Andrew Gillum: The Leader Florida Needs


    Andrew Gillum could be the next Governor of Florida, a state with more than 20 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, where roughly 45% of the population is Hispanic/Latino, African American, Asian Pacific Islander (API) or American Indian. As a progressive Democrat, Gillum would be the first Democratic governor to helm the state since Lawton Chiles, who served from January 8, 1991 to December 12, 1998, and was briefly succeeded by Lt. Governor Buddy MacKay at his passing until Jeb Bush took office on January 5, 1999.

    With 14 years of public service under his belt, Gillum, the 37 year old Mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, drew national attentional last year as he delivered a heart-felt speech at the Democratic National Convention.  A firebrand of authenticity and grassroots civic engagement Gillum began his political career when, at the age of 23, he became the youngest person ever to be elected to the Tallahassee City Commission. Since then, he’s been a committed leader in Florida politics, with an increasingly national profile.

    While there’d been mounting speculation that Gillum would run for Governor in 2018, he made his intentions publicly known this past Friday during the Central Florida Urban League’s Cornerstone Awards.  “I feel strongly that the direction our state government has gone these last 20 years is out of step with the majority of Floridians, from the environment to wages, to education and job creation,” Gillum said, according to prepared remarks. “I believe this is a moment that requires not just people who quietly agree on these issues, but people who are going to be champions, who will get out and lead on them.”

    Complementing his work at the local level, Gillum founded and served as Executive Director of the Young Elected Officials Network, a project of People For the American Way.  Upon starting the organization, Gillum set out to unite young progressive leaders from across the country who are interested in making “powerful change” in their communities.  Disappointed by the lack of transformational ideas coming out of traditional leadership development programs for young elected officials, and “policy that always fell short of meeting the challenges our communities face,” Gillum founded the YEO Network to “create an environment where we could collectively think and dream together.”  During a sit down interview with Politic365 last year, Gillum relayed his vision for the group when it began eleven years prior with a nascent group of 12 elected leaders, which at the time included Joaquin and Julian Castro. Today, as a result of Gillum’s leadership, the YEO Network has grown into a membership of over 1,000 elected officials ages 18-35 at every level of government in every state around the country.

    “The demographics of this country are fast changing,” Gillum told Politic365. “Progressive Whites, API, African Americans, and Latinos constitute 51% of the electorate.  If we harness that power to create the kind of public policy prescripts and solutions that can transform our communities, we will, by our work, stimulate more Black and Brown people, more LGBT people, more women to own their power, show up at the ballot box, and take back control of state legislatures and city councils and state houses and state senates, and eventually the Congress of the United States, so that the people who reside in those buildings and in those offices are more reflective and more reflexive to the concerns and the needs of the communities that they serve.”

    A man of the people, Gillum wants to bring the same kind of empowering energy that has become the hallmark of his leadership in Tallahassee and at the YEO Network to the state of Florida at large.

    “There are still a lot of people in our communities that are hurting – that’re unemployed or under employed, that don’t make enough to make ends meets to provide for themselves and their family and their children,” he said.  “You have a generation of people who don’t necessarily believe that their future outlook is going to be better than what their parents had. You have an economy that is slowly on recovery, but wages are still stagnant, and you have a criminal justice system that feels, in some way, indefatigable, and persistent and pervasive, and the consequences and the damage that it leaves behind destroys huge parts of our population – neighborhoods, communities, churches, families, children, mothers, wives, husbands – in the wreckage.  The challenges are still extremely great.”

    Florida, where the economy is primarily reliant upon tourism, agriculture, and international trade, has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country. While the state unemployment rate sits at roughly 4.9%, economic recovery and opportunity are uneven, at best, as between the state’s most affluent and less well off residents.

    Gillum believes “there has to be a fierce urgency to what we’re doing because people lay in the wreckage.” Perhaps, that’s the kind of vision and leadership Florida needs in 2018 and beyond.