The GOP has a stranglehold on the legislature and the governors office.
By: Joe Henderson – Columnist for News Talk Florida
While the world fixates on whether Hillary or The Donald will win the White House, Floridians will have their daily lives affected by what happens in Tallahassee during the state legislative session.
If I told someone from another state about Florida’s reputation for low taxes, high tolerance for guns, and no use for social safety nets like Medicaid expansion, they would correctly assume that Republicans are in charge of making the laws.
It has been that way since 1996, when for the first time both the state House and Senate went for Republicans. There hasn’t been a Democratic governor of Florida since Jeb Bush’s first term in 1999. Republicans have won the last five gubernatorial elections in Florida.
Prior to Bush, they had won only five elections in the state since 1845.
Here’s the punch line: There are 4.7 million registered Democrats in the state compared to 4.5 million Republicans. Democrats have outnumbered the GOP since Florida started keeping records in 1972.
So how have Republicans put a stranglehold on government in a state with traditionally more Democrats? That question is especially relevant considering that in the past two presidential elections, Florida voters chose Barack Obama.
In a word: gerrymandering.
By federal law, the state has to draw new up new districts every 10 years and that process was controlled by the Legislature. Republicans rigged the game by using data to draw house and senate boundary lines that all but guaranteed them continued control of making laws.
This was done despite a state constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters to outlaw that practice.
Democrats, it should be noted, did the same thing for decades were in charge.
The practice also ensured more Republicans would be represented in the U.S. House of Representatives.
It was bad then. It is bad now.
“Florida was among the most effective gerrymanders for Republicans in the entire United States,” Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida, told NPR.
Democrats were powerless to stop things like the expansion of Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law. They couldn’t even get measures to expand health care to the state’s neediest people to the House floor for a vote.
Republicans held all the cards and played them ruthlessly. Democrats were rendered essentially irrelevant.
That may be about to change, at least a little.
Following a lawsuit spurred by the Florida League of Women Voters, the state Supreme Court redid the congressional and state Senate district boundaries.
That led organization president Pamela S. Goodman to declare in an email, “Make no mistake, for the first time in Florida’s history, we now have Senate and Congressional maps that give Floridians the opportunity to elect Senators and Congressional Representatives that reflect the political choices of voters – not legislators.”
In 2014, only 13 legislative races were considered remotely competitive. This year, predictions are that 57 seats could be hotly contested.
That’s all anyone really asks. The state is a near-even red/blue split, with another 3.2 million voters choosing no party affiliation. State government is supposed to be a place where all sides get a fair hearing. Having one party in total control – regardless of which one – is not healthy for the state and certainly not representative of the people who live here.