Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Draining the Tallahassee Swamp

By Duwayne Escobedo

The way Bob White sees it, the state government in Florida has become a “swamp.” Politicians, lobbyists and big business control Tallahassee and the everyday, taxpaying citizen has no voice.

That’s why the 60-year-old White announced at the end of May at the Republican Liberty Caucus in Orlando that he would run for governor. Currently, 18 candidates are seeking to replace Rick Scott in the 2018 election. The pool cleaning company owner from Melbourne wants to become the “people’s champion.”

White kicked off his campaign in Northwest Florida and sat down with Inweekly to discuss his bid. He admitted he’s an outsider fighting against the political establishment.

“Tallahassee literally has become a swamp,” White told the Inweekly. “Just like Washington has, there’s a political class that exists in Tallahassee. It’s the politicians. It’s the lobbyists, and it’s the special interests that the lobbyists represent. And they are only listening to each other. It’s like a big echo chamber up there. The people of Florida have lost their voice.”

As the chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, founder, former chairman of the Liberty Catalyst Fund and instrumental in creating the Come Clean Florida coalition, White has fought to reform state government for years.

Running for office for the first time, he chose to run for the state’s highest office because that’s where he said he could make the biggest impact for the citizens of Florida and his own growing family.

“I’ve seen the way Tallahassee operates, and I’m pretty turned off and disgusted by it,” White said. “I’ve got a wife and three children and four grandchildren and, hopefully, more on the way.”

He continued, “I want to do whatever I can to make sure that Florida remains the kind of a place where my grandchildren can grow up and have the same kind of opportunities that I did. I’ve got to do something about it, so that prompted me to get involved in Tallahassee.”

White is a fourth-generation Floridian from a small town in Polk County. A product of public schools he graduated with a University of Central Florida business administration degree.

Growing up in the heart of the Florida citrus industry, he recalls picking fruit, pruning trees, and moving irrigation pipe before and after school as a teenager.

“We even worked ‘firing’ the groves when the temperatures dropped below freezing,” White said.

White said he remembers family reunions at Silver Lake, near Palatka, and his grandparent’s home in Okeechobee.

This upbringing left him with admiration for everyday, hard working people.

He said Tallahassee has a “much too powerful political class” where “it’s their will be done, not yours.”

White chafes at being told he should seek another political office, not the most powerful one in the fourth largest state in America.

“People say, ‘Well, you ought to start out at some other level first,’” White said. “‘You’ve never held political office before in your life. What makes you think you’re qualified to be governor? And why not do one of those other opportunities first?’”

White is running for governor because he wants to make the biggest possible impact in Tallahassee. He said, “When we looked at this race, we thought that this is an opportunity not just to run for governor, but also to raise awareness on these issues that are so important that nobody else in this race wants to talk about.”

White said, for example, for seven years he has fought to eliminate red light cameras in Florida, which he said have nothing to do with safety. However, American Traffic Solutions, an Arizona company, pouring “millions” into political parties and committees to prevent the state from banning red light cameras at intersections.

“They keep introducing the bill with no real intention of passing it to keep the money flowing,” White said, “So, if we can raise awareness as to that issue and the way that the special interests are controlling the process through their unlimited contributions and political committees, then that’s going to be a win whether we win the governor’s race or not.”

He added, “We’ll focus attention on that issue and the corruption that exists and how we need to clean it up and try to transform it back the way it ought to be.”

The Liberty Caucus, which White chairs in Florida, exists in 44 of 50 states and is part of the Republican Party. White said it currently counts more than 1,500 people in the Florida chapter.

“We’ve always been considered to be the conscience of the Republican Party,” White said. “What created us in the first place was to try to say, ‘Hey, you know what? There’s a drift in the Republican Party away from those Jeffersonian principles of free markets and free people and limited government.’”

White said he would like to see Common Core eliminated. Additionally, he opposes an over reliance on “high-stakes testing” that determine teacher’s salaries and bonuses. He would like to strengthen workforce education initiatives that he said current lawmakers have failed to address fully.

“What if you’re not college bound? How do we prepare you to succeed in life?” White asked.  “They’re just as important as anybody else’s kids, and their needs have to be addressed.”

White said being an outsider is an advantage and expressed confidence that he can earn 23-25 percent of the vote in the crowded primary election and sneak into the general election.

“So, you want a guy that’s going to drain the swamp and have your back? I’m your guy,” White says. “That’s part of the strategy as we go around the state.”

He promised to return to Pensacola, Milton, and Fort Walton Beach in September and said the area reminded him of where he grew up. Voters in the region, a conservative stronghold, dislike being taken for granted by Republican political candidates.

“it’s been great to be here, and I’m going to be back,” White said. “So, don’t think that Bob White’s going to be a candidate that’s going to forget you Northwest Florida.”