North Carolina Republicans have drawn the single most gerrymandered Congressional and Legislative districts in post- Baker v Carr America, passed the onerous bathroom bill (HB 2) which is the single most discriminatory law on the books in the United States that was passed since the mid 1960’s and now despite court resistance passed a law to limit the powers of incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. The Governor-elect defeated the buffoonish McCrory who worked at Duke Energy for almost three decades. McCrory’s clownish behavior and the passage of HB 2 turned the business interests against the GOP as the state’s perception and business climate suffered greatly. However, copycat behavior has always been a trademark of Florida’s Republicans and one has to assume several GOPers in our state are salivating at the possibility of one-upping our friends to the north.
By 1990’s standards, Florida Republicans engaged in a similar overreach once obtaining power. Massive tort reform that benefited corporations and insurance companies, school “choice” where Florida to this day remains the national trendsetter, the raping of social and human services programs and privatization of various governmental functions were the key GOP victories of the late 1990’s. The Terry Schiavo debacle in 2005 put Florida’s right-wing political culture on social issues under the national spotlight. The Schiavo coverage demonstrated the willingness of some of Florida’s Republicans to take extra constitutional measures for ideological reasons.
But in 2005, a handful of dissident Republicans put the state in a better light by standing tall in the face of extremism from within their own party. The culture of conformity in the legislature that has characterized Republicans at various times was most evidently cracked during Jeb Bush’s second term on a number of issues, with the Schiavo matter being the most visible. Bush’s eight years in the Governor’s Mansion were often characterized by overreaching ideological goals meeting pushback among a handful of Republican moderates who after winning minor concessions would either cave or be rolled over.
Florida’s legislative Republicans as we enter 2017 are divided between those who have settled into a responsible governing posture and those who still seek to make ideological points with control of state government. Governor Rick Scott has always fallen more into the later category and in alliance with those ideological legislators could use his final two years in office to mimic McCrory’s North Carolina.
It’ll be worth monitoring in the next 15 months if Florida’s more radical Republicans, emboldened by another wipeout election of the state’s Democrats follow the NC playbook. My suspicion is that they will at least try, knowing the upcoming off-year elections tend to favor Republicans. However, the Schiavo debacle which was adroitly played by Democratic operatives including Steve Schale who was running House Victory in 2006 helped contribute to the best cycle Florida Democrats have had in the last two decades. So perhaps that provides a cautionary tale.