Compassionate. Principled. Unwavering. Assessable. Determined. These are just a few of the words that supporters of Nan Rich have used to describe the democratic gubernatorial candidate.
The former state senator recently gave an extensive interview to SFGN in anticipation to the August 26 democratic primary. Rich knows her path to the democratic nomination is an uphill battle. First, she has to overcome a huge elephant in the room blocking her way — Charlie Crist. The republican-turned-independent-turned-democrat is a fundraising machine.
Despite this long shot chance, the fiery and feisty 72-year-old isn’t giving up and hopes that her grassroots campaign over the past two years can overcome Crist, his money, and the party establishment.
“The fact is I am a life-long democrat who is committed to progressive values and issues,” she said. “I believe I’m the better candidate. I represent the values and principles that we talk about in the Democratic Party.”
And that’s why she believes a candidate who has stayed true to their core beliefs over their political career will have a better shot at defeating Gov. Rick Scott in November, over a candidate who has unabashedly flip-flopped on just about every issue.
“Look at the things he’s flipped on. It’s on every single issue of importance to the voters,” she said. “I understand how people change positions; when new information comes available, they change their mind. But 180 degree on everything? That’s hard for people to believe.”
Vice Mayor of Wilton Manors Julie Carson and long-time supporter of Rich agrees.
“She knows that we can’t decide where we stand on issues by sticking our finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing, and she won’t govern Florida on a whim,” Carson said.
Before running for governor Rich served in the state legislature from 2000 to 2012. In her final two years, she became the first woman to be elected leader of the Senate Democrats.
Before being elected into office, she served as the National President of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) from 1996-1999. In 1999 she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as a Board Member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
When it comes to LGBT rights, Rich has never had to evolve, unlike other candidates, including many democrats. She’s not just supporter of the gay community, but she’s been a staunch advocate before and during her time in the state legislature.
“Nan Rich was a supporter of same-sex couples adopting children when it wasn't the most popular thing to do as a politician,” said supporter Vanessa Alenier. “She supported it because it was the right thing to do for the children in our system.”
Vanessa and her wife Melanie Alenier have supported Rich for many years and are both grateful for the support they received from Rich when they were adopting their child together. Rich not only introduced them to their eventual attorney, but later helped them raise funds to cover their growing attorneys fees.
In 2010, a judge ruled in favor of their adoption.
“Senator Nan Rich had no agenda when showing so much support for our family,” the Aleniers said. “She was supportive all the way through because it was in the best interest of our son to be adopted by his mommies.”
And the word “advocate” is important to Rich.
“Once elected, I became a strong advocate for the things [democrats] believe in,” she said. “But I was advocate before being elected and I never lost that title.”
Carson can’t say enough about the importance of Rich’s values.
“Throughout her career, she has fought discrimination, and she has modeled behavior that has changed Florida’s political dialogue,” Carson said. “Nan’s reputation as an advocate for society's most vulnerable remains unquestioned. In a State where everyone has an agenda, Nan is pure at heart, always fighting for the people who most need it.”
Where did Rich’s values come from? Well, for one, her upbringing.
“I was taught [growing up] that there should be opportunity and fairness for all people,” she said. “Those were the values that I was taught as child [in my household] and my synagogue.”
When it comes to the progression of LGBT rights, Rich understands. She met a lot of openly gay people through she and her husband’s flooring business.
“Before this business, I didn’t really think about [gay rights],” she said. “But in the course of that business, we became friends with a lot of people who are gay and I saw them as people with the same desires and wants as we all have. We’re all the same. And it’s those experiences that helped formulate my values over the years.”
And so when she was first elected to the legislature, LGBT rights became a priority for her, despite it not being a popular issue to champion.
“When it comes to the rights of the LGBT community and other communities disenfranchised from economic opportunities, equality and more, Nan has always been the first to step forward to give a voice to the voiceless,” said LGBT activist Michael Rajner. “Even when the odds were piled up against the issues she championed, she made certain the challenges and issues of communities of underserved people did not go unnoticed.”
Rich recalls the first time she introduced legislation in Florida that would overturn the ban on gay adoptions, for which she was the only democrat standing at the press conference. Determined, every year she kept introducing the same legislation knowing it would fail in the Republican-dominated legislature.
“I used it as an educational tool,” she said.
And it hasn’t always been Republicans she had to battle either. Her fellow democrats haven’t always supported LGBT rights.
“When Nan was serving as the Florida Senate Minority Leader, I brought to her attention changes that needed to be made to the Florida House and Senate Democratic Caucuses’ ‘Guiding Principles.’ When the document was drafted, it failed to include non-discrimination protections for the transgender community, and it also stated that the respective Caucuses supported the Florida Constitution and all its amendments,” Rajner said. “I was troubled that the document would ever imply support for the discriminatory Marriage Protection Act (also known as Amendment 2). Despite resistance from fellow Democrats in the House to correct the document, Nan fought and won to make sure the changes were made.”
This campaign for governor, though, has been frustrating for Rich because Crist has essentially ignored her candidacy.
“My opponent calls himself the people’s governor. How so, when you don’t listen to the people. They want a debate. They don’t know where he stands on the issues. Ignoring my candidacy, which Crist has done, is not the democratic way. He’s running his campaign like a republican,” she said. “You can’t learn about someone in a 30 second sound bite. That’s just telling people what you want them to hear. Let’s debate with an independent person moderating and where each candidate has to respond publicly with a give and take, a back and forth.”
And if there’s one thing Rich isn’t scared of, it’s a good old-fashioned debate during which she can highlight her past policies and her future vision.
“We each have records, positions we’ve taken throughout our political careers,” she said. “My record shows my commitment to those issues. I know the voters want that. We may not agree on everything, but the voters respect that I stand on my convictions.
I have strong convictions, and I want those values expressed in this campaign. I am a policy person. This is about substance, not style.”
Rajner worked hard to make sure there would be a debate between Rich and Crist.
“I'm disappointed Crist will not agree to a primary debate. As legislative director for the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus, I authored and championed a resolution urging the Florida Democratic Party to challenge all Democratic candidates running for a cabinet office to debate,” Rajner said. “There are people such as myself who will support the Democratic Party's nominee leading up to November, but it would help us coalesce around the nominee and bring all sides together if there was a meaningful debate and dialogue on issues most important to us.”
Rich goes on to dismiss the main arguments she’s been hearing on the campaign trail from people who support Crist — most of them being along the lines of “You’re not known north of South Florida.”
“I’ve been traveling for almost two years around the state. I’ve got a grassroots network out there. I don’t want us to go backwards; I want to put us on the right track. I’ve been to the Panhandle on three different swings. I don’t know where that vote is going to come from that’s going to put me over the top,” she said while rattling off the names of counties not know to most in South Florida. “I go where I’m invited to talk about the issues and my vision for Florida.”
And what is that vision? Here’s a glimpse.
“The things that are important to me are family and people, strong public schools, protecting abused and neglected children, healthcare,” she said. “These are what I consider to be the bread and butter issues for democrats.”
But even being an obvious champion of LGBT rights wasn’t enough to secure her the endorsement of the major LGBT rights groups including Equality Florida, SAVE (formerly SAVE Dade), as well as the Human Rights Campaign.
But Rich isn’t bitter and understands all too well that’s how politics come into play in these decisions.
“I think the overwhelming majority of the LGBT community is standing with me. There is a political nature to this,” she said. “I meet individuals all of the time who are so supportive of me everywhere I go in this state.”
One local LGBT-rights group Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), though, wasn’t afraid to buck the trend and stand by Rich.
“The entire time she was in Tallahassee, Nan was the legislative leader on trying to get the adoption ban repealed. And when Ted Deutch initially introduced PBCHRC's bill to amend the Florida Civil Rights Act and Florida's Fair Housing Act back in 2007, Nan was the first co-sponsor. Nan Rich has always been a passionate advocate for minorities and women,” said PBCHRC president and founder Rand Hoch. “Nan Rich will be an effective Governor for all Floridians.”
But that’s only if voters give her the chance on August 26.