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Politics / Issues

Analysis: What Florida's Republican-Controlled Legislature Might Look Like Under Scott Or Crist

A poll released by Quinnipiac University the day before Election Day gives Charlie Crist a one-point advantage over Rick Scott. Pollsters say that makes the race too close to call.
A poll released by Quinnipiac University the day before Election Day gives Charlie Crist a one-point advantage over Rick Scott. Pollsters say that makes the race too close to call.
A poll released by Quinnipiac University the day before Election Day gives Charlie Crist a one-point advantage over Rick Scott. Pollsters say that makes the race too close to call.
Credit Dr sanjeevkumar SinghEr/flickr
A poll released by Quinnipiac University the day before Election Day gives Charlie Crist a one-point advantage over Rick Scott. Pollsters say that makes the race too close to call.

What will the Florida Legislature look like with Republican Rick Scott or Democrat Charlie Cristas governor? A lot depends on whether Republicans not only retain control of the Legislature, but regain a super majority -- making their policy decisions veto-proof.

Republicans have held control as the majority party since the late 1990s, and that’s expected to continue. They lost their super majority status two years ago. But it didn’t matter much, because they were working with a Republican governor.

One tight Senate race in South Florida could make or break a Republican super majority. District 34 covers part of Broward and Palm Beach counties. Democrat Maria Sachs holds the seat. She’s being challenged by RepublicanEllynBogdanoff, a former Senator who lost to Sachs in 2012 after voting districts were redrawn.

New leaders in the Legislature will greet the next governor. Outgoing Senate President Don Gaetz is turning over the gavel to Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) and House Speaker Will Weatherford will be replaced Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island).

Dr. Susan MacManus, political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, weighs in on what the Florida Legislature might look like under the new governor.

The governor has the power to veto laws passed by the Legislature as well as veto part or all of the state budget.  So, what might the 2015 Legislature look like under Rick Scott if he is reelected?

You’ll have a lieutenant governor who has a great deal of legislative experience and who will be able to help push the governor’s agenda a bit better. I suspect that he will probably push hard on getting the Legislature to fund higher education at a higher level having seen the close connection that people are making between higher ed and jobs in Florida. I expect that they’ll probably somewhat help him out on some of these key environmental issues.

But something else we’re watching is whether a lot of these younger Republicans who are running for the Legislature win. The younger Republicans are not going to rubber stamp a governor’s very conservative social agenda because they do not see the future of their party heading in that direction.

What would be the impetus for the Legislature to work with Scott?

They’re going to be thinking about how to best position their party for the grueling 2016 presidential race. So, in terms of issues like lower taxes and regulatory relief, job creation and economic development, and even expanding and improving the state’s infrastructure -- I think [these] are all issues that they would probably be on board and see as helpful to Republicans in the 2016 presidential race.

Scott’s running mate is Lt. Gov. Ca rlos Lopez-Cantera, a Miamian who previously served in the Florida House of Representatives. Charlie Crist chose Annette Taddeo, a Miami businesswoman who has served as chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. What is the importance of running mates?

Each of these running mates is Hispanic, and that is the fastest growing portion of the Florida electorate. They are now a larger share of registered voters than are African American and Caribbean blacks in the state. It’s important that they be able to speak Spanish, which each of these running mates can. So the Hispanic vote is huge in Florida.

It will certainly generate a lot of discussion in the Legislature on immigration reform. Should Crist be elected governor, you can bet that he’s going to be jumping on the immigration reform as fast as possible and even going to Washington to push hard for immigration reform.

Let’s talk about Crist. He was a Republican during his one term in the Governor’s Office. He became an independent when he ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate. Now, he’s a Democrat. What might the next Legislature look like under Crist in the Governor’s Office?

First of all, it will be a Republican Legislature, which means that he has some decisions to make. Does he immediately issue a lot of executive orders, which he’s promised on the campaign trail on things like the minimum wage and pay equity and even making a strong statement on something like the restoration of felon voting rights? Does he do that immediately as promised or does he offer an olive branch across the aisle knowing that he’s going to have to get some cooperation from the Legislature in some issues?

A lot of it will very much, I think, depend upon the margin of victory, but he’s also in a great position to make some key appointments that will affect the 2016 race. He, of course, has the authority to appoint the Secretary of State, who is the state’s chief elections official. I suspect that would be one of the first things he would do – select perhaps a minority Secretary of State knowing the importance of voting rights to key Democratic constituencies.

He also would be able to wield a veto pen. So, you might see in the two years leading up to the presidential race a lot of vetoes -- even if they get overridden -- to position Democrats versus Republicans in terms of voter support.

Do you think there could be enough animosity that Republicans would need a super majority under Crist so they can override any vetoes? 

There are certainly those who think that, but some of the newly elected Republican legislators may have a different idea because they may have well been elected on a platform of being more conciliatory and willing to solve problems instead of just straight our party line voting.

But I think either side that’s overly combative runs the risk of alienating voters. There is real danger in another two years of fierce partisan battles whether it’s in Tallahassee or Washington.

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