Education takes center stage at major political forum

Erick Johnson | 7/3/2014, 9 a.m.
Democratic candidate for Governor Nan Rich stepped up her campaign on Monday as she joined Black leaders at New Birth ...

Democratic candidate for Governor Nan Rich stepped up her campaign on Monday as she joined Black leaders at New Birth Baptist Church to tout her experience as a solid, unwavering legislator during a major political forum where education, a key issue in the upcoming gubernatorial election, was a hot topic.

At the Black Broadcasters of South Florida Political Action Forum, Rich spoke to a crowd of about 400 people that included state, local and county elected officials. She answered questions from a panel of members from Black media organizations that included the Westside Gazette, The Florida Courier and The Gospel Truth.

The event was sponsored by the South Florida Chapter of the National Action Network, a national organization founded and led by Rev. Al Sharpton, who opened the forum with a taped introduction that urged Blacks in South Florida to step up their involvement in politics.

An underdog, Rich has campaigned in the shadows of her opponent, frontrunner Charlie Crist who arrived too late to participate in the forum. Gov. Rick Scott was invited to participate but declined, according to event organizers.

Rich used the opportunity to present her 12-year track record as a hard-nose lawmaker to a predominately Black crowd that knows very little about her or her achievements. Alone on Monday, Rich used the forum Monday to spotlight her values and political platform. Her campaign team was busy in the church’s foyer promoting her bid with buttons and promotional items.

She served as a State Senator from 2004 to 2012, a period that included two years as Senate Minority Leader. Prior to Senator, Rich served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2004.

Primarily an unknown in the Black community, Rich connected well with the audience Monday with her warmth, knowledge and experience on key issues. She voiced her support for the parent empowerment bill, known as the parent trigger bill, a measure that would have given parents more power to make decisions in public schools. The bill was defeated twice in the Senate, the latest occurring in 2013.

Rich also re-affirmed her opposition to Gov. Rick Scott’s expansion of the voucher program to more affluent families attending charter schools, a controversial measure parents and educators fear will divert needed funds from public schools.

Rich also voiced support for restoring voting rights to convicted felons, the expansion of Medicaid, affordable college tuition for immigrants, reproductive rights for women and raising the minimum wage.

“The issue is not about raising the minimum wage, it’s about the paying a livable wage,” she said.

For these reasons, Rich believes she is the best candidate for governor. Throughout the evening, she took light jabs at Gov. Scott and Crist, both of whom opposed such issues as Republicans governors. After switching his party affiliation to Democrat, Crist reversed his stance on most issues, but Rich accused him of flopping to win the Black and Latino vote.

With nearly four months to go, Rich faces an uphill battle. She lacks the high-profile name recognition and political clout that’s needed to defeat Scott. A recent Huffington Post poll shows Crist leading Rich 41 percent to 34 percent.

But at the forum Rich proved to be forced to be reckon with. When pressed about her knowledge of civil rights in the Black community, Rich drew applause after becoming feisty. She pointed out a recent report that spotlighted the deaths of 477 children in the care of the Florida’s Department of Children and Family Services. A majority of the children were Black.

The forum was followed by a round table discussion on education by a panel of civic leaders and business executives who exchanged ideas on how to improve libraries and public schools in the Black community.