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Gillum will face DeSantis in Florida gubernatorial election

Commentary by Dave Schneider |
August 31, 2018
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Jacksonville, FL - It didn’t take long for the Florida gubernatorial campaign to get extremely racist.

Less than 12 hours after winning the Florida Republican nomination for governor, right-wing congressman Ron DeSantis went on Fox News and launched a racist attack on his opponent, Andrew Gillum.

Speaking to Fox News host Sandra Smith about Gillum on the morning of August 29, DeSantis said, “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.”

Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, is the first African American to run for governor of Florida. He clinched the Democratic nomination in a major upset victory over party establishment favorites, all of whom were either millionaires or billionaires. Endorsed by self-described ‘democratic socialist’ senator Bernie Sanders, Gillum won out with a platform calling for Medicare for All, a $15 per hour minimum wage, higher taxes on corporations, and reforming the state’s criminal injustice system.

DeSantis’ racist smear came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s own attacks on Gillum via Twitter, calling him a “failed socialist mayor.” Trump endorsed DeSantis, a frequent Fox News contributor, early in the primary, which allowed the rabidly right-wing congressman to easily defeat Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for the GOP nomination.

Racists have a long history in the U.S. of comparing African Americans to ‘monkeys’ or ‘apes’ dating back to the beginning of the slave trade. Even after the civil war, propaganda produced by white chauvinists and the Ku Klux Klan often portrayed Black people as primates to dehumanize them. Most recently, TV personality Roseanne Barr saw her re-launched show cancelled after comparing Valerie Jarrett, an African American woman who advised former president Barack Obama, to ‘apes’.

DeSantis’ smear drew widespread outrage across the country. Even Sandra Smith went on the defensive and claimed Fox News didn’t condone DeSantis’ comments - laughable for anyone familiar with the network’s regular programming.

Gillum accurately clocked both Trump and DeSantis’ attacks on him, saying on CNN that they were “scraping from the bottom of the barrel” and doing “the bidding of big business and big lobbyists.”

“Frankly, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the rural panhandle of Florida, or in the I-4 corridor, or the very populous and very diverse south Florida - if you’re working multiple jobs to make ends meet, you’re not happy,” continued Gillum. “If you’re worried about your next illness driving you into bankruptcy, you’re uncertain about that and uneasy. If you see the toxic algae blooms that are flowing out the eastside and westside of this state, killing off sea life and also impacting our quality of life, you’re also pretty upset about that. What my candidacy offered was basically a foil for all those issues, to say we can talk about those things and give our voters something to vote for, and not just against.”

Gillum pulled together a coalition of grassroots activists and organizers across the state to win the Democratic primary. Activists in Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Orlando, Miami and elsewhere ran an insurgent campaign on a fraction of the money possessed by his wealthy opponents. They won by taking Gillum’s platform, which speaks to the real needs of Florida’s working class, to the people. Like the GOP, the Democratic Party is also a party of big business with a long history of running bankers and 1% politicians for governor in Florida. But Gillum’s upset victory - and especially the mass movement behind it - has made DeSantis and the particular class interests he serves very nervous.

It’s worth quoting DeSantis’ remarks at some length because they reveal something important about racist discrimination in the U.S. and whose interest it promotes. DeSantis called Gillum “an articulate spokesman for these far left views,” and “a charismatic candidate.” But he continued, “I watched those Democrat debates and none of that is my cup of tea, but he performed better than the other people there, so we’ve got to work hard so that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success we’ve had with Governor Scott. 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. That is not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”

With remarkable candor, DeSantis acknowledges the unique challenge that Gillum and his message poses to the right-wing business interests in Florida. Unlike the centrist, pro-business millionaires and billionaires who ran against him in the Democratic primary, Gillum’s message spoke to the real issues faced by Florida’s working class - low wages, lack of health care, unaffordable education, and mass incarceration. It’s a message that can unite the state’s working-class majority of all nationalities in November and defeat the Republican nominee, which hasn’t happened since 1994.

When DeSantis refers to “the success we’ve had with Governor Scott,” the ‘we’ he’s talking about are the rich, big business, and corporations. Florida’s ruling capitalist class has done quite well under Governor Rick Scott, who has delivered massive profits, deep tax cuts, weakened unions, fewer protections for workers and the environment, and crumbling infrastructure. Our state’s working class, on the other hand, has seen their lives get worse in Scott’s eight-year term. Looking to Trump for inspiration, DeSantis wants to deepen Scott’s attacks on African Americans, Latinos, public education and the entire working class on behalf of the ruling class.

Since corporate shills like DeSantis can’t attract much mass support to their big business agenda, they fall back on racism and bigotry to divide working people and hold down the oppressed. Historically, the ruling class in the U.S. drums up racist sentiments to re-direct the anger of many white workers away from their destructive policies and towards oppressed people. Trump and DeSantis have continued this tried-and-true divide-and-conquer tactic, especially by targeting immigrants and Muslims.

Solidarity between workers of all nationalities and genders is the strongest weapon our class has to fight for our interests and win. Racist discrimination is a feature of U.S. society and it is a tool of the bosses, big business and the ruling class that is used to exploit and oppress entire nations. It creates real inequalities between whites and other nationalities in terms of income, housing, and more. With this injustice as its base, racism erodes solidarity. It’s used to break white workers away from their natural allies - African Americans, Latinos and workers of other nationalities - and weaken the entire working class in the process.

Here we saw DeSantis using blatant racism to attack a candidate whose message has broad appeal to Florida’s working class. He knows the Florida GOP’s 1% policies cannot compete with Gillum’s platform to raise wages, provide health care to everyone, stop mass incarceration, and more. So he falls back on racist attacks on Gillum aimed at breaking off white supporters.

Even DeSantis’ redbaiting of Gillum, who is not and has not called himself a socialist, echoes Klan-era propaganda, which targeted both socialists and African Americans alike. Many of the authors of the Taft-Hartley Act, and the Right to Work laws which significantly weakened unions, supported the Klan and couched their assault on unions in terms of fighting ‘socialism.’ DeSantis follows in this long, disgraceful line of Southern right-wing attack dogs.

Florida’s working class has every reason to oppose DeSantis’ racist attacks on Gillum and fight for a better way of life. Eight years of Scott’s policies have ravaged our schools, our unions, our communities and our lives. To confront these challenges, the community organizers and activists whose work in Florida paved the way for Gillum’s remarkable victory must continue building fighting unions and mass people’s movements - and that means rejecting DeSantis and Trump’s racist agenda.

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