On the Saturday after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, Gwen Graham found herself standing on the stage next to Emma González as the high schooler made her "We call BS" speech.
"It was at that moment that I felt some measure of hope in my soul that this time might be different," Graham told Refinery29. "Because I could hear in Emma and the other students' voices that this was not going to be another time where we had a massive shooting and then nothing happened."
As González spoke, Graham said, "I felt her strength, I felt her passion. I felt her start the movement... I'm getting chills talking about it."
If she's elected governor of Florida on November 6, the mom of three — the only woman in the race — pledges to be a support system for the Parkland student activists who are advocating for sensible gun-safety measures. As we speak, she shows me a stack of personalized handwritten notes she's written to people around the state. One of them is to Delaney Tarr, a Parkland survivor who is at the forefront of the movement.
"They're tired of words...they want action," Graham said.
With National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer exerting colossal influence on Florida gun legislation for decades, there's been very little in the form of action. Just a couple of weeks after Nikolas Cruz gunned down 17 people at Stoneman Douglas, the Florida Senate rejected a ban on assault rifles and voted to arm teachers instead. (There's now a push for a state constitutional amendment to end the sale of assault weapons.)
Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott did break with the NRA to sign a major gun safety bill in March, but many, including Graham, say it was "too little, too late." The legislation raised the age for gun purchases from 18 to 21, created a three-day waiting period for most firearm purchases — although, as Graham noted, the gun-show loophole is alive and well — and banned bump stocks.
The bill also created a program to arm and train school personnel, an idea Graham called "ridiculous, ill-advised, and stupid."
"When Sandy Hook happened, and this is the first time I remember that there was a discussion about arming teachers, I was getting call after call after call from teachers in my school district pleading with me, 'Gwen, I don't want to have a gun, I just want to teach,'" she said. "You know what's so sad in Florida? We found the money, millions and millions of dollars to arm school personnel, but our teachers are being forced to go out and buy supplies for their classrooms. There's no money for that. But there's money to arm our schools, which is what the gun lobby wanted."
Graham said she talks about this with her husband, who is a law enforcement officer, all the time. To him, it doesn't make any sense either. In an active-shooter situation, even the most trained individual is going to be inaccurate. A teacher who took a training course, armed with a handgun, is not going to be able to stand up to a killer with an AR-15.
So what would Graham do as governor? Step one: Get through a ban on military-style assault weapons. "I have actually found a Florida public-safety statute that allows the governor, whoever she is," Graham looks at me meaningfully, "to issue an executive order on public-safety grounds that bans military-style assault weapons. And I'm committed to signing that executive order."
She added: "Now I have been told that I will be sued, but guess what? I'm fine with that. Sue me. I'm going to do what I believe is right for the safety of our students and mainour communities across the state of Florida."
Now I have been told that I will be sued, but guess what? I'm fine with that. Sue me. I'm going to do what I believe is right for the safety of our students and our communities across the state of Florida.
Other priorities include a ban on high-capacity magazines and universal background checks so that you can't go to a gun show and get a gun without a waiting period at age 18. "There are huge holes in the system," she said.
Graham's main three Democratic opponents — Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee; Philip Levine, the former mayor of Miami Beach; and entrepreneur Chris King — have all released their own gun-safety platforms. Gillum and King have both criticized Graham for not going far enough on gun control.
As the gubernatorial race heats up, Graham has announced that she's leading the four Democrats in fundraising, having raised $1 million in April which makes for a total of $4.7 million in her coffers. She's basically tied with Levine in the polls, with many voters still undecided. What she has that Levine doesn't are big-name endorsements: Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rep. John Lewis — with whom she participated in a sit-in for gun reform on the U.S. House floor after the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 — all came out for her.
The only woman in the race has predictably faced some backlash, joking during the first gubernatorial debate that it was, "Gwen and the men." But observers are saying that 2018 could be a big year for female governors, of whom there are currently only six, with more than double the number of women running than four years ago.
More female bosses mean more things get done, according to Graham.
"Our ability to work together, cut through the negativity, and develop policies that are going to be in the interest of those we represent is something we're going to need a lot more, particularly in today's very divisive political environment," she said. "It's going to be a wonderful election in 2018 with a lot of women getting elected."
Read these stories next: