For several weeks, most of us have resisted the temptation to discuss the collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside and its potential electoral implications. Truthfully, though this is one of the most tragic events in Florida’s history and a great embarrassment internationally to the reputation of the United States, it likely doesn’t impact the electorate – unless it is played up properly.
Unfortunately for Florida Democrats, many local officials, legislators and activists have been part of the complicit culture around lazy enforcement of building codes on older condominium buildings. I don’t want to get too deep into the woods on this specific issue, but individual Democrats might have a credibility problem on this matter, and anyone who knows local southeast Florida politics knows what I am talking about on this- but that should not impact the party as a whole in going after a culture of deregulation, lax enforcement and general incompetent governance pushed in this era of GOP control of the state.
Many of the fights on Condo regulations have been within the GOP – for example in 2008 the Legislature passed HB 995 which would have required reporting on repairs and other matters related to condominiums. The Real Estate lobby and lawyers representing condo boards pushed back and had the law repealed and replaced in 2010 with the sort of lax enforcement that led directly the the Champlain Towers tragedy. Interestingly, the vast majority of Democrats then serving in the Legislature voted for this repeal and replacement legislation. (On a broader theme, this legislation is case-in-point of how the state works now – well-intentioned law is passed and powerful special interests and lobbyists don’t like it so within two years they form a bipartisan consensus to repeal the law and replace it with something much worse. This is a recurring story of the last 25 or so odd years of Florida.)
In both the case of stricter enforcement and laxer enforcement, the legislation was sponsored by Republicans and signed by Governor Charlie Crist, who in 2008 was a Republican and in 2010 an Independent. Of course now, more than a decade later, Crist is running to regain his old office, as a Democrat.
Democrats can make the Champlain Towers collapse part of a larger theme on deregulation and the poor governance of the state but will struggle to make it a specific issue (like gun control) that will stick. Again, the way the Democrats can discuss this tragedy is in a larger context of deregulation and corruption around this state – a culture that has emanated from Republicans who have had the wheel in governing Florida for over two decades. Individually, going after Ron DeSantis (who has acquitted himself quite well in public’s eyes in how he’s handled the post-collapse emergency) would be the sort of overreach that could boomerang back on to the Democrats.