Voters appear frustrated by direction of state
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 9:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 9:55 p.m.
Florida's Republican leaders declared victory after returning big majorities to both state legislative chambers Tuesday, but there were signs that many Floridians are unhappy with the direction of state government.
Voters rejected most of the constitutional amendments proposed by lawmakers. They returned three justices to the Florida Supreme Court who had been targeted by the GOP. And the Democrats showed signs of life, picking up seats in the state House and Senate.
While Republicans still clearly dominate state government - they control the governor's mansion, the Legislature and every other elected statewide office - the 2012 election should be a wake-up call for state leaders, said Lance deHaven-Smith, a Florida State University political science professor.
"The Florida electorate is not as conservative as the Legislature," he said.
Top Republicans argued that they held onto so many seats in the Legislature because of policies that have broad appeal.
Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said in a statement that "fresh, bold ideas matter and they win elections."
But deHaven-Smith said legislative districts drawn to maximize the number of Republican-leaning seats are the main reason for the GOP's continued dominance of state government.
A recent constitutional amendment intended to remove partisan considerations from redistricting appears to have had little impact, deHaven-Smith said.
That voters rejected most of the legislative proposals on the ballot is telling, deHaven-Smith said. They rejected amendments that would:
-- Steer more taxpayer money to religious institutions.
-- Repudiate President Obama's health care reforms.
-- Limit public funding of abortions.
-- Cap state tax revenues.
Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said many of the amendments were deliberately misleading.
"We saw in some cases two-thirds of the state saying no to these amendments," Macnab said. "We hope the Legislature got the message that these things don't belong in the Florida Constitution and there is an absence of support of these types of divisive issues."
The defeat of so many legislative priorities could have an impact on the agenda in Tallahassee next year. Candidates for statewide office may be wary of pushing controversial proposals before the 2014 mid-term election, deHaven-Smith said.
"There's every reason to think the electorate will be more Democratic, more Hispanic than it is today" in 2014, he said.
Gov. Rick Scott is the most vulnerable statewide official, with a consistently low approval rating.
After promoting a series of contentious bills in his first year in office, Scott has shifted his focus to improving public education.
Scott visited Sarasota Wednesday to discuss higher education reform with the state's university governing board on the New College campus, where he was asked if the election was a bad sign for his chances in 2014.
"You know, what I know is I travel the state every day. I talk to families every day. I know what they care about and it's what I'm focused on," Scott said.
"It's, one, making sure that in our state people can get a job," Scott said. "Two, making sure that children get an education. And that's what I'm going to keep doing."