By Mohamed Hamaludin
The day after the Aug. 28 primary elections in which Andrew Gillum became the first African American nominee for Florida governor, his Republican opponent, Ron DeSantis, stated, “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.”
Americans do not talk about “monkey up” something and DeSantis deliberately used the awkward turn of phrase as a dog whistle for racists to rally to his campaign. He didn’t have to wait long. The Idaho-based Road to Power sent a 78second robocall to Floridians, first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat, in which the audio is accompanied by drumming and monkeys screeching and the speaker saying, “Well hello there. I is Andrew Gillum. We Negroes … done made mud huts while white folk waste a bunch of time making their home out of wood an stone.”
There is more.
*The Washington Post reported that DeSantis spoke four times at a conference hosted by David Horowitz, who, the Huffington Post noted, has vented against “black skin privilege” and Muslims.
*Think Progress reported that DeSantis resigned as an administrator of a Facebook group named “Tea Party” — not the Tea Party Patriots – which has denounced Black Lives Matter and NFL players who kneel during the anthem and is virulently Islamophobic.
*The Miami Herald reported that the DeSantis campaign sent out invitations for a $10,000-a-head fundraiser slated for the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, one co-chair being Ralph Arza, a Miami politician who resigned as a state representative in 2006 after using racial slurs against then Miami-Dade School Superintendent Rudy Crew.
DeSantis is also hammering away at Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Gillum, accusing him of having a “far left platform” which would destroy the state’s economy as happened in Venezuela and institute an authoritarian regime as in Cuba. “Socialism would be a disaster for Florida. We can’t let socialist policies win in this free land,” DeSantis said. President Donald Trump, who was entirely responsible for DeSantis’ defeat of rival Adam Putnam, called Gillum, who is mayor of Tallahassee, a “failed socialist mayor.” The Miami Herald reported the socialist label could hurt Gillum in Miami-Dade County’s large population of Cuban Americans and Venezuelan exiles. This explains DeSantis’ pick of Miami politician Jeanette Nunez as running mate. But Politifact rated DeSantis’ claim “False.”
“The reality is Gillum’s platform resembles the policies being promoted by many Democrats. And his positions of expanding access to Medicare and raising the minimum wage have significant public support,” Politifact stated. “Gillum isn’t on the fringes of the political spectrum and certainly proposes nothing approaching turning ‘Florida into Venezuela,’ which would mean the state taking over privately held businesses and large portions of the economy.”
Latino sentiment can be swayed by Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis in an entirely different way, with both of them embracing an immigration policy that wrenches babies from their mother’s arms and separates them in detention.
And Trump’s denial that nearly 3,000 Americans died a year ago from Hurricane Maria is not expected to play well with the 100,000 Puerto Ricans who were forced to relocate to Florida.
At the same time, Gillum has to show that he is not an accidental nominee who won because Democrats split their votes among him, with 34.2 percent, Gwen Graham, with 31.4 percent and Philip Levine with 20.3 percent. Gillum’s path to victory must be through a unified Democratic party that wins over Independents and even some Republicans determined not to let a mini-Trump import the politics of division from Washington.
Gillum’s surprising pick of Chris King as his running mate could be a boon in this regard. King competed in the primary election and received less than three percent of the votes, so he brings no base of support to the ticket. But as an evangelical Christian he could help sway at least some evangelicals and Independents.
Then there is an FBI probe into possible corruption in Tallahassee over approval of a city-owned abandoned electricity building being converted into an upscale restaurant by lobbyist Adam Corey, a close friend of Gillum’s, who, as a city commissioner voted for the project. The probe also likely includes trips Gillum took to Costa Rica and New York that are linked to Corey.
Gillum says the FBI has told him he is not a target of the investigation but DeSantis claims his opponent “is embroiled in a lot of corruption.” It is unlikely that the FBI will conclude its investigation prior to the Nov. 6 elections but if Gillum is not a target, the agency should say so before then, rather than keeping a cloud over him as Floridians make up their minds on their choice for the next governor.