Tampa Bay Times: Andrew Gillum writes $100,000 check to Florida Democratic Party for voter registration

‘The race begins today,’ the former Tallahassee mayor said.

TAMPA — The political committee of former Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum gave $100,000 on Thursday to the Florida Democratic Party to help register voters before the 2020 presidential primary.

His committee Forward Florida also will give $400,000 to organizations mobilizing voters in minority communities, Gillum said.

“The race begins today,” Gillum said. “This is simply a downpayment. We’ve got a lot more coming your way.”

In March, Gillum announced plans to turn the political movement and campaign structure that nearly won him the governor’s race into a statewide effort to find 1 million more Democratic voters in 2020. That number includes new registrations and “reengaging” registered voters who have skipped recent elections.

In joining Gillum’s effort, the state party is acknowledging its own failures in recent years to organize volunteers and register voters in non-election years. Democrats have too often relied on the personality at the top of the ticket to deliver voters to the polls. So far, that has only worked under President Barack Obama.

Democrats want to modernize, party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said, with more research and data tools and training year round. In June, the party will train 90 new staff — mostly college students, many Spanish-speakers — who will begin knocking on doors.

“What I respect about what the Republicans have done is they’ve tried to build the organization that regardless of who the nominee is, they can deliver a win,” Gillum said. “We’re trying to build the state of Florida that mechanically can produce a win regardless of who the nominee is.”

The half a million promised today comes from $3.7 million left over from Gillum’s 2018 campaign. It’s a pot of money that recently came under fire, when lawyer and activist John Morgan suggested on Twitter should go toward helping felons pay their fines and fees to get back their voting rights.

While Floridians overwhelming approved a constitutional amendment last year to restore the right to vote to certain felons, lawmakers this session tacked on new provisions that will require those felons to first pay any court costs, fees and restitution. Gov. Ron DeSantis has not signed the bill but he indicated he intends to.

In response to Morgan, Gillum said that he had already dedicated that money to his voter registration campaign and he encouraged Morgan to “use your sway with @RonDeSantisFL to get it vetoed.”

Morgan shot back: “You lost by 30k votes and kept the money from people who trusted you so that now you can go around the state with a staff preparing for your next run. I will tell you that is a huge mistake. Your donors are very disappointed. This is a huge ethical lapse. Give it to charity not yourself.”

After Thursday’s event, Gillum said he was disappointed by Morgan’s attack and said it was “offensive” that there isn’t more effort into getting DeSantis to veto the bill or to fighting it in court.

“It makes no sense to be in a circular firing squad,” Gillum said. “I’m not interested int that.”

Amendment 4, if signed into law, won’t make it easier for Gillum to reach 1 million new voters. But he insisted Thursday that the goal can be reached despite this unexpected impediment.

“We obviously would love to have that 1.4 million individuals as part of our target for this registration work,” Gillum said. “Even without that, we have 4 million eligible unregistered people in the state of Florida.”

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