Democrats tell Florida mayors they support local rule
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Four of Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates told the state’s mayors Wednesday that if elected they will return power to the cities that the Republican-controlled state government has removed over that last 20 years.
Businessman Jeff Greene, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine all told the Florida League of Mayors they support “home rule” — the idea that cities should have more power to regulate activities within their borders. Over the last two decades, Republicans have controlled both the Legislature and the governor’s mansion and have banned cities from enacting ordinances in several areas, including guns, the minimum wage and plastic containers.
All criticized the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott for not fully funding a law enacted after February’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre that requires all public schools have at least one police officer, armed guard or armed staff member on campus whenever they are open. Millions of those costs have fallen to school districts and cities.
The two Republican candidates, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, and Democratic businessman Chris King were invited to speak but had scheduling conflicts.
Here is what the four candidates told the mayors about home rule in the order they spoke:
Greene conceded the mayors know more about city issues than he does, but that he will support them and learn. The Palm Beach billionaire said much of the governor’s $400 million discretionary budget last year should go toward protecting schools, not pushing the costs upon local governments.
He said “the best decisions are made in cities — everybody knows that” and pointed to Palm Beach’s issues recruiting and keeping police officers.
“It would be completely ridiculous that anybody (else) would make that decision about our town,” Green said.
Graham got a loud ovation by beginning her talk by saying “I love home rule” and said it is “hypocritical” that Republicans who say they support smaller government that works closest to the people have imposed so many tight restrictions on cities. She said “ideology” and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council have taken over Tallahassee at the expense of local control.
“Home rule should be accepted and supported, but what has happened in the last 20 years? You all have been under attack,” she told the mayors, pulling out a list of all the areas that cities cannot make ordinances about. “When I am governor, I am looking forward to working with you because I believe that it is the cities that are doing the hard work of representing the people and are closest to the people.”
Gillum told his fellow mayors that his city has stood up to the state and the National Rifle Association by refusing to rescind a law banning shooting in public parks, even though such ordinances are now illegal — only the state can regulate firearms. City officials who enact and enforce such rules can be fined $5,000, forced to pay legal fees of up to $100,000 and removed from office. Tallahassee has been sued over the ordinance, but about a dozen cities have sued the state in return over the law.
He said that the cities and regions of Florida are so different that the state shouldn’t be imposing laws on issues that would be best handled at the local level.
“The problems faced in my community might be different from the ones faced just 30 miles away,” Gillum said. “The reason local government exists is so those local governments can reflect local values.”
Levine compared the state’s curtailment of cities’ powers to the control the Kremlin had over local governments during the Soviet Union. Miami Beach has clashed with the state after it imposed its own minimum wage that will rise to more than $13 an hour in 2021, compared to the state’s current floor of $8.25. He said what works in Miami Beach doesn’t necessarily work in Pensacola and vice versa.
“There was another system, the Soviet Union, and they didn’t listen to the local folks,” Levine said. “It didn’t work out too well for the Soviet Union. What made the United States so fantastic is that we listened to the people at the local level.”