Jacksonville Democrat Kim Daniels was certain to grab headlines and attention once she was elected to the State House. The flamboyant Daniels who is an evangelist and author with a national following will be the first member of the House Democratic Caucus in sometime who is out-and-out focused on pushing issues related to curbing secularism in the State of Florida.
Having lost reelection to the city council after activists rallied against her views on LGBT-related issues, she was thought to be a weak House candidate, whose charisma would entertain journalists and politicos but do little else. Unlikely as it might have seemed, Daniels won the race to succeed term-limited Rep. Mia Jones by defeating Terry Fields, the former State Representative whose ties to GOP business interests have always made him a questionable vote, Leslie Jean-Bart who came a close second, Don Gaffney who once held this seat but has had a boatload of legal problems (and that is putting it kindly) and Gracie Bell McCastler. This combination of opponents proved the perfect storm for Daniels to prevail. She easily won the General Election in the heavily Democratic 14th district. In the House she will prove formidable, at least in terms of getting media attention because she is a rousing speaker, able to command an audience and in this capacity proves a formidable foe for those of us who believe in secularism in government.
A consensus has since the late 1990’s been reached on prayer – it doesn’t belong in the public school system or public sphere at all. While GOP legislators tried time and again to force prayer back into Florida’s public schools in the 1990’s, the legislation usually died or in the case of the one time it passed both houses in 1996, it was vetoed by Governor Lawton Chiles.
Republicans and conservative rural Democrats pushed the legislation for years when the GOP was in the minority or did not control the Governorship. After one shot in the first year Jeb Bush was Governor, the issue disappeared from significant legislative discussion. As is often stated by scholars and academics, issues like prayer are essentially kept alive so that they can be used in campaigns when needed. If school prayer ever did return or reproductive choice was banned completely in Florida, Republicans would lose ready-made issues to motivate the base down the road.
But now Daniels, a Democrat has filed a bill calling for “religious expression in public schools.” While rhetorically the Republicans have long backed such measures, since 1999 they have not seriously attempted to pass anything of this sort. Daniels is per Florida Politics aggressively pushing the legislation next week in a public fashion. This is contrary to values of most Democrats and also potentially a political threat to the GOP, who don’t want to see such legislation see the light of day and be forced to either pass it or kill it angering evangelical leaders.
Next month, Daniels is one of the headliners for the “Pro Family Days at the Capitol” along with the Governor and House Speaker among others.
No doubt Daniels is going to merit close analysis and pressure from those who believe in separation of church and state in the Democratic Party. She also will likely be entertaining to watch in a legislature that is often too dull and predictable for outside observers.