Philip Levine at Orlando town hall: Florida needs a ‘culture of excellence’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine talks with people during a town-hall meeting in Orlando on Thursday, May 3, 2018. (Steven Lemongello / Orlando Sentinel)

Philip Levine told an Orlando town hall Thursday night that he’s the Democratic candidate for governor with a real progressive record — and he pointed to businesses as a guide on how the state could become more liberal.

“People say: ‘Phil, you’re in business. How can you be a Democrat and be in business?’” said the cruise line and real estate executive and former mayor of Miami Beach. “Have you ever taken a look at human resources manuals for the most admired companies in America? … They’re pro-education, pro-health care, pro-environment, anti-discrimination. And by the way, if they want to come to your community, they want good public transportation.”

While Levine said Florida should remain a low-tax state, he pledged the state would no longer give out tax incentives to companies and would make sure companies pay their fair share of taxes.

“Companies don’t relocate headquarters based on a measly tax incentive. It’s because you have the right stuff,” he said. “That’s how you take the Space Coast and turn it into our Silicon Valley.”

His native state of Massachusetts, he said, has high taxes and bad weather. “And by the way, all the great companies are there, all the great start-ups are there. Know why? They have the best education, the best public transportation. They have a culture of excellence. That’s where Florida needs to go.”

The event was the third in a series of town-hall meetings hosting all four Democratic candidates for governor, organized by the Central Florida chapters of Grassroots Progressives, the Women’s March, Indivisible, Tuesday Resistance and Challenge Politics. Former U.S .Rep. Gwen Graham and Winter Park businessman Chris King have appeared in the past few weeks, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s meeting will be later this month.

“If you’re very progressive, you want to elect someone who does progressive things instead of just talking about it, right?” Levine said. “We did so many progressive things, and we did them fast because I’m an impatient guy.”

He talked about how Miami Beach fought rising sea levels, which was causing what he called “sunny-day flooding” in the streets.

“We put in pumps, changed sea walls, changed building codes and became a standard for cities all over the world,” he said. “We did it. We moved forward.”

Levine said Miami Beach also reformed the police department and was one of the only cities in Florida to raise the minimum wage.

He called for more investment in public education, saying: “You don’t invest in competition. [Florida] taking funds and investing in charter schools — basically someone else’s company — doesn’t make any sense.”

He mimicked a company looking at Florida: “Oh, you’re 45th in education? Next.”

Levine said Gov. Rick Scott’s decision not to accept the Medicaid expansion in 2011 was a “disaster.”

“When I’m governor, we’ll not only accept money, we’ll ask for more every month,” he said. “It’s not a privilege to have health care. It’s a right.”

Levine said the Affordable Care Act had a flawed start, but it could be used as a basis for a better system that provides everyone with quality health care. But he didn’t think the time was right for a public option.

For hurricanes and other disasters, he said the state needs a chief environmental resiliency officer in Tallahassee and regional officers across the state.

He also called the Trump administration’s handling of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria “an embarrassment to all Americans. … Instead of playing golf or throwing paper towels, what this man should be doing is get on the phone, call the CEOs of the top 25 electric companies in America and put your best and brightest together … We will land in Puerto Rico, and we will show the world we protect our own.”

Joking that the state’s repeated raiding of its affordable housing fund would be called “embezzlement” if it were a business, he cautioned: “There’s no single public answer for that. … We have to give the private sector an incentive program to build affordable housing fast.”

Levine is running against Gillum, Graham and King in the Aug. 28 primary.

slemongello@orlandosentinel.com, 407-418-5920 or @stevelemongello

Chris King at Orlando town hall: Democrats can’t cede values, vision to Republicans »

Gwen Graham at Orlando town hall: ‘I will have Florida back on the right path’ »

Source Article