Gwen Graham, daughter of former Florida Governor and US Senator Bob Graham, has never run for office, but isn’t exactly a political newcomer.
On Tuesday, Graham announced she’ll run as a Democrat in the Second Congressional District, challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland of Panama City in 2014. Her campaign will be managed by Steve Schale, who directed Barack Obama’s Florida operation in 2008.
Southerland, a conservative, was elected in 2010 at the peak of tea party power, beating seven-term incumbent Allen Boyd, D-Monticello. Last November, running in a more Democratic district after redistricting, Southerland edged former state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee. But now he’s been targeted by national PACs looking to flip the U.S. House to Democratic control. The Democratic primary looks to be lively, too, with Lawson possibly making another run.
Graham, who calls herself a moderate, has lived in Tallahassee since her father was elected governor in 1978. She has a law degree and works as an administrator with the Leon County School District. She’s married with three children, a daughter and two sons.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Gwen Graham:
Q: So what does your father think of this?
GRAHAM: It’s been an incredible father-daughter bonding experience. I talked to him this morning, and he’s so excited, and it’s so nice as a daughter to have that sharing and connection – and his advice, which I seek every day.
I’ve been so fortunate to have my dad as my role model, as a person who was willing to work with anyone to reach common-sense solutions. And that’s what I’m committed to doing.
Q: He’s been frustrated with the way things are going, so this must mean a lot to him.
GRAHAM: Absolutely. He is, and he hopes more people across our state are willing to get involved in public service, which is what this is. He’s very big on citizenship. …So I’m going to be one of those people. (Laughs)
Q: The Affordable Care Act – Congressman Southerland voted against that. What do you think Florida needs to be doing going forward?
GRAHAM: Well, I think Congressman Southerland has spent a lot of time attacking it and being concerned about the Affordable Care Act. The reality is that right now it’s the law, the Supreme Court has upheld it, and we’re moving forward.
There are some parts of the Affordable Care Act that are of a concern, but there’s other parts, such as the requirement that insurance companies can’t forbid people with pre-existing conditions from being covered, or the tax credits that will be coming that help people afford health care.
So I think that we have to look at the entire act and determine what potentially needs to be addressed as any changes – what good parts we can make sure that the people of the Second Congressional District are able to take advantage of.
Q: What does the gun-control debate need in Washington?
GRAHAM: Actually, my husband is sworn law enforcement, and he carries a gun every day. So I have a great respect for gun ownership and the Second Amendment. I think it’s a discussion that will be continuing on, and certainly don’t believe that people that have a criminal record or people that have mental concerns should be in a position to obtain guns.
I think we need to look at the laws that are currently on the books, and strengthen them as much as possible and make sure they’re being enforced – and move forward with the recognition that the Second Amendment and people who lawfully own guns – who are law-abiding citizens – that they certainly continue to have that right.
Q: Were you in the Governor’s Mansion when protestors demonstrated there in 1979 against your father’s signing death warrants for John Spenkelink and others?
GRAHAM: Yes, I was. I very vividly remember that. There were people who chained themselves to the fence of the mansion, and I remember my dad taking out pizza to them and talking with them. It was an emotional, difficult time. It’s a very emotional issue, like the gun-control issue and like the Affordable Care Act. They’re issues that people feel very strongly about, and you respect people’s opinions on both sides of those issues.
I remember it being a difficult time, but Dad was enforcing the laws of Florida and felt very strongly about that.