The push by conservative groups to continue dominating the legislative process in the state of Florida has this year intensified with unprecedented spending and interest in Democratic primaries. Since most seats in the legislature and Florida’s congressional delegation are essentially decided in partisan primaries, groups aligned with Republican interests have wisely chosen to engage heavily in Democratic primaries, creating a potential situation where the Democratic caucuses of both the Florida House and Senate could skew to the right next session. These same interests have also shown a burning commitment in Congressional District 9, where their chosen candidate, Darren Soto trails both Susannah Randolph and Dena Grayson in the latest public polling. Soto has been buoyed by Common Sense Leadership for America, a group associated with the for-profit schools industry placing negative ads against Grayson and Randolph coupled with positive ads promoting Soto.
In legislative races, the interests tied to business and school “choice” have poured into primaries at both the House and Senate level. Last week we detailed how Jim Waldman and Gwyn Clarke Reed were benefiting from the school “choice” lobby led by John Kirtley. The group Kirtley leads has spent $461,000 since July according to the AP, much of it in Democratic primaries. Waldman has in fact benefited from other Republican-aligned business and insurance interests who are determined to take down Gary Farmer, a prominent trial lawyer who is arguably the most liberal State Senate candidate this cycle in Broward County. Waldman, by contrast has a consistent record of trading votes, aligning with gambling interests as well as supporting Republican-backed school “choice” and business initiatives. Clarke Reed while more reliably liberal than Waldman has still cast a number of questionable votes through the years, particularly on legislation related to education.
For business interests playing in Democratic primaries makes perfect sense. Since the party in this state has consistently been losing elections, many Democratic officeholders particularly those from safe districts have become “free agents” in many ways. These legislators who view reelection and political advancement/preservation over any sort of ideological principle or party loyalty are more than happy to make common cause with conservative and business interests who can help them ensure election.
For business interests who have virtually limitless amounts of cash, playing in low-turnout primaries makes lots of sense – the entities that fund political committees on the right get more bang for their buck by playing in primaries and are able to eliminate any semblance of strong opposition in the legislature for their dangerous corporatist agenda. The business and school “choice” lobbies can also claim legitimately bi-partisan support in the future when Democrats in both House and Senate who are elected for all intents and purposes tomorrow, rubber-stamp their agenda.
The claims by the Florida Chamber that typically unlikely primary voters have increased participation in this election should be a sign of the effectiveness of these efforts. The business interests have likely increased the pool of voters in primaries giving a boost to their candidates. This makes results in tomorrow’s primaries uncertain on the Democratic side and might well make polling more inaccurate than we would expect.
As folks watch the returns at home tomorrow night, keep in mind the vast sums of money spent by the right to influence primaries in the left-leaning major political party.
There is virtually no possibility that the Republicans will lose control of the Florida Legislature. One very long shot would be a constitutional amendment to prevent phony write-in candidates that block open primaries, but that would be very difficult to organize and win. Another much more unlikely possibility would be the revival of the Florida Democratic Party and County DEC’s.