Florida looks, feels and acts like a one-party state: The Republican Party is doing an admirable job of cloning its lock-stepping foot soldiers from the Panhandle almost to South Florida. The GOP has a 2-to-1 advantage in the state House and a greater advantage in the state Senate. It controls every statewide office but one. Sen. Bill Nelson is the exception that proves the rule. And the Democratic Party is doing an equally admirable job of playing comatose.
But last I checked, Florida isn’t a subtropical North Korea just yet. There are still 12 Democratic senators and 39 House members. The election in less than two weeks may add a couple of numbers to those tallies. As lopsided as things are, Republicans have taken to arguing that it’s pointless to elect Democrats because they’ll be in the minority, at the back of the chamber, unable to get anything done.
We have two such examples in our neck of Northeast Florida, with two young Republican candidates—Travis Hutson, running against Democrat Milissa Holland for a newly created House seat, and Ron DeSantis, running against Heather Beaven for the newly created congressional seat–arguing that their Democratic opponents would be powerless, while they themselves will be in line to make their way up the leadership.
In fairness to Hutson, who’s too young to know anything about political pendulums, he has few ideas and appears to have little understanding of how the legislature works, especially when you take the long view, and has apparently no clue about how Holland has been managing to get things done, on the county commission or the tourism council, despite at times seeming like a minority of one on those panels. So falling back on the old cliché about voting in members of the majority gives Hutson the ring of authority.
But both Republican candidates are parroting a standard line of attack against Democrats that dates back to the mid-1990s, when the switch to a majority-Republican state took place. Even us liberals took the bait on occasion. I remember, as an editorial writer at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, writing endorsements for John Mica, the Republican congressman, even though he stood against pretty much everything the editorial board stood for. But he had seniority. He had a committee chairmanship. He–forgive the un-kosher cliche–brought home the bacon.
Incumbency and majority status are the modern equivalent of the divine right of kings, an assumption of power effectively divorced from the politician’s qualities or the cleansing effects of party turnover in a democracy. Republicans can’t be blamed for exploiting the advantage when even liberals play into the trap.
The reality is different. In both House and congressional races, whoever gets elected from this district, Republican or Democrat, will be a junior legislator for several terms, quietly doing what the party wants him or her to do. Putting that aside, the assumption that voting in a member of the minority would be ineffective is a reflection of the arrogance of a majority party that considers minorities, if not democracy, irrelevant, and that assumes that once a majority, always a majority. You should be weary of anyone who considers minorities irrelevant, in any context.
Republicans should remember that their accession to majority status is relatively recent, and that not long ago, it was the Democrats who behaved like they ruled a one-party state. On Wednesday I asked John Thrasher, the powerful Republican senator from Jacksonville, about the relevance of the minority party. He remembered his own days in the minority, for four years, when he started in the Florida House. He wouldn’t be where he is today had he not been willing to start in the minority back then.
There’s also the matter of demographic shifts and what’s likely to happen to Gov. Rick Scott in two years, assuming his dismal poll numbers continue. Besides the strong likelihood of a Democratic governor, who’ll give Democrats in the Legislature a huge boost, Florida is getting younger, more diverse and less reactionary, thanks in large part to the alienating effect tea party radicals, all of which, in the not-so-long run, favors Democrats.
It may not look like it now, given the din of Republican triumphalism. But Florida’s one-party days are numbered. From that perspective, voting with an eye on the future, not to mention both eyes on Flagler, seems like a no-brainer, with Milissa Holland is front and center, and Travis Hutson a minor voice at the back of the room. Assuming he shows up.