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Democratic Governor Candidate Jeff Greene Talks Guns, Education and Affordable Housing

This 2010 file photo show billionaire Jeff Greene in West Palm Beach.

The race for Florida governor recently got a bit more interesting for Democrats. Real estate billionaire Jeff Greene joined the race just a few weeks ago. He's competing against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando businessman Chris King.

The Palm Beach County businessman has made education a signature platform for his campaign; he started his own private school in 2016.

Greene's been a staunch critic of the Trump administration and has a new television ad showing him arguing with President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort where he's also a member.

He spoke with Sundial host Luis Hernandez about some of the key issues in the race including gun control, education, minimum wage, climate change and medical marijuana. 

Read excerpts from the conversation:

WLRN: Following a rise in student activism after the shooting in Parkland, the legislature passed and the governor signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act. This raised the legal age to buy a firearm from 18-21, provides funding for greater safety at schools and mental health services for students. When it comes to ensuring safety in schools, does the MSD Act go far enough?

Greene: No it doesn't. We have to ban the sale of assault weapons. You know if somebody wants to fire military style weapons, personally I have no interest in firing a gun that shoots 50 or more rounds a minute, but if somebody wants to do that they can join the military, they can fly fighter jets, they can drive tanks, there's lots of opportunities to play with military weapons. But we don't need them on the streets of Florida.

So I think we need to ban the sale of those weapons. I think raising the age was the smart thing to do. The argument that you can be 18 and join the military-- when you join the military you're going to go through basic training and spend a lot of time learning how to use a gun before they hand it to you and you're going to use it in the battlefield or in training exercises not in the streets of Florida. So I think raising the age was right. We need to be in this for our school safety. We have to be much more aggressive. We shouldn't be arming teachers that's just nonsense.

I mean teachers as it is have enough challenges trying to teach in these schools in Florida which need a lot of help. I'm going to be giving the schools a lot of help as governor. But I think that on school safety, schools need to for the most part be single entry schools with security provided by security people who who know how to protect schools, not by teachers. 

What are a couple of changes you want to make right away to improve Florida's education system?

One thing I've learned. I'm 63 years old. I've been in business my whole life. I've always learned from other people's successes and their failures. And you know what we can do, we can look out. Look at the state of Massachusetts. If you look at the studies from this thing called PISA, it rates schools all over the world and typically at the top of the list is Finland and Singapore. Well guess what else is at the top list? Massachusetts. And you know what else is geting to the top of the list? New Jersey.

New Jersey demographically is very much like Florida. A lot of people think of New Jersey in South Florida because they have friends who live in Bergen County, in these fancy counties. But New Jersey is Newark and Camden, it's a lot of you know economically challenged areas. You know what they did? They adopted a few key things. Number one, two years of pre-K for every child in New Jersey. 3 year olds and 4 year olds all get two years of Pre-K and I'm not talking about babysitting. I'm talking about real education.

The problem Louis is this. What I've learned and again, I'm an accidental educator so I can tell you outright I don't have a degree in education, but having started a school with my wife...you pick up a few things. One thing I picked up was, which is very important and fundamental to every child in Florida and in the country is that prior to the third grade, children learn to read. After the third grade, children read to learn.

We have to get our kids in the third grade reading at grade-level reading because that's going to give them the foundation to learn for the rest of their lives.

What proposals do you have to address the affordable housing crisis in Florida? 

Housing is a big challenge, but one thing we're going to be able to do in this, soon is we're going to be able to use technology. I think it will produce housing at a much lower rate. We have a nonprofit called the Greene Institute and our focus has been on the future of work and the technological disruptions that are coming. And there are a lot of bad things happening.

I mean you know, AI, machine learning, big data, robotics those are going to combine in my view to usher in an era of unprecedented job destruction. We've seen what Amazon has done to retail, what Uber has done to the taxi driver industry. It's going to happen at a very fast pace. And so that's the negative. So that's why we need these community colleges so people can have a chance. Unlike my dad who didn't have a chance to transition, people can have a chance to get into something, into an a new field.

But one of the good things of technology is we have 3D printers and at our little school, we have little kids 3D printing small objects. But I've already seen the videos of 3D printers making small buildings. And I'm convinced that it's not going to be long that we will be able to 3D print the panels and build very, very affordable housing and it will be good housing. And I think we have to start thinking in Florida outside the box and how we're going to introduce other types of affordable housing that are affordable for Florida families. 

Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.