The Republican-led Legislature packed the state ballot with outrageous constitutional amendments that largely failed, including one power play to control the courts that two-thirds of Florida voters rejected.
Gov. Rick Scott championed a tax-cut amendment that he said was meant to help small businesses, but voters rightly saw it as creating one more hole in a state budget desperate for revenue. They said No. We need comprehensive tax reform, not willy-nilly tax cuts without an overarching plan to invest and grow the economy.
Another proposed amendment would have left local governments broke by giving a huge property tax break to snowbirds and big business, creating pressure to raise taxes on residents. Realtors spent big bucks to try to pass the property tax overhaul, but voters saw through the same old schemes of “Come on down, we’re cheap in Florida!” That’s no way to grow a 21st-century economy. Voters want the state to invest in education, transportation, and, yes, the environment.
They want smart jobs not cheap tricks.
Then there was the most infamous political power play by the Republican Party of Florida to unseat three well-regarded state Supreme Court justices. Again, voters saw through the injustice and gave resounding support for the justices’ retention.
In every election there are lessons. This year’s lesson for the GOP remains the same as four years ago, and even of two years ago when a healthcare businessman squeaked a win for the governorship by bankrolling millions of dollars in TV ads in a low-turnout election year just as the tea party rose to prominence.
Lesson No. 1: You do not have a mandate from Florida voters to turn sharp right. Indeed, extreme-right voters make up less than one in five voters in Florida. Gov. Scott was elected in 2010 without a majority, garnering 48.87 percent of the vote to Democrat Alex Sink’s 47.72 percent. Third-party candidates took up the tiny difference.
Lesson No. 2: Moderation, moderation, moderation.
Florida remains a “purple” state, and the percentage of independent voters not affiliated with either party keeps growing. Independent voters now make up almost one in every four voters in the state. They want responsible leadership and governance, not partisan sniping. It’s one reason why they reelected U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a moderate Democrat with a long trajectory of reaching out across party lines.
Failed amendments aimed at attacking Obamacare, abortion rights and the separation of church and state in public-school funding were a GOP overreach.
Lesson No. 3: Don’t ignore Hispanics. Statewide, the Cuban-American vote, which historically has gone Republican, is no longer the leading indicator of how Hispanics will vote, as Puerto Ricans and other Latinos lean Democratic. Even the Cuban-American vote split almost 50-50 in the presidential race statewide this year, a growing generational shift.
Lesson No. 4: Taxes matter, but so do services. Constitutional amendments that delivered tax breaks for the elderly, disabled veterans or military widows and widowers passed, but attempts for big-ticket tax cuts failed because voters know that services will suffer.
In the end, the GOP’s far-right direction has turned off many voters. Democrats picked up at least three congressional seats, six seats in the State House and two more in the state Senate, breaking the GOP supermajority in the Legislature.
Florida’s Republican leaders ignore these lessons at their peril.