Gwen Graham, left center, a candidate for Florida governor, visits the Upper Keys Business and Professional Women’s monthly meeting on March 21. GABRIEL SANCHEZ/ Keys Weekly

Gwen Graham, who is running for Florida governor, visited the monthly luncheon of the Upper Keys Business and Professional Women on March 21 to talk about women’s history, her time as a Congresswoman, and the future of women in politics. Graham announced she was running for governor last May, after spending two years in the U.S. House from 2015 to 2017 representing north Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. 

If elected, she would be the first woman to serve as Florida governor, but not the first in her family: she’s the daughter of former Florida Governor Bob Graham, who was in office from 1979 to 1987.

In Congress, Graham sat on the Armed Services and Agriculture committees. Born in Miami, her childhood included trips to the Keys. “It’s wonderful to be back,” she said.

After the luncheon, Graham, along with former Rep. Ron Saunders, Upper Keys BPW’s Pam Martin, and members of the press, sat and discussed issues affecting Monroe County and Florida. Here are some highlights:


On the legislature sweeping more than half of the funds earmarked for state and local affordable housing programs into general revenue funds, and the failure to fund the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund:

My commitment as governor is going to be to use the resources as they were intended, whether it’s the Sadowksi trust, the lottery dollars, Florida Forever, or medical marijuana, which was the last of the constitutional amendment that’s being ignored by the legislature.

One of the critical issues facing the State of Florida is affordable housing, and so what happened to the Keys and the failure of the funding of the Sadowski Trust, have both had such a significant impact on people here in the Keys who just can’t find anywhere to live that they can afford.


On using veto power as governor to direct legislature to purchase environmentally sensitive lands:

Absolutely. I’m looking forward to working with the legislature. I’m someone that respects and appreciates different points of view; however, what is non-negotiable is going to be getting us back on track with many of these issues that are important for the future.

There was a constitutional amendment that passed (which proposed giving Floridians the right to “a clean and healthy environment”) and the people of Florida spoke loudly, I think it was over 70 percent of Floridians voted for that. What’s most precious here in Florida is what has still not been developed. We need to be using those resources to protect our beautiful environment for the future of Floridians.


On protecting the environment, and tourism:

If you don’t have that, you’re not going to have the base of Florida’s economy, which is our tourism economy. We need to branch out because we are beholden to it, but certainly if we don’t protect our environment we’re going to lose that as well, and not just for tourism but I want Florida to be a vibrant place for people to want to live, not just people who move here after they retire, but those who want to raise a family here. The environment is part of what being a Floridian is all about.


On the film industry and “Bloodline:”

I know the Keys in particular has issues I want to see that we address as governor, which is to bring back the film industry, bring back the support of what I know adds so much to the economy here in the Keys. I’m a “Bloodline” fan; I’m still upset that got canceled because we didn’t have the resources supporting the state of Florida for the continuation of that series.


On wages:

We have to raise our minimum wage and look at where people live and their cost of living and have that reflected as well in the wage of the area .The reality is that it costs a lot more to live in the Keys than it does other places in Florida. We need to bring the jobs that allow you to work one job and have a life.


On improving access to health care for veterans in Florida:

One of the concerns I have about the VA is how long it takes for veterans to get the services they are entitled to. I think the (Veterans) Choice Program was a good idea, but what we really should do is allow any veteran to go to any doctor they want to go to. Competition is good, right? It would increase the opportunities to get care, and would improve the coverage overall.

One of the significant concerns is the need to have that mental health care for our veterans as they return home facing great challenges. I know veterans who they are just trying to throw pills at them, and it needs to be a comprehensive approach to actually taking care and helping someone who is facing PTSD or some of the other mental challenges. I get it. I’ve been to Afghanistan.


On taking care of senior citizens housing and elderly care:

This is something we as a society, as a community, should be committed to doing. It shouldn’t be a question mark whether we’re going to do it, but how to do it to the best of our ability.


On sensible gun reforms that are attainable:

I absolutely believe we need to have universal background checks. The fact you can go to a gun show (and) buy a gun that avoids any of the requirements that a federally licensed gun dealership has to meet. So the recent bill that just passed has massive holes in it because you can go to the internet or you can go to a gun show, and be 18 and buy a gun, and you don’t have a waiting period. I also believe very strongly that we need an assault weapons ban. 


On reforming aspects of civil liability law and the criminal justice system in Florida:

One of my responsibilities in the past as a lawyer gave me great insight into our criminal justice system. We need to make sure we have an equitable system, we need to make sure we’re providing quality representation. In terms of policing, my husband is in law enforcement, he is working right now to develop a law enforcement center at Florida State University focusing on community policing.

I believe in forming those relationships and having community policing so that if you do have an issue you feel safe going to law enforcement, or if they know you, and see that there is some way they can help you in your life, they are there.


On reforming Florida’s education system:

We have to end the high-stakes testing culture that’s taken over our schools. As someone who is passionate about education, we have to allow our teachers to teach. What the state of Florida has caused (is) a teaching to the test culture in our schools across the state, and it’s really hurting our kids. We’ve lost the arts, we lost music, we lost technical training in our schools because all the resources are going to teaching to these tests that impact a teacher’s salary or a school’s grade. We have this backwards now. It’s backwards.


On what women’s history month means to her:

It means that I want to make sure women are equally represented in every aspect of society. I’ve grown up in world that we’ve seen a lot of changes. I want my daughter to be able to tell her daughter that the world has changed and we do have equality for women and men.


On the record number of women running for office:

Not only are they running, they’re winning and forcing a change in our government. I think this is a movement that started the day after the last presidential inauguration (and) that will not be stopped.

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