Chris King, despite trailing in polls, isn’t slowing down as primary nears

Chris King, despite trailing in polls, isn’t slowing down as primary nears

Chris King, 2018 Democratic candidate for governor

TALLAHASSEE – Chris King, a Winter Park homebuilder and Democratic candidate for governor, is lagging in the polls but isn’t slowing down in his push for his party’s nomination. He’s put $3.3 million of his own money into his campaign so far, including another $1 million last month.

As early voting begins this week, King was wrapping up a tour of the Panhandle, trying to make inroads into an area where two of his opponents, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham have deep roots.

Despite trailing in the polls in a five-way race, King has had an outsized impact on the campaign trail, taking positions that have often pushed his opponents further to the left or, in the case of affordable housing, raised an issue other candidates mentioned only rarely. After he came out in favor of abolishing the death penalty, Gillum said he’d use it only sparingly. Gillum is now in favor of abolishing capital punishment.

We caught up with King in Tallahassee to talk about his background, faith, campaign and the issues he’s brought to the forefront of the campaign: gun violence, stand your ground, affordable housing. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Orlando Sentinel: You recently spoke about your Christian faith in a speech at Tampa Bay Tiger Bay. Why did you decide to do that, and why does this set you apart from other candidates?

King: “(At Tiger Bay), as opposed to just giving the stump I spoke on faith and politics. And I recognize that there are a lot of Democrats that don’t want to ever connect those two things because they’ve been so hurt by the sort of co-opted Christian conservative movement.

I believe there is this white evangelical conservatism that has developed this highly weaponized strand in the Trump era. It was on full display (on July 31) at the DeSantis rally and if we don’t address it and provide an alternative vision for those folks who are looking, trying to figure out where to go with their value system then we’ll continue to lose and lose and lose and it’s very dangerous.”

OS: Tell me more about your faith – where do you go to church?

King: “I grew up Presbyterian but now, about six years ago I now go to a church called Summit, a very large non-denominational church in Central Florida. It’s younger, very mission oriented.

It’s part of my value system, and I feel like Democrats too often cede that ground to Republicans. I’ve still taken positions from a place of faith that a lot of Democrats understand, whether it’s talking about LGBT discrimination laws from a place of faith.

I had an older gay brother who I lost at age 30, so this is near and dear to my heart. For him growing up gay in Central Florida was extremely difficult in the ‘70s and ‘80s and he took his life right around his 30th birthday, so that would’ve been 21 years ago. And for me, it’s just another personal motivation that we have to stand up for communities that have not been cared for and protected and loved.”

OS: Gillum recently declared he’d issue an executive order repealing the stand your ground law if he’s elected, but is that feasible? How would you work with the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass your agenda?

King: “I think stand your ground represents low hanging fruit in the gun safety or criminal justice area. I think there are a lot of folks on the right, particularly in law enforcement, who have come to appreciate that this is a bad law that’s being poorly enforced and I think a governor who can bring attention to that in a thoughtful and considerate way can be a part of repealing or at the very worst reforming that law. That’s the healthy, right way to make a change. In an election year we come up with gimmicks and different things to try to tell voters we’re going to do it quicker and faster but that’s the way we actually make meaningful real change.

“And by virtue of our amendment process you better believe if my first two (legislative) sessions don’t produce what I hope they would produce around some of my core, top, top priorities – health care, free community college and trade school – I will in 2020 take it to the voters and be a governor’s champion for an amendment. It’s a beautiful and powerful way to get things done, we just haven’t had a governor who has wanted to use that in a long time.”

OS: There’s often tension between black Democrats frustrated with the lack of movement on the stand your ground law, while white Democrats joined some Republicans to pass a gun control bill after the Parkland mass shooting. How would you navigate the politics of gun violence to pass your agenda, including your tax on guns and ammo?

King: I would agree with the black community in Florida that there has been short shrift to what I would call the everyday gun violence that doesn’t make the front pages of the news. We’ve got to sure – mass fatality gun violence is an enormous and glaring issue . . . but we can’t in our rush to come to solutions, fail to see that for so much of our state in areas like the west side of Orlando, or in the south side of St. Petersburg or in large swaths of Jacksonville they feel as if their leaders have not spoken to everyday gun violence and the types of issues – and stand your ground is one of them – they face.

My Every Kid Fund – a bullet tax to protect children – that’s not just children in affluent schools like Winter Park or Parkland. This is really to invest in the types of programs for urban communities that invest in the initiatives and after school programs and school safety technologies that are cutting edge.

OS: Republican leaders have waged heated battles in recent years over Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development groups to promote tourism and lure companies to Florida. How would you handle those entities?

King: “Too often these incentives have been used in my view less thoughtfully to attract out of state large corporations to open up satellite offices in Florida with low-paying jobs. I recognize that incentives are one arrow in our quiver, and I’m not saying stop all incentives, I haven’t said that. But I have had a concern that our overall economic development mission is geared so heavily, tilted to mightily towards very large corporations as opposed to home-grown small businesses.

I will want to want to make my legacy in using those tools to really support more of a boon in entrepreneurship and small businesses.

OS: By focusing on smaller, untested companies, though, isn’t there a danger of wasting taxpayer money on incentives for companies that go bust or don’t meet jobs goals?

King: “I think the value I bring to this is that there are no special interest ties if I am elected the next governor of Florida. There’s no big money, there’s nobody I’m beholden to when it comes to how I’m going to think about allocation and allotment of incentives. I think that will give me fresh eyes to really look at what works.

There are great case studies of where it’s worked. The Space Coast I think is one of the best. That’s where we’ve seen Brevard County, which was, goodness gracious, in kind of the death throes after the (end of the) shuttle program, and we’ve seen a resurgence. So I get that this can work. But I also get and Sanford Burnham is an example – that it can go bad. So I just have a tremendous sense of ‘I can’t get this wrong.’

OS: You’ve championed spending more money for affordable housing, but how would you target populations in dire need of it like domestic violence victims?

King: “I would want to be the housing governor. I’ve said that from day one that I will have the ability to invest nearly a billion dollars in private and public monies just by winning this election. And it really cures a whole set of ills. So there’s a different (affordable housing) issue every week in the Sentinel; whether it’s (domestic violence victims), whether it’s disabled veterans, Puerto Rico – it’s just constant.

I had a roundtable with Puerto Rican families two weeks ago who had vouchers that were in danger of being stopped. And to get into an apartment community, let’s say it’s $1,500. Well, they’ve got to have first and last month’s rent and a security deposit – that’s impossible for somebody who is trying to rebuild their life. So that’s where the housing crisis is going to whip our economy if we don’t fix it.

(Former Governor) Lawton Chiles created that (affordable housing trust) fund 26 years ago that we’ve raided $2 billion from it and I would seek to redeem that.’’

grohrer@orlandosentinel.com or (850) 222-5564

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