Andrew Gillum won the Democratic nomination for governor of Florida on a bold progressive platform. He championed Medicare for All, criminal-justice reform, abolishing ICE, and investing in education and clean energy. But just before he announced his dark-horse candidacy, Gillum launched another campaign—one that reveals his political acumen and suggests how he could reimagine the state’s relationship with its cities.
In January 2017, Gillum, as mayor of Tallahassee, introduced the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a movement to fight state preemption,when states rescind specific or broad powers from local governments. The struggle against heavy-handed state legislation quickly gained the support of a diverse set of groups dedicated to immigrant rights, fighting poverty, civil rights, labor, gun control, consumer protection, and the environment. The Republican-controlled state legislature had stifled all of these movements by preventing them from taking action at a local level. By taking on preemption, Gillum could bring them all together.
Right now, cities in Florida are barred from raising the minimum wage, establishing paid-leave benefits, imposing gun controls, creating public broadband networks, and regulating Uber, Airbnb, and drones. Private corporations are insulated from municipal laws, and cities are limited on how they can raise revenues. It’s not an exaggeration to say that in Florida—and elsewhere in the nation—state preemption has created a crisis of local democracy.
In one of its first battles, Gillum and the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions took on a draconian 2017 state preemption bill that would have prohibited municipalities from passing any law affecting private businesses. At the time, Gillum spoke out against the law, saying, “I can’t imagine a decision that I make as a mayor that it couldn’t be argued impacts business. So the vagueness of it and the wide and sweeping nature of that is a huge threat to local governments. We fear that it may impact our ability to protect our water quality, our air quality, [our workers].”