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Saturday April 19th 2014

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Sowing Grassroots

Nan Rich visits Pensacola
By Jessica Forbes

Continuing to build a grassroots campaign she began over a year ago, Democratic candidate for governor Nan Rich will speak in Pensacola at the upcoming Democratic Women’s Club and Democratic Executive Committee of Escambia County’s holiday gathering. Attending similar gatherings across the state has been a primary activity of Rich’s in recent months, a way to connect with Democrats and build name recognition in a gubernatorial race that is becoming increasingly interesting as 2014 nears.

Rich spoke with the IN shortly after attending DEC holiday parties in Leon and Jefferson counties, where enthusiasm ran high, according to Rich, who as of Nov. 4, is vying with former Republican governor Charlie Crist for the Democratic ticket.

Despite some labeling her the “underdog” and “dark horse” candidate, Rich remains optimistic, stating that her focus is connecting with voters and building a network of volunteers. “To me, that’s what this is about—it’s really getting back to the basics, getting back to the people electing the governor, not the corporations and the special interests and the money that they put into the campaign,” she said.

From Weston, west of Fort Lauderdale, Rich served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2004 and in the state Senate from 2004 to 2012. Rich was the leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus from 2010 to 2012 and, knowing she would be term-limited from office in November 2012, decided on a run for the governor’s office.

“I looked around at other possible Democrats that might run, and at some point you say, ‘Why not me?’ I have the experience. I have the knowledge. I have the passion. I have 12 years of legislative experience,” she recalled.

As a legislator, Rich, a lifelong Democrat, established a reputation as an advocate for public education and women’s reproductive rights, and, among many other issues, is also currently concerned with problems in the state’s foster care system and elder care in general.

Rich, 71, studied English at the University of Florida in the early 1960s, but left before graduating to marry her husband, David. The couple owned a floor covering business where Rich worked up until she had children. As a stay at home mom, Rich became active with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), eventually working to found Dade County’s Guardian ad Litem program in the 1980s, and other child welfare programs.

From 1996 to 1999, Rich served as the first Floridian elected as NCJW’s president before stepping into state politics. “My focus has been on community service issues, and trying to improve the quality of life for women, children, and families in our state,” said Rich of her primary goals as a community activist and, later, legislator.

“I’ve always been someone who’s able to work across the aisle,” said Rich, noting that to be true of working with Crist during his previous tenure as governor. “I was able to work with him in areas,” she said.

Namely, those joint efforts included building bi-partisan coalitions to kill the Parent Trigger bill and prison privatization, and “to stop bad legislation on women’s rights.”

“His priorities and philosophy in many cases were different from mine,” Rich stated, giving their respective opinions of the tobacco settlement during Lawton Chiles’ governorship, taking funds from the Lawton Chiles Endowment Trust Fund for Children, and gay adoption as examples. “He was a Republican [then]; his priorities were different from what he’s saying today.”

“The voters have to feel comfortable about what your real position is,” Rich stated. “I think in a Democratic primary, I am the true Democrat and my record shows that.”

Rich also takes issue with both Crist and Scott’s approach to FCAT as governors. “I don’t believe in children and teachers being evaluated on one day by one test,” said Rich. “We all grew up and we all had testing, but we didn’t have testing that was punitive and that was a high stakes test.”

“What I want to do is bring everybody together that’s affected by this system—parents, teachers—everybody needs to be at the table together,” said Rich. “When this governor had a summit this past year, he had more legislators than educators—the wrong people were sitting at the table.”

In a related vein, Scott’s cuts to education are another major difference between the two that Rich cites. “I have a very different opinion about where the priorities should be and how the dollars should follow those priorities. The dollars should be invested in education because that is the future for our children,” she said. “We have got to get back to investing in public education. I mean from the very beginning—child care, to pre-K, to K-12, and higher education—it’s a continuum.”

Along with education, Rich sees health care as the “economic engine” that could fuel future job growth, one that Scott has neglected.

“This governor and legislature have declined to take $51 billion in Medicaid expansion money from the Affordable Care Act and that is, to me, morally reprehensible. You’re talking about 1.2 million Floridians that could have health care if we took that money. We’re also talking about a tremendous number—an estimated 120,000 new jobs—would be created,” Rich stated. “I would make sure we took those dollars to invest in Floridians.”

Rich’s campaign is looking to social media—namely Facebook and Twitter—as key to connecting with supporters and gaining increased traction. “I think it is an extremely important component of the campaign, especially when I’m going to have resources, but not the amount that Governor Scott is going to have. $100 million is what he has said he is going to put into this race. “

“Name recognition is a big factor in where I am right now,” said Rich. Currently, volunteer coordinators in 25 counties are working to expand email lists and host events, including house parties planned to begin in January. At the present, Rich has made more than 230 official visits only one year into her campaign.

“I obviously have to work hard and that’s what I’m doing. I’m developing an incredibly strong grass roots, people-powered campaign.”

WHAT: Escambia County Democratic Women’s Club and Democratic Executive Committee Holiday Gathering
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12
WHERE: First floor conference room, Town & Country Plaza Bldg., 1720 W. Fairfield Dr.
COST: Free; suggested $10 donation
DETAILS: facebook.com/Esc.Co.DWC and nanrich2014.com