State Rep. Kionne McGhee of Miami was elected last month to become the next leader of Florida’s House Democrats. McGhee, 39, has lived something of an underdog story, rising from poverty in Homestead public-housing projects and diagnoses of mental disability early in life to become an attorney, author and professor.
First elected from his deep-blue 117th District in 2012, McGhee is poised to replace House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, after the 2018 elections.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Kionne McGhee:
QUESTION: What attracted you to serving in the state Legislature, where it’s not always easy for a Democrat?
MCGHEE: I’m an attorney. I love to construct, review, analyze and understand at a deep level how the laws that affect our lives work. State government provides a great avenue for that, and a chance to help 20 million Floridians.
Right now, we’re making an assessment of how we as Democrats have performed, or possibly underperformed in recent elections. We’re forming our analysis. And once we meet with our stakeholders, we’ll have a discussion. In that discussion, we should be able to surgically determine what cause, to what extent and what can possibly be done to increase voter turnout in the state.
Q: How are you preparing to take on your new role as minority leader?
MCGHEE: I’m trying to get away from the word “I” as leader-designate. We just want to focus on member-driven projects and member-driven contributions towards the process. It’s not going to be about me, it’s going to be about our movement.
Leader Cruz has already begun that process and I look forward to advancing that forward, which is basically to have more dialogue about issues that pertain to all of us as Floridians, to look into issues that affect all of us regardless of color, regardless of economics and regardless of where we’re from.
Q: Some have noted the Democrats seem to be taking fewer caucus positions in recent years than in years past. Do you think something is lost in the absence of a unified opposition?
MCGHEE: I’m not sure what might have caused an increase or a decrease in caucus positions, but I’m noticing that our caucus — they’re voting their districts. And sometimes when you vote your district, it represents what the people truly want and why the people sent you here.
Just because there may be fewer formal caucus positions does not mean our caucus is not unified. It simply means that everything is above board, we like what we see, and members are exercising their independence.
Q: What’s your take on the situation involving Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala and her battle with the state over the death penalty?
MCGHEE: I don’t have a personal opinion yet on that particular case. But generally speaking, there are certainly issues with the way we administer our capital punishment system.
There are populations that are overrepresented in the system based upon race and factors that the House is finally looking into in terms of criminal justice reform. For now, I want to focus on how we can look into some of those issues that we can correct as a House, not simply as a caucus or me personally in any one case.
Q: You’ve had a remarkable path from humble beginnings to legislative leader. What’s a lesson that stays with you in public life?
MCGHEE: Simply said — never give up.