Some Democratic strategists see it differently. They blame Republicans for pushing a far right-wing agenda that has alienated voters in the country’s largest swing state.
In recent years, the Legislature has tried to force drug testing for welfare recipients, penalties for doctors who ask patients about guns, higher tuition for U.S. citizens with undocumented parents and other measures — only to see judges rule them unconstitutional.
This year, Republican leaders sought to extend their sphere of influence to the judicial branch, which has at times stood as a sole impediment for GOP-backed measures.
In September, the Republican Party of Florida took the unprecedented move of opposing the retention of three Supreme Court justices it deemed too liberal.
Voters did not agree. They voted to retain all three justices by overwhelming margins, blocking Scott from an opportunity to reshape Florida’s highest court. Floridians also rejected Amendment 5, which would have given the Legislature a greater say over the affairs of the judicial branch.
A chief sponsor of Amendment 5, outgoing House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, rejects criticism that the proposal was a “power grab” by lawmakers who want more control over the judicial branch.
Lawmakers also stacked the ballot with 10 other lengthy, complicated amendments, which partly led to long lines at voting precincts. Critics saw the measures — and a cutback in early voting day — as a cynical attempt to suppress voter turnout.
Voters responded by turning out in record numbers, and striking down eight of the amendments. Failed proposals included property tax cuts, additional abortion restrictions and a rejection of Obama’s federal health care overhaul.
“I think what happened in the last couple of years is that conservatives became very emboldened by the amount of power that conservatives appeared to have,” said Lynda Russell, a Democrat and lobbyist for the teacher’s union. “Conservatives tried to take advantage of that power. But their efforts actually galvanized the labor community.”
The gains in the House and Senate mean Republicans no longer have a veto-proof supermajority in either chamber. While legislative power still rests firmly in the hands of the GOP, the Democratic gains may hinder some laws from moving forward.
Controversial measures like privatizing state prisons and flipping public schools into charter schools failed last year in razor-thin votes in the 40-seat Senate. With more Democrats now in that chamber, these proposals could face more hurdles next year.
Boosted by Obama and Nelson’s statewide victories, Democrats already have their eyes on 2014, when races for governor and several Cabinet positions will hold.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist took to the national airwaves to bash Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday night, blaming him for the long lines that in some places stretched for more than six hours.
Crist, who may be posturing to run as a Democrat against Scott in 2014, called Democratic victories and high voter turnout a “backlash” against a governor and Legislature who want to suppress voters.
“It’s kind of like when somebody tells you, you can’t do something, you really want to do it,” Crist, who extended early voting in 2008, said on MSNBC. “(Voters) become unsatisfied, they become frustrated, they become infuriated.”
Reporters asked Scott on Wednesday if he was worried that a similar backlash could oust him from office in 2014.
“I travel the state everyday. I talk to families everyday,” he said. “I know what they care about and it’s what I’m focused on.”