 into his Florida For A Fair Wage committee, which is trying to put a question on the 2020 ballot to raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Click here to read more details about Morgan’s views, candidates’ marijuana stances and where legalization efforts stand at MyPalmBeachPost.com

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.”

Patrick Murphy says bipartisan governor ticket legal, decision soon

Democrat Patrick Murphy says he expects to decide in early June whether to run for governor with a Republican running mate. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter says he expects to decide in early June whether to launch a campaign for governor with former Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly as his running mate.

The deadline for candidates to qualify for the ballot is June 22. Four Democrats are running, but polls show a wide open race and Murphy and Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene have not ruled out making late entrances.

Murphy has been contacting potential donors and got an opinion from an attorney that nothing in Florida law prohibits a gubernatorial candidate from selecting a lieutenant governor candidate from a different party.

“Honestly I believe people are more interested in getting their problems solved than the politics of political parties,” Murphy told The Palm Beach Post today.

Democratic candidates for governor, alphabetically from left: Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King, Philip Levine.

Murphy last month gave his OK to a poll testing his name against the four Democrats already running in the Aug. 28 party primary: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Winter Park businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

The poll also tested how Murphy would fare if he announced Jolly as his running mate. Jolly, a prominent critic of President Donald Trump, has been touring college campuses with Murphy to decry partisanship and governmental gridlock.

With Jolly as his running mate and Murphy described to respondents as “a different kind of Governor who would work together with reasonable Republicans in Tallahassee to set aside Florida’s old, partisan politics and get things done,” the poll found Murphy leading the Democratic field with 21 percent to 17 percent for Levine.

After the idea of a Murphy-Jolly ticket was floated, some Democrats questioned whether it’s legal for candidates from different parties to run together.

“There is no prohibition under the laws of the State of Florida on a candidate for the office of Governor from one political party selecting a candidate for Lieutenant Governor from another political party to run with them,” says a legal memo prepared for Murphy by Fort Lauderdale attorney Jason Blank.

Gillum poll says Gillum can win Democratic nomination for Florida governor

Democratic candidates for governor, alphabetically from left: Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King, Philip Levine.

Is a picture worth 22 polling points?

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s campaign is touting an internal poll that shows Gillum vaulting from 13 percent support to 35 percent and taking the lead in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary field after voters were fed positive information about — and shown pictures of — each candidate.

The release of the online survey by Change Research comes as the Gillum camp is eager to demonstrate viability amid weak fundraising and polls that typically show him in a lower tier than former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham.

The May 8-11 poll of 1,107 likely Democratic voters, which has a 3 percent margin of error, shows Levine leading an initial ballot test with 20 percent, followed by Gillum and Graham at 13 percent apiece and Winter Park businessman Chris King at 3 percent. A majority of Democrats — 52 percent — were undecided.

The poll then provided positive messaging about each candidate (Gillum’s is arguably more glowing, but see the wording below to judge for yourself) and showed their pictures. Under those conditions, Gillum rocketed to 35 percent and first place, followed by Graham at 23 percent. Levine, the best-known candidate after spending about $8 million on TV ads since November, remained unchanged at 20 percent. King increased to 10 percent.

Gillum is the only African-American candidate in a party where blacks are about 28.5 percent of the statewide electorate. He began May with $1.4 million in cash on hand between his principle campaign and an affiliated political committee. King started the month with $1.6 million, Levine with $3.5 million and Graham with $4.7 million.

Below are the statements voters were given about each candidate in the poll:

• Andrew Gillum is the son of a construction worker and a bus driver, the first in his family to graduate from high school and college, and has been a bold progressive Mayor of Tallahassee who’s beaten the gun lobby twice in court. Andrew is running for Governor to rebuild Florida into a state that works for all of us.

• Chris King is a husband, father, Democrat and progressive entrepreneur who’s worked on affordable housing issues. He’s a proven leader who’s running for Governor so everyone in Florida has the opportunity to rise and lead.

• Philip Levine has been successful in the private sector as a self-made entrepreneur and in the public sector as a two-term mayor of Miami Beach. He’s running for governor because he has a progressive vision to move Florida forward as a leader in the 21st century economy.

• Gwen Graham is a mother of three and daughter of former Florida governor Bob Graham who felt called to public service after being fed up with partisan gridlock and unseated a Tea Party congressman in 2014. Now she’s running for governor to continue bringing bipartisan common-sense solutions for Florida