Government in the Sunshine is dying thanks to GOP rule of the state

Florida’s GOP run legislature has slowly but surely undone the progressive legacy of the 1970’s- an era when government in the sunshine made Florida the most open and transparent place in the western world in terms of government accountability.

This session, the Legislature passed SB 7050 which allows state candidates and officeholders to hide who contributes to the their campaigns for much longer periods of time. It passed both houses on effectively a party-line vote as did SB1616 will allow a concealment of records related to the governor’s travel and meetings.

What has happened to Florida over time, is one-party rule since the late 1990’s has eroded any accountability officeholders have – a lack of electoral competition outside Republican primaries, means those in state office or legislative leadership can do what they want, how they want, when they want. The state, believe it or not was not always like this – on the contrary – despite virtual one-party (Democratic) rule from 1970 to 1986, that era of Democrats sought to reform the image created by their predecessors of corruption and mis-governance. It was a Golden Age of Politics in this state and an era of progressive policy and reform.

Truth is Florida, as V.O. Key described in his seminal 1949 work, Southern Politics in State and Nation was a state where every individual politician was out for themselves. A one-party state like the rest of the “solid south” at the time, personal networks became the political parties of their days – and these networks were more often than not about patronage and classic back-scratching small state politics. Florida was a remarkably corrupt state and a violent one as well – the state led the nation in per capita lynchings between 1901 and 1950.

As Florida grew in the 1950’s and 1960’s an intense competition broke out between three, later four factions. The factions were the Pork Chop gang, a modernizing faction (best exemplified by Governor Leroy Collins, the man most responsible for preventing Florida from becoming a facsimile of Alabama or Mississippi during the Civil Rights era. ) and growing Republican influence in the state, mostly among transplants from the Northeast and Midwest. Eventually the GOP split into factions also, one led by colorful Governor Claude Kirk who led former-Democrats who were obsessed with race and other cultural issues the other were traditional Republicans more concerned about economics like Jack Eckerd and Congressman Bill Cramer.

The 1960’s were a time of incredible strife nationally and Florida was no exception. The state also had competitive two-party elections for the first time since reconstruction. Florida State Government was beset by corruption and scandals erupted in municipal governments as well. It even impacted the Supreme Court. Florida was growing, becoming a destination for new residents, businesses and of course the home of the space program. The nation was watching and what they saw was an eccentric state, a more sun-baked version of Alabama or Mississippi.

After GOP victories in key 1966 and 1968 elections, Florida turned back to the Democrats in 1970. But instead of returning to classic conservative Democrats like former Attorney General Earl Faircloth (who had challenged and weakened Collins by attacking him from the right in the 1968 Democratic US Senate Primary – Collins went on to lose decisively to the reactionary right-wing Congressman Ed Gurney in the general) and former Governor Farris Bryant, upstarts bested the former statewide officeholders in primaries – State Senator Reubin Askew of Pensacola defeated Faircloth in the Democratic Runoff for Governor, and then beat Governor Kirk in the General and State Senator Lawton Chiles defeated Bryant in the Primary for US Senate and then upset Cramer in the General.

The Democrats governing Florida in the 1970’s were unlike anything the state had experienced before. The redistricting of 1968 had brought into the legislature more urbane representatives – part-time legislators who were accessible and approachable. Legislators shared offices and often skipped meals while pushing for governmental reform. The State House became a largely liberal institution aligned with Governor Askew, who was reform-minded and big on transparency and openness in government. Corporate influence on State Government was reduced dramatically. Askew courageously backed school busing in his first term and focused heavily on environmental issues much to the consternation of many in the Democratic establishment.

That era remains a Golden Age in the state, but one that is becoming further in the rear-view mirror as tinpot despots like Governor DeSantis and the leaders in this current legislature undermine the state’s extensive legacy of transparency and good government.


  1. The GOP attracts the lawless just like Christianity attracts the pedophiles. Florida is not only where woke goes to die but where sunshine goes to die too.


  2. Thank you for this article. I came to Florida in the early 60’s and reveled in the political climate. How far we have fallen. Sad.


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