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Donna Deegan's First Political Endorsement is as Bold as it is Surprising

She says goodbye to the safety of 'Switzerland'

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I've spent my entire adult life being Switzerland. As a journalist for almost 30 years, I loved challenging both sides. Enjoyed hearing all points of view. Felt a responsibility to ask the tough questions 

of everyone.

In my "Truth Test" segments on First Coast News, I took apart each political ad during election season and called out both sides equally for false or misleading statements. It's worth noting that I received plenty of hate mail from both Democrats and Republicans who were certain I was gunning for their candidate.

Even after I left the news in 2012, I didn't feel compelled to leave that neutral space. It felt like part of my DNA. I also trusted the process. In our current political climate, I have lost that trust.

So it's a huge step out of my comfort zone to publicly say goodbye to Switzerland. If I'm honest, though, it barely feels like a choice.

I believe our No. 1 responsibility as a state and a nation is to protect the health, well-being and safety of our people. We can't do that without properly educating them. We can't do that without ensuring they have the basic human right of adequate healthcare, and we most assuredly can't do that by allowing our children to be shot up in schools because we allow weapons that belong only in the hands of our military to become commonplace on our streets.

But that's only part of it.

If I stand by and allow my children to become adults in a world that seems increasingly devoid of empathy and sympathy, I am complicit in creating the dystopian future they're left to navigate.

So after years of being registered as an NPA, or No Party Affiliation, a common landing place for journalists, I've switched my affiliation to vote in the upcoming primary elections as a Democrat. True confession: I've never been a Democrat. I grew up a Republican, even voted for Ronald Reagan, but life and experience have brought me to this place. I'm so weary of the politics of exclusion, and watching our most vulnerable get pushed to the back of the line. I'm exhausted from the lack of compassion.

The person who has inspired me to finally take the leap is Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic candidate for Governor Andrew Gillum. The reasons begin with two words that no other candidate has uttered: Universal Healthcare.

As a three-time cancer survivor, I know too well what it is to be smothered by an avalanche of worry and fear after a life-altering diagnosis and all it portends. I've met so many amazing humans who do all they can each day to keep every ball in the air, only to find they can't juggle fast enough to make the math work. Yet the party in power has declined to expand Medicaid, leaving 6 billion dollars on the table from the federal government. Mayor Gillum has a plan to bring Universal Healthcare to Florida, and he will begin by getting our
6 billion dollars back.

He knows what it's like to struggle. His parents worked several jobs to ensure that he would be the first person in his family to attend high school and college. As the product of a good public education, he's passionate about making our schools and teachers a priority again after years of absolute neglect by the Florida legislature.

He acknowledges the impact of climate change on a state surrounded on three sides by water, and is committed to tackling it before it further threatens our children and grandchildren.

And he has already twice fought and won against the NRA and gun lobby when they sued him over a city ordinance that simply stated discharging a firearm in a city park is not permitted. (Yes, they really did that.)

He resonates with our youngest voters because they have a great BS meter and there is a realness about him that is palpable. Andrew Gillum is authentic, the only non-millionaire in the race, and unapologetically progressive.

When given the opportunity to speak with him at length, I was preparing to ask about the FBI investigation that cast an early cloud over his candidacy. He beat me to it. He told me the probe had never centered on him and he wanted transparency. In January, the FBI confirmed the inquiry was focused on someone else. As he predicted, his opponents still talk about it. That's politics. I came away from that conversation convinced his was a vision I both wanted and needed to advocate publicly.

Let me be clear. Given where my priorities lie, I will vote for whatever Democrat wins the primary. What we desperately need, though, is a sea change.

Some of my girlfriends have suggested electing a woman governor would be just that. But I keep coming back to those tough questions. Why would a Democratic candidate who cares about climate change vote for the Keystone XL Pipeline as Gwen Graham did when she was in Congress? Why would the granddaughter of Syrian-Lebanese immigrants (something we have in common) vote to limit refugees seeking safe shelter in our country? Why would she vote to weaken the Affordable Care Act? I have read and listened to interview after interview with her and, if those things are mentioned at all, there has been no satisfying answer.

A sea change is defined as a profound or notable transformation. Andrew Gillum is the candidate who can deliver that for Florida. As he often says, power cedes nothing without a demand. It's time to demand better.

I'm a Jacksonville native. I know what he's up against and I'm here for it.

If I'm going to leave the safety of Switzerland, I'm going to make it count.

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Deegan is a philanthropist and former First Coast News evening anchor. She lives in Jacksonville Beach.

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