I have been going to Tallahassee or following legislative sessions for 20 years. I plan to be in the capital city at some point this session though I cannot say I am overly enthusiastic about it. The one thing I can positively say is that Tallahassee has really grown up since I was first driving from Gainesville regularly while in school to visit the city during session. Today, as a liberal it is one of the best places to be in the state – I prefer it to southeast Florida or Gainesville though the Tampa Bay area and Orlando are still more appealing to me personally. Jacksonville was once my favorite city in the state and might be again someday, but right now it is well down the list.
My first session was the Special Session in 1993 where I visited my mother then the Legislative Chair for Florida PTA, I attended my first Sine Die in 1995, the year of Florida’s Sesquicentennial as part of the Union, but haven’t attended one since 1998 even though I worked in and around the Capitol for the next five sessions after that. It isn’t that I haven’t been in Tallahassee since then on the final day of session, but I have had no desire to see Republican Governors and legislative leaders go through the ceremony. Having been active when we still had hope with Governor Lawton Chiles and the Democratic majority in the House, I have long been jaded. I have held out for the day a Democrat participates in the ceremony again. Perhaps in that way I am an unrealistic dreamer – I viewed Jeb Bush as a nasty, entitled carpetbagging interloper who would be a one term Governor. One term became two, and now we are in our fifth four year period of complete Republican control of everything. I must admit my appetite for the process has waned in this period thanks to this domination of the process by people who I feel do not have the best interest of the state at heart.
Back in the day, we had lots of good Republicans. In fact, even during Bush’s Governorship several independent minded Republicans were found in the legislature. But since about 2009, the GOP has been in largely lock-step and legislative sessions have become less and less productive. The ineffectiveness of the Democratic Party has meant while we have produced some excellent legislators, they haven’t been groomed properly or exposed the way they should to a statewide audience. This has led to frustration and many of our best and brightest on the left and center-left returning home to serve at the county or city level.
It is important as we enter the 2015 session that progressives have realistic goals and also refocus their energy and resources on local level matters. While both the Florida Democratic Party and most local DECs have done an inadequate job of engaging in municipal and county campaigns, while ignoring the need to build a bench, it is at the local level particularly in large counties where progressives can make all the difference. Issues like a living wage, sick days, LGBT fairness, gun control measures and other items we care about have a better chance of being passed at a local level.
The other option is to use the Florida Constitution to impact positive change. I strongly argued for this strategy in the mid 2000’s and the legislature sensing progressives like myself were getting ourselves organized to push what we couldn’t achieve legislatively into the constitution changed the minimum vote required for constitutional change to 60%. But progressive ideas are more popular than anytime since the 1960’s especially among working class citizens, of which Florida has more and more thanks to the failure of the Republicans to attract or create good jobs. So getting 60% of the electorate to support the types of positive changes we need is attainable and perhaps some of the focus must be there.
So as progressives play defense this session as we have for most of the last two decades, we can look to other mechanisms to impact the debate and effect positive change. Keep an eye on session as we will do here at TFS, but organize and think locally!