MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham entered the Florida governor’s race on Tuesday, hoping to win the seat her father held for two terms before serving in the U.S. Senate.
Graham made her announcement in Miami-Dade County, where she lived before moving into the governor’s mansion at age 15 when her father, Bob Graham, took office.
“I’m so proud of Dad, but I stand on my own two feet. I’ve certainly learned from him, but I would never expect anyone to support me simply because I am Dad’s daughter,” Graham told The Associated Press before her announcement.
“I will be a governor that does focus on what he focused on, which is making the right decisions for Florida again.”
Her parents, husband and three children joined her for the announcement in a small park next to Carol City High School. She focused on education, the economy and the environment in her speech.
She said she would eliminate most standardized testing in public schools, saying they’re only serving to enrich testing companies while doing little for students.
“Florida used to have a public school system, but it has become a public school industry,” Graham said. “An education industry that packages all of this as accountability, but you know what it really is? It is all about the accounting. Accounting that is lining the pockets of corporate testing companies with millions of dollars.”
Graham served one term in Congress, the only other time she’s run for office, choosing not to seek re-election last year after congressional maps were redrawn to give registered Republican voters a firm majority in her north Florida district.
Before serving in Congress, Graham worked as a school administrator in the Leon County school system and as a lawyer focused on environmental and energy issues.
“I am not a career politician. This was not something that I ever thought I would be doing,” Graham said.
Bob Graham said his daughter consulted with him before deciding to run.
“I said, ‘Gwen, do you really want to do it? Because not only is the campaign going to be a challenge, but in a life of public service, I don’t think there is a more exciting but demanding job than being governor,” he said. “The biggest challenge is going to be trying to unite Florida.”
By making her announcement in her original hometown instead of her current home of Tallahassee, Graham, 54, opted for a large media market in a county key to winning what will be a crowded primary.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King have already declared their candidacies, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is expected to enter the race. Trial lawyer John Morgan is considering a run. Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam filed paperwork to run on Monday.
At least in the primary, Graham may have to explain some House votes to faithful Democrats. She was known for being one of few Democrats to vote with Republicans at times on key issues, including support for the Keystone XL pipeline, keeping prisoners in place at the Guantanamo Bay naval base and changes that would have weakened the Affordable Care Act.
But she said she’s proud to have been listed as the most moderate member of Florida’s congressional delegation.
“I have many people come to me and they say, ‘You know I don’t agree with everything that you say, but I trust you and I know you’re a person of your word,'” Graham said. “I think that’s what people want more than anything. They don’t want someone who’s trying to fashion a message to be ideologically one way or another. They just want someone they can feel good about again and they can trust again.”
Republican Gov. Rick Scott has to leave office because of term limits. Graham said she can’t argue with his focus on the economy and job creation, but she said Scott has been too singularly focused on attracting businesses to Florida rather than helping small businesses and startups already in the state. And she said many of the new jobs created during his time in office are low-wage.
“In my mind, when I hear him say jobs, jobs, jobs, it means you’ve got to work at least three jobs just to get by. There’s so much more we can be doing in this state,” she said.