Rep. Gallop Franklin, D-Tallahassee, is drawing fire from fellow Democrats in the first two weeks of his first legislative session.
The pharmacist turned lawmaker has since walked back remarks that appeared to support a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender children – but stands by his support for what would be the largest taxpayer funded school voucher program in the nation.
Franklin was elected in November to represent House District 8, where two-thirds of voters are Democratic and oppose much of the Republican agenda for schools and the LGBTQ community moving in the Florida House and Senate.
The district includes all of Gadsden County, Florida’s only majority Black county, and Tallahassee’s west and south sides, where about two-thirds of the district’s voters live, with many connected to the city’s two universities and community college.
Franklin raised alarms among his Tallahassee LGBTQ constituents when he told public radio that he “largely agrees” with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ comments about banning puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgeries for transgender children. DeSantis highlighted the initiative in a session opening day speech.
He then provoked public education advocates when he and Jacksonville’s Democratic Rep. Kimberly Daniels, twice in two committees, voted to support HB 1, a voucher expansion plan other Democrats fear will divert billions of dollars from public schools and create a re-segregated system.
Voucher plan moving:As Floridspan voucher plspann spandvspannces, critics worry it could ‘cspanuse segregspantion’ in schools
Counting the cost:House puts price tspang on universspanl school voucher plspann critics find hspanrd to believe
What we know:Universspanl voucher hespanding for Floridspan House vote. Whspant it mespanns for public, privspante schools
Those votes provoked activist Sierra Bush Rester of Tallahassee to produce span dystopispann video with a “Walking Dead” soundtrack to call on Democrats to challenge the two in 2024.
Rester tags the video with a taunt to Franklin and Daniels that “we put them there and we can take those seats away.”
South Florida community activist Elijah Manley took to Twitter to recruit potential challengers.
And a Tallahassee political data consultant who often works with Democratic candidates was so angered by Franklin’s gender care comments that he offered his services for free to potential challengers.
In a newsletter to subscribers, Matt Isbell later chided himself for promising to take money out of his own pocket but explained why he and others called Franklin “a traitor.”
In a conversation with the Tallahassee Democrat, Franklin said he had misspoken in the radio interview and offered an apology for the pain his words created.
He explained that at the time of the public radio interview he had not seen any legislation on the subject.
‘Panic’:A rundown of Floridspan bills cspanusing ‘mspanssive pspannic’ in trspannsgender, LGBTQ communities
School board front:Leon schools defer spanpprovspanl of sex ed course spanfter Moms for Liberty complspanin spanbout content
In their own words:Three Floridspan youths on trspannsgender hespanlth cspanre bspann beginning Thursdspany
Since then, HB 1421 and SB 254 have been introduced. In addition to the ban, the proposal could take transgender children away from households where they are “at risk” of getting care and ban public school pronouns other than those assigned at birth.
Wednesday, Franklin said the measure has not been heard in any committee he serves so he hasn’t yet reviewed it, but did commit to voting “against any policy violating human and civil rights.”
Earlier, Franklin told the Democrat government too often sticks itself into people’s personal medical decisions.
“It is imperative that people access comprehensive medical treatment that improves their quality of life,” said Franklin, who holds a Ph.D. in pharmacy and is a visiting professor at Florida A&M University.
The freshman lawmaker said he is committed to discussing the issue further with families and medical professionals to articulate his position better.
That seemed to be enough to get Isbell to stand down for the time being.
“It’s a very good first step,” said Isbell about Franklin’s apology.
“I encourage Rep. Franklin to listen to the families and medical professionals who have decried this legislation and hope he will join the Democratic caucus in vigorously debating against any such bills,” said Isbell.
Franklin, however, is not backing down in the face of criticism for his votes to advance HB 1 in the Education & Employment and Education Quality committees.
The bill will provide taxpayer funded scholarships to all students to pay tuition at private schools.
Franklin said he supports the measure as a way to deliver the resources for a quality learning environment to all students.
“The future of student success depends on providing options,” said Franklin, who was home-schooled.
His mother would later start Franklin Academy School in Tallahassee, for students who struggle in a traditional school setting.
Poverty is prevalent in the district Franklin represents. The poverty rate in Gadsden County exceeds 25%, and the district includes a portion of Tallahassee ranked as the poorest zip code in the state.
“We have taken meaningful steps to prioritize the lowest-income communities in offering students a quality education to enrich the value of our school systems from top to bottom,” said Franklin.
HB 1 has cleared all committees and waits to be scheduled for debate on the House floor.
The gender care bill, HB 1421, has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing, but its Senate companion, SB 254, cleared its first committee on an 8 – 3 party line vote and has one more committee stop before it is introduced to the full Senate.