The early analysis of Gillum’s shock victory in Florida’s Democratic primary for governor has focused on two items: He is the first black nominee to run for governor in the state, and he is running on an unapologetically progressive platform that includes support for Medicare for All and the abolition of ICE. But an overlooked aspect of his candidacy is that he was the mayor of a progressive city, Tallahassee, in a state that hasn’t had a Democratic governor in two decades.
Gillum’s career has been defined by this divide, which has solidified across the country over the past two years: two-thirds of the largest 50 cities by population have Democratic mayors, while two-thirds of states have Republican governors. As mayor, Gillum reduced the carbon footprint of Tallahassee’s consumers by 20 percent, in a state whose governor, Rick Scott, has questioned whether climate change exists. Gillum implemented Ban the Box legislation to help formerly incarcerated people in his city find employment, in one of only four states that permanently denies the vote to ex-offenders. And he tried to implement tougher gun control in his city, in a state that has made it illegal to do so.
It was this last effort that truly tested the limits of local power in a state like Florida. In 2014, when Gillum was Tallahassee city commissioner, two gun-rights organizations sued the city over regulations prohibiting residents from using firearms in public parks, which they argued violated a 2011 state law preempting local governments from passing gun control ordinances. For Gillum, the lawsuit was a crucial fight between state and city interests, showing how “special interests and corporations, after getting their way with state government, are trying to intimidate and bully local communities.” An appeals court ultimately threw the case out in 2017, and Tallahassee in 2018 joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2011 state law.
If Gillum wins his race for governor, he won’t just try to scale up some of the progressive legislation he’s fought for on the local level. He’ll also be redefining the state’s relationship to local government.