State Sen. Gary Farmer, the incumbent senator from District 34, has the knowledge, oratorical skills and energy to help revivify a statewide Democratic Party that during the past quarter century has proved itself increasingly adept at losing elections.
The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board recommends that voters in the DemocratIc primary again choose Farmer as their nominee. He’s opposed by former state Rep. Jim Waldman, who ran against him in 2016, when Farmer was elected to the Senate seat after court-ordered redistricting.
Farmer, a trial lawyer, has been a strong advocate of issues dear to the majority of Democratic voters. He supports increased pay for public school teachers and opposes diverting more money from traditional public schools to charter schools.
He’s also a strong advocate of environmental protection who understands the urgency of addressing the growing problem of algae blooms in and around Lake Okeechobee that threatens public health and the tourist industry. And as a representative of a coastal district, he understands the need to address problems caused by a rising sea level.
He also supports expanding Medicaid to a larger segment of the population.
Farmer’s tenure has not been without missteps. Chief among them was his “no” vote on compromise gun legislation passed by the Legislature soon after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy in Parkland.
We, too, wanted the Legislature to ban the sale of military-style, high-velocity, semi-automatic rifles — the weapon of choice in America’s epidemic of mass shootings. But it wasn’t going to happen, no matter the persuasive arguments Farmer offered during a rare Saturday session. The bill — the most important gun legislation passed in Florida in a generation — passed the Senate by one vote.
Waldman pounced on this vote as proof that Farmer is a lackey of the National Rifle Association.
“Gary showed up and said all the right things, but pressed the wrong button,” Waldman told the editorial board. “For whatever reason, he wasn’t going to support this agenda for gun control. He’s been praised by the NRA for his vote. He’s on the side of the NRA.”
As proof, Waldman offers up a letter that NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer sent Farmer last month expressing her “profound gratitude” for his vote against gun control legislation.
The letter is clearly a political stunt, meant to help Waldman, who entered the race last month.
Anyone who knows Farmer knows he’s not beholden to the NRA, which gives him an “F” rating. He says his “no” vote was a strategic move aimed at defeating a weak bill and forcing Republicans to vote again, but on a stronger measure. Given the intense public pressure for action, he says, Republicans would not have left Tallahassee without passing a tougher gun control law.
“I could not vote to put guns in the hands of teachers,” he told us. “They were saying counties could opt out of the program, but if they do, they lose tens of millions of dollars. It’s why Broward County is trying to cobble some compromise position. They know 60 pecent of parents don’t want guns in the hands of teachers.
“The selling point was, ‘This is baby steps. Do this now and we’ll get more next time.’ I said then, ‘There will be no second step, no second bill that deals with the root cause.’… I’m all for mental health funding. We don’t have enough guidance counselors. But this took that money out of base education funding. I believe the bill was deeply flawed. We could have passed a better bill.”
On that, we’re not sure he’s right. And something is better than nothing.
Farmer also stumbled in his quest for the job of Senate Democratic Leader, a choice that remains on hold until after the election. He suggested that fellow South Florida senator Lauren Book, who is also seeking the post, might not have the time to do an adequate job because she is caring for year-old twins. The remark sent shockwaves through the Democratic Party establishment and gave Waldman and others the ammunition to call Farmer “sexist.”
Farmer’s comment was boneheaded, but he isn’t the first politician to move his lips before engaging his brain. On issues important to women in the Democratic Party’s base, including abortion rights and pay equity, Farmer has established his bonafides. He apologized to Book, and unless future comments or actions prove far more egregious, his misstep should be forgiven, although not forgotten.
On the whole, Farmer has served his district well. He stands up for people, knows his stuff and makes the case in a way Senate Democrats need.
On the other hand, as we said the last time these two men faced off, Waldman was not a standout lawmaker during his time in the Legislature.
Farmer, 54, lives in Lighthouse Point. He recently dissolved his private practice and now works for the Morgan & Morgan law firm. Waldman, 60, also an attorney, is in-house counsel for several educational institutions. He is a resident of Pompano Beach. Republicans did not put forth a candidate in the heavily Democratic district, which runs along the coast from county line to county line, but there will be a write-in candidate in November.
by Sun Sentinel Editorial Board