It’s that time of the year for reflections. 2014 was an election year and with it came the usual array of winners and losers. A difficult year for Democrats across the country as well as here in Florida saw clear winners and losers.
BIGGEST WINNER: SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS AND LOBBYISTS
Special interests, corporate lobbyists and Tallahassee insiders celebrated Rick Scott and Pam Bondi’s reelection along with the Republican super-majority in the House. Despite a poor record of decent wage job creation and an even poorer record of luring corporations to Florida, in spite of cutting every tax conceivable the supporters of a special-interest dominated state, lesser environmental regulations and more tax cuts were the big victors.
Fear about Charlie Crist’s populist campaign rhetoric about corporate greed, the insurance industry, climate change, protecting women’s reproductive health and the restoration of civil rights struck fear in the hearts of a political establishment in the state that have had their way since Buddy Mackay was defeated by Jeb Bush in 1998.
So strong was the fear of Crist’s election, that an unprecedented amount of money was spent on campaigns in this state by conservative forces. The Scott-Crist race goes down as one of the most expensive Governor’s races in US History and much of it was down to the fear special interest groups had of the potential for Florida’s citizens to be truly liberated from the mad corporate and lobbyist-driven agenda of the Republican hegemony.
Thanks to Crist’s defeat as well as that of George Sheldon and six Democratic State House members, the GOP led by Rick Scott and Pam Bondi will have nearly unfettered power statewide over the next two years if not longer. This serves the interest of the special interests that have a financial stake in maintaining the status quo political leadership in Tallahassee.
RUNNER UP: PAID POLITICAL CONSULTANTS AND CAMPAIGN VENDORS
The exorbitant spending in Florida state elections was a boon for political operatives and campaign vendors, especially direct mail and TV ad placement specialists. The unprecedented amount of money flowing around the state on both sides of ledger this year eventually hit a law of diminishing returns. Governor Rick Scott’s negative campaign hit a point of diminishing returns weeks before the election and Governor Crist’s campaign may have done the same. The result was lower voter turnout, cynicism about both candidates and a general lack of enthusiasm among the electorate. In counties like Broward, the amount of money flowing around has turned many of those who claim to be ideological into nothing more than paid political operatives focused on personal conflicts with little or no compass on the issues that really matter to citizens. Ultimately all this money is bad for both parties and for Florida’s democratic system.
LOSING RUNNER UP: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AT ALL LEVELS
My view is that while the Florida Democratic Party is a long way off from being a truly effective statewide force, the tenure of Allison Tant has seen marked improvement over each of her three predecessors. But election results often create panic and Democrats in Florida are experts at eating their own, playing up internal conflicts and over reacting to things. I have been through many cycles like this where the post mortems are not kind and the thought is that everything has to be blown up and rebooted. In many of the previous cycles this was an accurate reflection of reality but today it is less necessary at least on the state level.
In the past, the state party had leaders less willing to be flexible and change than Tant is today. I believe strongly that things are improving at the state level with better staff, better techniques, much better targeting and more interest in localized issues. Still none of these four factors are where they need to be, yet and the FDP is only a chain in a link between national and local which is dysfunctional.
Local county DECs have proven to be largely ineffectual in moving votes, corralling activists or recruiting candidates. Local parties have become merely glorified debating societies with the exception of some effective committees, most notably Sarasota County. In many cases activist organizations have been forced to pick up the slack locally because the DECs have flopped so badly.
The national party badly failed Florida this cycle and have done little to make the Democratic brand identifiable on the national level. Republicans today hold a greater percentage of Governorships and state legislative chambers than anytime since the Reconstruction era. They have their biggest Congressional majority since before the Great Depression.
I see progress on the state level but regression nationally and with most local DECs. That makes the Democratic Party a big loser, even at the state level where only so much can be done.
BIGGEST LOSER: FLORIDA’S PEOPLE
The citizens of this state emerge from the election as the biggest losers. Subjected to a barrage of negative attack ads and half truths from both sides during the campaign, people disengaged and the results ended up being a rubber-stamp for the anti-consumer agenda.
Florida won’t be addressing Climate Change, building High Speed Rail, enacting a living wage, protecting the rights of women and minorities aggressively or expanding access to Health Care in the near future. The increased legislative majority for the GOP in addition to a return of all four Republicans to statewide office will result in more government by special interest and lobbyists and less citizen input. Whatever the flaws of Charlie Crist, he was the most in-tune candidate for Governor with this state since Buddy MacKay and ran on the most progressive platform since Steve Pajcic.
Pam Bondi’s return to office is an embarrassment for the state and her continued dogma around cases like marriage equality show how unwilling she is to check her ideological zeal at the door when serving Florida’s public.
The death of High Speed Rail is another indication that Republicans are not interested in really growing Florida’s economy or attracting high-end jobs to the state when it conflicts with the ideological talking points the party circulates. High Speed Rail is one jobs and economic program that would actually have a lasting impact unlike the half measures constantly undertaken by the state’s leaders.
Finally, the willingness of many Democrats in public office, especially State House members to talk openly about collaboration with the Republicans and the failure of them to use their positions to truly question the effectiveness of Republican pushed programs has cost the state. For sixteen years, many of Florida’s GOP leaders have plundered and pillaged the state in order to benefit the few. That trend shows no signs of letting up over the next few years and for that Florida’s citizens are the biggest losers of the year.