Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum listens as he meets with residents, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami. Gillum spoke with residents about gun violence and quality of life in this inner city neighborhood. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
This man could be Florida's first black governor
01:12 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Ana Navarro is a Republican strategist and CNN political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @ananavarro. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers. View more opinions on CNN.

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My Florida absentee ballot had been sitting on my kitchen counter unopened for more than two weeks. Every day, I avoided it as if it was a Zika-infected mosquito. I finally filled it out, and then I schlepped it in my bag for a few more days before putting it in the mail. I was giving myself a chance to change my mind. I wanted to delay the unavoidable.

I am a lifelong Republican. Since I began voting, I have always voted for Republicans running in state races in Florida. This year, I filled out my ballot for Democrat Andrew Gillum. And on Thursday, I finally put it in the mail.

Ron DeSantis, a Republican, ran a primary campaign in which he portrayed himself as Donald Trump’s Mini-Me. His signature issue during the primary was building a wall, which is weird because, well, Florida is not a border state. It’s a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides. Trump weighed in heavily in favor of DeSantis during the primary, who is now deeply in his debt..

I don’t want a Trump echo chamber for governor in Florida. I want a governor who puts the interest of the state above loyalty to a president of his party.

But I also did not want to vote for Gillum. I’m a centrist. He’s a progressive. That word kind of scares me.

He wants to raise corporate taxes. I am against that. I think it would impede Florida’s economic growth. There’s an unresolved issue of an FBI investigation involving the city of Tallahassee while he was mayor.

And then there are loyalty issues for me. My good friend Jeb Bush is supporting DeSantis. The man I’m about to marry, former Florida Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas, is also supporting DeSantis. To say neither of them is a fan of Trump is an understatement. But they both think having a Republican governor, and avoiding gridlock in Tallahassee, supersedes the destructive influence of Trump. I disagree. Voting should not be group-think. We are all free to disagree with friends and even spouses (to be).

The 2016 election taught us all an important lesson. Some things in life are binary choices. There is too much at stake in these elections. Often in Florida, elections are decided by 1 percentage point or less. Need I remind you of the 2000 presidential election, which was decided by just over 500 votes in Florida? Writing in Mickey Mouse is not an option. Leaving it blank is not an option. Throwing away your vote, is not an option. We have to vote for one of the two candidates who can actually win.

I hoped that after the primary, DeSantis would distance himself from Trump. But instead, he doubled down. The race has been tinged with accusations of racism against DeSantis from day one. DeSantis now says he supports Trump’s latest proposal of ending birthright citizenship. Birthright citizenship is granted by the 14th Amendment. Trump will be in Florida twice to headline rallies for DeSantis in the closing days of the campaign. These two are tied at the hip.

Recent events have made voting for DeSantis that much more impossible. Cesar Sayoc, by all appearances a Trump sycophant, is accused of sending explosive devices through the mail, including three to my workplace, CNN. The sole perpetrator of these acts is the one who sent these explosives. But I believe, as do many other Americans, that Trump’s divisive words contributed to triggering the alleged actions of an apparent madman.

Both Gillum and I have been personally attacked by Trump. Both Gillum and I were the targets of Twitter threats by Sayoc. Within hours of Sayoc’s court arraignment, Trump was attacking Gillum, calling him a “thief” and claiming that if elected, he would “turn Florida into Venezuela.”

That last part really strikes a raw nerve for me. Like hundreds of thousands of other Floridians born in places such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, I fled a left-wing regime. Venezuela is ruled by a ruthless dictator who beats, jails and kills his political opponents. The inflation rate is just about at 1,000,000%. Under President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuelans lack even basic necessities such as food, toilet paper and medicine. To compare Gillum to Maduro is a scare tactic by a reckless demagogue. It cheapens the pain and trauma of the people of Venezuela. It is a bald-faced lie and impossibility.

The state Legislature in Florida is Republican. Barring political apocalypse, it will remain Republican. Unlike Washington for the past two years, in Florida there would be checks and balances. Any major proposal Gillum may want made into law would require Republican cooperation.

Politics in America have become so tribal, we need checks and balances. We need our co-equal branches of government retaining their independence. We do not need one becoming subservient to the other. That is why I’m splitting my vote and voting Republican for the state Cabinet and Legislature.

Until a few days ago, I had never met Gillum. Before the last debate, I spoke to him. We talked about policy and the controversy involving a couple of tickets to “Hamilton.” He agreed he should have been more vigilant about how the tickets got paid for. But folks, I voted for Rick Scott for governor, and I voted for Marco Rubio for US senator when they were both facing far more serious financial controversies. After talking to Gillum, I think he learned a lesson about the scrutiny and standards that come with public office. The higher the office, the higher the standard – unless you are Donald Trump.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the racist, anti-immigration ad Trump posted on Twitter the same night he came to Florida to hold a rally. Trump won the 2016 campaign through a divide-and-conquer strategy. In his campaign announcement a year earlier, Trump said Mexicans were “bringing crime, they’re rapists.” He has not stopped blowing dog whistles and fabricating culture wars since.

His response to Charlottesville, the Muslim ban, the National Anthem controversy … the list is endless. It disgusts me that, not even a week after a madman who may have been triggered by the hysteria surrounding migrants killed 11 Jews in a house of worship in Pittsburgh, Trump is back to his old playbook of demonizing immigrants.

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    Gillum is out there, a happy warrior campaigning on a positive message. I am sure that if he wins, I will have some policy differences with him. And when I do, I will say so.

    The choice in Florida, and in many races across the United States, is clear. The 2018 election is a referendum on Trump and his attacks on our shared values, but more than that, it is a battle to define the heart and soul of America.

    Do we vote based on fear and angst and division? Or do we vote for an inspirational message of unity and a brighter future together. We each have a choice to make based on our own priorities. I’m going for unity.