Want to be major players again in Legislature, Democrats? Try showing up
Many Floridians see the last election as a big Democratic victory. Florida voters returned a moderate Democrat to the U. S. Senate, and a majority voted for President Obama. True, the Democrats did not win Florida's congressional delegation (only 10 Democrats to 17 Republicans). But the actual votes — Democratic congressional candidates won 45 percent of the votes but only 37 percent of the seats — suggests gerrymandering, and hence a moral victory at least. Perhaps Democrats were robbed. But something else seems to be going on. Local officials and representatives have as much to do with our lives as national ones. State and local governments pave streets, oversee utilities, run schools, collect property taxes, try almost all court cases, and even draw congressional district lines. Political participation arises out of local and state politics. And these election results tell us that something is wrong with the Florida Democratic Party. Let's look at the Legislature.In the Florida Senate, Democrats hold 14 of 40 seats. But that does not mean that in 40 races, each between a Democrat and a Republican (and maybe a Vegetarian), Democrats won 14 of those races. In fact, 12 Republicans walked into the Senate with no major party opposition. That's nearly a third of the Senate. When Democrats faced Republicans, Democrats did fine: There were 25 Florida Senate races between a Democrat and a Republican, and in these races Democrats won nearly 52 percent of the votes. Democrats won 11 of these races while Republicans won 14, so maybe the Democrats lost a couple of Senate races to gerrymandering. But in 12 races, the Democrats didn't even show up. The figures for the Florida House are worse. Only 47 of the 120 House seats had an election with a Democrat facing a Republican. Of the 73 representatives who faced only third-party or no-party opposition (or no opposition at all), 50 were Republicans: The Democratic Party ran only 70 candidates for the 120 seats. There are 44 Democrats and 76 Republicans in the House. Fifty of those Republicans got in without Democratic opposition. (Twenty-three of the Democrats got in without Republican opposition, so it's not just the Democrats who have this problem.) The outcomes of the 47 traditional Democrat-versus-Republican races suggest that the Democrats could have done better. In those 47 races, Democrats won 1,649,270 votes while Republicans won 1,542,213. Once again, the Republicans won a disproportionate number of candidates (Democrats won only 21 of these 47 races) but even if there was gerrymandering, that was probably just a matter of three seats or so. Sitting out 50 races is what cost the Democrats the House. To paraphrase Woody Allen, 80 percent of politics is just showing up. National races may get the media attention and the money, but state and local politics are where ordinary citizens participate and national politicians get started. It's where the future is made. One of the major reasons the nation has shifted rightward in the past three decades was the grassroots' movement among ordinary right-wing Americans who showed up in school board races, city council races, and state legislative races. These little races that the media mostly ignore have a huge collective impact on our lives. If Democrats want a more proportionate representation in the Florida Legislature, they're going to have to show up.
Greg McColm, an associate professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of South Florida, is a lifelong Democrat (except for six months in 1980). He maintains the site liberalmoonbat.com for fellow political junkies.