Darryl Paulson, Author at Florida Politics

Darryl Paulson

Obama’s electoral legacy: After 8 years, we get a Donald Trump

(Part 2 of the Obama legacy)

With the inauguration of Donald Trump, it is a good time to review the electoral impact of eight years of the Obama White House. One of the impacts is the election of Trump which surprised the entire political universe.

Whatever Obama may have achieved in public policy, it is that policy which is in great part responsible for setting “the post-World War II record for losses by the White House party,” according to Larry Sabato. Democrats lost over 1,000 seats at the state and national level.

However important the Obama policies may have been, it is fair to argue that those policies contained the seeds of Democratic losses. The Wall Street and big bank bailouts led to the creation of the Tea Party. The Tea Party became a primary vehicle to organize disaffected Republicans against bailouts for Wall Street and not Main Street. Combined with opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), mobilized Republicans took over control of both the House and Senate, and effectively denying Obama the needed votes to carry out the rest of his agenda.

After the 2016 election, Democrats held 11 fewer Senate seats than they did Jan. 20, 2009, a 16 percent decrease. Democrats hold 62 fewer House seats than in 2009, a drop of 24 percent. They also lost control of the White House giving Republicans complete control of the national government.

At the state level, the number of Democrat governors fell from 28 to 16, a 43 percent decline. In 2009, Democrats controlled both houses in 27 states; after 2016, the number dropped to dual control of only 14 states, a 48 percent drop. On top of this, Democrats lost 959 seats in the state legislatures, weakening them for years to come.

These losses mean that Democrats will have a difficult time in passing their agenda at the state and national level. It also means that the Democratic bench of future leaders has been wiped out, making it difficult for them to find and finance competitive candidates. Finally, since Democrats foolishly changed the filibuster rules in 2013, cabinet nominees and most court appointees will need only 51 votes to be confirmed. This creates the possibility for more extreme nominees to win confirmation.

One of the few positive thing for Democrats is that it is difficult to imagine them losing many more seats. The out-party normally makes gains in midterm elections. Unfortunately for Democrats, they must defend 25 of the 33 Senate seats up for election in 2018, and Trump won 10 of the 25 states that Democrats must defend.

If the Democrats could pick up only two Senate seats in 2016 when Republicans had to defend 24 of the 34 seats, it is hard to imagine them doing better in 2018 when they must defend two out of every three Senate seats up for election.

Without Obama on the ballot in 2016 and 2018, fewer young and minority voters will turn out at the polls. Although Democrats have dominated among young voters, few of them turn out, especially in off-year elections.

Democrats have complicated their problem with young voters by having an array of senior citizen leaders. Nancy Pelosi has been the ranking Democratic leader for 6 terms, as has second-ranking Democrat Steny Hoyer. Third-ranking Democrat James Clyburn has served five terms as leader. Pelosi is 76, and Hoyer and Clyburn are 77.

Although Democrats have been devastated during Obama’s tenure, he is not solely responsible. Obama is only the third Democratic president to twice win a popular vote majority, along with Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt.

Democratic National Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Congresswomen from Florida, was widely viewed as an ineffective spokesperson for the party and was eventually ousted for what many Democrats viewed as her favoritism for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries. Obama appointed Wasserman Schultz to become chair of the Democratic Party and, critics contend, for standing by her for far too long.

Politics is a strange beast. Six months ago, almost everyone believed the Republican Party was on its last legs, and the Trump nomination would doom them forever. Today the Republicans control all three branches of the federal government, and it appears that the Democrats are on life support.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

A look at Obama’s legacy, foolish hope of ‘post-racial’ America

(Part 1 of two. Part two will deal with Obama’s political legacy)

The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama focused on the theme of change. Obama promised to “restore our moral standing” and “focus on nation-building here at home.”

Obama, as a candidate, told audiences that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” “Yes, we can” and “change you can believe in” became the campaign themes.

Obama promised to “make government cool again.” This would be achieved by an activist, expanding federal government. Obama seemed to be contradicting the message of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who argued that “the era of big government is over.”

Although Obama viewed himself as a transformative president, much of his first year in office was spent stabilizing America’s collapsing economy and avoiding another Great Depression.

America was losing 700,000 to 800,000 a month with no let up in sight. Major banks and Wall Street brokers were declaring bankruptcy, and the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse.

If nothing else, Obama deserves credit for stabilizing the economy. His action plan included an unpopular stimulus program, a bailout of the auto industry that some described as socialism, and shoring up the big banks that were responsible for much of the economic instability with their risky loans.

As a result of President Obama’s efforts, an economic catastrophe was avoided. We have had eight consecutive years of economic growth, although critics pointed out the less than 3 percent growth rate was low. The economic programs, in part, lead to an 88 percent increase in the national debt and the loss of the United States AAA bond rating.

“Obamacare,” or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was the primary domestic accomplishment of the Obama presidency. Young individuals could remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26, preexisting conditions would not disqualify you from coverage and 20 million more Americans received health care coverage.

The ACA was not without its critics. The plan did not control health care costs as promised, and Obama’s promise to Americans that “if you like your doctors, you can keep them” and “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” proved not to be true. In fact, Politics-Fact labeled those promises the “lie of the year.”

The ACA was narrowly passed without a single Republican vote. That does not bode well for its long-term success. Major public policy change in the United States, to succeed, needs to be comfortably passed with bipartisan support. Civil rights legislation and Medicare are just two examples of that.

Democrats contend that Republicans were not going to vote for the ACA and give Obama a major political victory. Republicans argued that the president made no attempt to reach out to them and find common ground. The president has many tools available to curry support, most importantly, the power of persuasion. For whatever reason, the goal seemed to pass the ACA with or without Republican votes.

The election of Donald Trump now jeopardizes the ACA. Republicans must realize that if they attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare without Democratic support, their plan will fail just as Obama’s plan is likely to fail.

Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, was supposed to lead to a “post-racial America.” That was a foolish and unrealistic expectation.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama gave a speech on race in Philadelphia in an attempt to counter the negative public reaction to statements from Jeremiah Wright, the president’s longtime friend and minister. Wright attacked racism in America in many of his talks. The most explosive comment found Wright stating: “Not God bless America. God damn America!”

In his address on race, Obama said Wright was correct in talking about racism but wrong in speaking “as if no progress had been made.”

Almost as soon as he assumed the presidency, Obama dealt with one racial issue after another. In 2009, Obama said a police officer “acted stupidly” when he arrested Henry Louis Gates, a prominent black Harvard professor when Gates entered his home through a window after forgetting his house key. Obama quickly held a “beer summit,” inviting both Gates and the police officer to talk through their dispute.

In 2012, the nation was divided when a white neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed a young black male named Trayvon Martin. Obama told reporters that “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.” The white shooter was found not guilty.

A police shooting of another black teen in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 led to criticism of Obama by both whites and blacks. Whites attacked the president for criticizing the police in “using excessive force” against protestors who were “lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.” Blacks criticized the president for stating that there is “no excuse for violence against the police” or “those who would use this tragedy to cover for vandalism or looting.”

 In 2015, the nation was shocked by the brutal murder of nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylann Roof, a young white male who had been invited to join the Bible study. The nation saw the moving acts of forgiveness as one relative after another of the victims said they forgave him. This act of grace led President Obama to conclude his remarks at the church by singing Amazing Grace.

Obama was widely criticized for his foreign policy actions or inactions. Critics blamed the early exit if American forces from Iraq as creating a vacuum which allowed ISIS to emerge. His nuclear pact with Iran was criticized by Republicans, the military, Israel and others who saw the act as creating a nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East. The president’s failure to enforce his “red line” in Syria if chemical weapons were used by Bashar al-Assad, created an inroad for both ISIS and the Soviets to expand their role.

Like all presidents, Obama has a mixed bag of successes and failures as president. In his own analysis of his presidency, Obama praised his administration for stopping the economic crisis, saving the auto industry, creating the longest stretch of job creation, opening relations with Cuba, shutting down Iran’s nuclear program, passing national health insurance and securing marriage equality. “America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

During the 2016 campaign, Obama stated: “My legacy is on the line.” By that standard, the public decided they wanted to move in another direction.


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Darryl Paulson: Selecting party chairs: The Florida experience

(Part 2 of 2)

 In the first part of this series, I discussed the process and candidates used by the Republican and Democratic parties to select their national party chairperson. We will now look at the process and candidates used to choose the Florida Republican and Democratic chairs.

After a disastrous showing by the Florida Democratic Party in the 2016 election, a fate which has become all too common for the party, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party decided not to seek a second term. Like recent Democratic Party chairs, Allison Tant agreed that “one and done” was the proper course of action.

Given Donald Trump‘s Florida victory, as well as a better than expected showing by Republicans in the Congressional and state legislative races, one might have expected incumbent party chair, Blaise Ingoglia, to be a cinch for re-election. That is not the case. Ingoglia faces opposition from Christian Zeigler, a Sarasota County Republican State Committeeman.

The race pits House member Ingoglia versus Senate Republicans who do not want the House and Speaker Richard Corcoran to control the supply of money. It also pits Gov. Rick Scott against party pragmatists.

Scott was incensed in 2015 when his choice to lead the party, Leslie Dougher, was defeated by Ingoglia. This rare rebuke of a governor’s prerogative to select the party chair, resulted in Scott telling donors to give money to his political action committee, Let’s Get to Work, instead of to the Republican Party of Florida. Senate Republicans pulled $800,000 out of the GOP account.

Twenty years ago, the Florida Republican Party, under the leadership of Tom Slade, was considered to be the premier state party organization in the nation. Today, after the fiasco of the previous chair Jim Greer and the efforts of Scott to decimate the state Republican Party, it more closely resembles the Keystone Kops.

At the very least, it more closely resembles Democratic Party operations (and that is faint praise).

Although the Florida Republican Party operations have been a mess for a number of years, the Democrats are approaching its third decade as a nonfunctioning party organization. The Democrats, due to their poor showing, have had a difficult time recruiting quality candidates and raising sufficient funds to support their efforts.

The Democrats lack of success at the polls has accelerated party squabbles. Every Democrat is looking for someone to blame for their poor showing, and the party chair is the easiest person to blame. The pettiness of Democrats can be seen in the 2016 election, where several potential Democratic candidates for chair were defeated in internal elections.

Alan Clendenin, Susannah Randolph, and Annette Taddeo were all defeated in races they needed to win to run for chair. The winner of the battle for state committeeman between Stephen Bittel and Dwight Bullard in Dade County will determine which candidate will run for party chairperson.

After losing the race for state committeeman in Hillsborough County after a controversial ruling by the county chair, Clendenin has moved to Bradford County in North Florida and was sworn in as the committeeman for Bradford County, making him once again eligible to run for state party chairperson.

Clendenin lost the election for the Democratic chair four years ago when he lost to outgoing chair Allison Tant by 139 votes.

It appears that Bittel is emerging as the last man standing, although there is still sufficient time for his campaign to be torpedoed. Bittel has been a major Democratic donor, which has led some Democrats to accuse him of trying to buy the position of chair.

Sen. Bill Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat who will be up for election in 2018, says: “I think Stephen Bittel would bring that type of professionalism to the organization. We need a professional to run the organization and raise money.”

Bittel received a surprise endorsement from Keith Ellison, who is running for National Democratic Party chair. Ellison supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary, while Bittel was a backer of Hillary Clinton. One Revolution, an organization of Sanders supporters, has announced its support for Bullard, saying that “An extremely wealthy donor wants to buy his way to lead Florida’s Democratic Party and the only thing between him and control of the party is our political revolution.”

Bittel also won the endorsements of the Florida Educational Association and the Florida Service Employees Union, two important constituency groups within the Democratic Party.

Ingoglia, the incumbent Republican Party chair, is backed by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Sen. Marco Rubio and Susie Wiles, who managed Trump’s campaign in Florida. Wiles said that “I can say that the organization built under chairman Ingoglia’s leadership was a critical element in our success.”

With that backing and the Republican success in 2016, Ingoglia should be favored. But, with Scott sitting on the sidelines, he is really encouraging Republicans to back Zeigler.

On the Democratic side, no one should be foolish enough to predict what Florida Democrats will do. After all, they seldom know what they are doing.


Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

Darryl Paulson: Selecting the national party chairperson

(First of two parts)

The state and national elections are over. At least most of them are over. Still to be decided is the person who will chair the Florida and national party organizations. Is it much ado about nothing, or do party chairs make a difference?

Selecting the party chairperson is normally easier for the victorious party. Whoever wins the governorship or presidency usually can handpick the leader of the party. This was not the case in 2015 when Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice to head the Florida Republican Party, Leslie Dougher, was defeated by challenger Blaise Ignoglia.

After winning the presidential race against Hillary Clinton, President-Elect Donald Trump selected Ronna Romney McDaniel to head the Republican Party. McDaniel, the niece of Mitt Romney, replaces party chair Reince Priebus who was chosen to be Trump’s chief of staff. McDaniel served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and played a key role in Michigan voting for the Republican presidential nominee for the first time since 1988.

McDaniel will become only the second woman to chair the Republican Party, the other being Mary Louise Smith, who was appointed by President Gerald Ford to head the party in 1974. The 168 members of the Republican National Committee will confirm McDaniel at their January 2017 meeting.

With the surprising loss of Hillary Clinton, the race for party chair is wide open. As the outgoing president, Barack Obama can influence, but not select the incoming party chair. As the losing candidate, Clinton will have no voice in picking the new head of the party.

The last Democratic Party Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, left the position in the midst of widespread controversy. Bernie Sanders supporters accused Wasserman Schultz of blatant favoritism for Clinton. The scarcity of Democratic presidential primary debates and the scheduling of those debates at non-prime viewing times was a major criticism of Wasserman Schultz.

The final straw occurred when WikiLeaks released emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) showing favoritism for Clinton, led to Schultz’s resignation at the close of the Democratic convention. Her fate was sealed when Schultz was loudly booed after addressing the Florida delegation and agreed not to gavel open the convention.

Donna Brazile was selected as interim chair of the Democratic Party until a permanent chair is elected by the DNC at its February meeting. The selection of a new party chair may help mend divisions within the party, or it may further divide the party and lead to an internal civil war between the establishment and progressive forces. Three months ago, everyone thought this would be a battle that Republicans, and not Democrats would be facing. Brazile warned Democrats that they need to “pick ourselves up” and not “pick each other apart.”

If an establishment candidate wins, the progressives will be angered that their views have been once again neglected by the party and some may seek to form their own political movement. If the progressives win, the Democrats run the risk of moving too far to the left and moving even further away from voters who gravitated to Trump. A similar problem confronted Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s when Republicans effectively branded Democrats as “San Francisco Democrats” who moved too far to the left.

Among the potential Democratic Party Chair candidates are South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison and New Hampshire Party Chair Ray Buckley, along with Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison.

On December 15, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced his candidacy for party chair, and many believe he is the preferred candidate of President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Ellison is backed by the progressive wing of the party and has the endorsement of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. He is also supported by the outgoing Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, as well as the incoming leader, Chuck Schumer.

Critics have several concerns about an Ellison candidacy. As the only Muslim member of Congress, some are concerned that Dems will be accused of engaging in identity politics with a group that is not trusted by many American voters. Ellison’s writings have been critical of Israel and supportive of Louis Farrakhan and the Black Muslims. Ellison supported Farrakhan after he was attacked for his racist and anti-Semitic views, as well as his support for a separate state for blacks.

Another problem for Ellison is an issue that faced Wasserman Schultz. Can a sitting member of Congress have the time for both jobs and doesn’t that create conflicts of interest? Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, among others, has said the Democrats need a full-time chair. As a result of this criticism, Ellison has vowed to resign his congressional seat if selected as party chair.

Former presidential candidate and former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean flirted with serving as chair before backing away. Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm‘s name was often mentioned for the job, but she has announced that she is supporting Perez, the most recent candidate to enter the field.

Where Romney McDaniel has the race for Republican Party Chair all wrapped-up, the Democratic field is wide open, and some of the announced candidates may drop out before the February vote of the DNC; others may enter the race if they see all of the current candidates unable to attract widespread support.

Also, Democrats have had a dual chair system before, so it is possible that both an establishment and progressive candidate might emerge. Wouldn’t that make things fun?

(Part 2: Selecting the Florida party chairs)


Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at USF St. Petersburg.


Pain, pain, go away: Finding a middle ground in Florida’s opioid epidemic

Opioid abuse is a growing medical problem in the nation and in Florida. In 2015, 52,404 Americans died as a result of drug abuse, or about 142 individuals every day. This makes opioid abuse a greater killer than automobile accidents or gun-inflicted homicides and suicides. About one-third of the deaths are from opioids prescribed by physicians.

For several years, Florida led the nation in opioid deaths. I-75 was known as the “Oxy Express,” because so many out-of-state residents headed to Florida to take advantage of the explosive growth of pill mills. According to Simon Gaugush, “Florida was ground zero for pill mills.”

In one six-month period, a single pill mill in Tampa treated 1,906 patients from 23 states and wrote scripts for more than 1 million oxycodone pills. In 2010, these pill mills collectively prescribed 650 million oxycodone pills, enough for 34 pills for every Floridian. Of the top 100 doctors in the United States prescribing oxycodone, 98 were from Florida.

The problem was clear and Florida took action. Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi created the Florida Regulatory Drug Enforcement Task Force, whose primary goal was to close down the pill mills and reverse Florida’s opioid epidemic.

The Task Force was highly successful in achieving its objective. 3,742 individuals were arrested, including 67 physicians. The Task Force seized 848,037 pills, 121 vehicles, 538 weapons and over $10 million in cash. 254 pill mills were closed down.

Another result of the Task Forces effort was a substantial reduction in the number of oxycodone pills that were prescribed. In three years, the number of oxycodone pills prescribed dropped from 650 million in 2010 to 313 million in 2013, or a decline of over 50 percent.

The closure of pill mills greatly reduced the opioid epidemic in Florida. It used to be that most doctors in Florida could prescribe pain meds. That is no longer true. Today, Florida doctors can only prescribe pain meds on a limited and temporary basis. Chronic pain sufferers must go to a pain management specialist on a monthly basis in order to receive pain meds.

While there has been a 50 percent reduction in the sale of opioids, the issue for many chronic pain sufferers is how will they receive the pain meds they need to function. The Center for Disease Control now advises that opioids are not “first-line or routine therapy” for chronic non-cancer pain sufferers and should only be used in low dosages and small amounts after non-opioid alternatives are tried.

Anyone who suffers from chronic pain believes that doctors should prescribe any medication, including opiates, if it can relieve their suffering. But, what is chronic pain?  Having a sore knee or shoulder is not necessarily chronic pain. Most doctors would argue that most short-term pain, by definition, is not chronic and should not be treated with opioids. Even a broken bone may only require short-term doses of pain meds.

My chronic pain problems started at age 12, over 55 years ago. Every month or two, I would suffer a bout of excruciating back and leg pain. The pain felt like I had a 100 razor blades implanted in my back and buttocks that caused severe pain with every move I made. Although very athletic, I could not put on my socks and shoes by myself.

These bouts of sciatica lasted for a week to 10 days before disappearing. As a senior in college, the pain returned and decided to stay. I could no longer sit in my classes without wiggling like crazy or standing up. My mother described my efforts with sciatica by comparing me to a “maggot in a hot skillet.”

My first back operation was at age 21. Since I was a senior in college at the height of the Vietnam War, I received a notice from the draft board while in the hospital telling me to report for my physical. My physician said, “You’re not going anywhere,” and wrote a letter to the draft board stating that I suffered from “chronic discogenic back pain.”

About 10 years later, I woke up one morning and my left leg was numb in the buttocks, thigh, calf and heel. I thought I had slept on it the wrong way. Thirty-five years later, the leg is still numb and about 20 percent smaller than my right leg.

Bouts of severe pain would come and go for 20 years until I was no longer able to stand to teach my three-hour night courses. At age 60, I had my second back surgery. It helped, but the pain never left me.

The two back surgeries, combined with the numbness in my left leg probably affected the way I walked and lead to a total replacement of my left knee in 2014, followed by my third back surgery in 2015. My third back surgery was the seventh surgery overall, and this does not include numerous epidurals and other procedures which were done to try and alleviate the pain. If this isn’t chronic pain, I don’t know what is.

In my view, certain individuals should never receive opiates. Anyone who has given pain meds to friends and family should not receive pain pills. 34 percent of those using opioids say they have used them to “get high.” They should not receive pain pills. Patients who have tested positive on a urine toxicology screen for illicit drugs should not receive pain meds.

Even though I had a long and well-documented history of chronic pain and had taken pain meds on a fairly regular basis, I had to meet with a psychologist and answer scores of questions to make sure I was not trying to “game the system” when Florida changed the laws so that only pain management physicians could write scripts for pain patients.

I had to pee in the cup every month, even though I never had taken any illicit drugs and had never tested positive at any time.” I would think a long record of no problems would factor in at some point so that I would not have to repeat useless tests, or at least not have to be tested monthly. Finally, I think the seven surgical scars all over my body would indicate I have had pain problems for decades.

Anyone who has been involved in Florida’s process for pain treatment knows how frustrating and time-consuming process it can be. I am on my third pain doctor in three years. One was arrested for taking pain meds illegally and another moved out of the area. Finding a pain doctor who will take new patients is not easy.

Once you find a doctor, you then have to find a pharmacy that has the medicines you need. About 25 percent of the time, the pharmacy will be out of the medicine. Once, after total knee replacement surgery, I had to wait three days to get pain meds. Another time, I had to wait 10 days before I could get the prescription filled. Most recently, I was told by a major pharmacy that I had to move my other prescriptions to the pharmacy, at a greater expense to me, or they would not fill the pain med scripts.

No one wants a return to the pill mill era except those looking to fix their drug habit. On the other hand, no one wants a system where it is difficult to find a pain doctor and, often, more difficult to find a pharmacy that will fill your prescription.

Somewhere there must be a middle ground that protects Florida citizens from the abusive, money-hungry and amoral pill mills which ravaged Florida, and a system that guarantees that those who have clearly documented the chronic pain they are suffering from will receive the treatment and respect they need and deserve. It should be no different for pain patients than any other medical patients.


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg and a longtime sufferer of chronic pain.

The Shame of Florida: Options on the felon vote

(Part two of two)

In the first part of this article, I focused on the origins of the felon vote in Florida and the consequences it creates for both those convicted of a felony and on the Florida taxpayers. This part will focus on the various options concerning the felon vote.

We know that over a quarter of all voters who have lost the franchise due to a felony conviction reside in Florida. We know that over 10 percent of the voting age population in Florida are denied the right to vote due to a felony conviction. In the United States, 1.77 percent of whites are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction compared to 7.66 percent of blacks. Florida has disenfranchised 23 percent of its black citizens because of a felony. This has led the Sentencing Project to declare that “in 2010, more people are disenfranchised in Florida than in any other state and Florida’s disenfranchisement rate remains highest among the 50 states.”

Critics argue that there is a process to seek the restoration of your voting rights. True, but the process is terrible, unfair and slow. The Florida cabinet and governor make up the Clemency Board which meets four times a year. Currently, 1.7 million Floridians have lost the right to vote due to a felony conviction.

At the September 2016 meeting of the Clemency Board, 48 petitions were considered and 23 individuals had their civil rights restored. At this rate, it will take decades to work through the backlog of 12,000 appeals on file. This excludes the hundreds of thousands who have not filed for restoration of their rights because the process is too complicated, expensive and time-consuming.

Florida requires non-violent felons to wait five years after probation and parole to file an appeal. Violent felons must wait seven years. In addition to the waiting period, it then takes an average of nine more years before your case will be heard. This means that after you have paid your debt to society for your crime, you must wait between 14-16 years before your case will be heard. That strikes me as “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Florida, Iowa and Kentucky are the three states that impose a lifetime ban on felon voting unless you seek restoration. Between 2011-2015, 93 percent of appeals in Iowa were approved and 86 percent in Kentucky. In Florida, only 8 percent were approved.

In Florida, the success of voter restoration depends on who is the governor. Gov. Crist and his cabinet modified the appeals process and, as a result, 155,000 felons had their civil rights restored in four years. Gov. Scott reversed Crist’s policy and in the first six years of his administration only 2,339 received the restoration of their rights. During Gov. Bush’s eight years in office, 77,000 had their rights restored.

Critics point out that these individuals committed a felony and have forfeited their right to vote. But, is this a lifetime ban?  Almost all states restore voting rights after the completion of probation and parole.

It is also apparent that most felonies are non-violent. One-third of all arrests in Florida are drug related and only a quarter of felons serve time in prison. They are not threats to society.

Individuals in Florida have been convicted of felonies for the following:  driving with a suspended license, disturbing eggs of nesting turtles, burning a fire in public, walking through a posted construction site, catching lobsters with tails that are too short, and lunching helium balloons into the air. These are not what most people would consider to be violent crimes.

Another objection, although often unstated, is political. Democrats have pushed for the felon vote because they believe they will benefit. For the same reason, Republicans have opposed easing felon vote restoration. There is some truth to this concern, but do we make policy because it is justified, or do we make it only if it benefits our party?

Studies have shown that ex-felons register as Democrats over Republican by a five-to-one margin. Studies have also shown that only about one-third of ex-felons registered to vote and only one in five voted. Still, in a close election, this may be the margin of difference.

Florida’s current felon vote policy is so far out of the mainstream that it stands out in comparison to other states. When 27 percent of all disenfranchised felon voters reside in Florida, you know our policy is extreme.

Restoring civil rights in Florida will apply only to non-violent felons according to a proposed constitutional amendment that may appear on the 2018 ballot. The “Voter Restoration Amendment” currently under review by the Florida Supreme Court, exempts violent felons from having their civil rights restored unless they appeal to the Clemency Board.

Restoration works and is widely supported in the criminal justice community. A study by the Florida Parole Commission found that recidivism rates for ex-felons who had their civil rights restored was 11 percent, compared to 33 percent for those who did not have their rights restored. That is one reason the National Association of Chiefs of Police supports restoration of civil rights to ex-felons.

As a society, we claim to value redemption and forgiveness. Jesus did not tell the thief on the adjoining cross to wait 14 to 16 years to seek forgiveness. “This day, you shall enter heaven.”

Finally, restoration is the right thing to do. It is right because it lowers recidivism and saves taxpayer dollars on unnecessary prisons. It is right because it reintegrated individuals into society and gives them a second chance to be productive citizens.

Nothing is more sacred in American society than the right to vote. We should be seeking to expand this right instead of denying that right to non-violent felons who often made a youthful mistake that they are now forced to pay a lifetime penalty.

It is past time to do the right thing.


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.


The Shame of Florida: How Florida’s felon vote is ruining lives and costing taxpayers

(First of two parts)

Over a half-century ago, CBS News and journalist Edward R. Murrow aired a documentary about Florida’s migrant farmworkers called “Harvest of Shame.” Murrow documented the long hours and low wages of the migrant farmers, along with the poor health care, housing and education for the migrant families.

A similar documentary could be done today focusing on the shame of Florida’s criminal justice policies that makes many crimes felonies that other states consider misdemeanors. As a result of their felony convictions, more individuals are disenfranchised in Florida than any other state. Of the 6 million individuals nationally who have lost their right to vote due to a felony conviction, 27 percent reside in Florida.

Florida TaxWatch recently held its annual meeting in Orlando, and one of the panel sessions was on Florida’s felon vote issue and the proposed constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to nonviolent felons that may appear on the 2018 ballot.

Why would TaxWatch be interested in the felon vote issue?  For one reason, TaxWatch has had a long-standing interest in the criminal justice system and how to make it more effective. There are now around 105,000 individuals in Florida’s prisons. The more prisoners we have, the more jails and support personnel the taxpayers need to support.

Another tax-related issue is that ex-felons are denied the right to hold many jobs due to their felony conviction. I had lunch at the TaxWatch meeting with a tax collector in Florida who noted that she wanted to hire a person with great credentials who she has personally known for several decades. This was not possible due to a felony conviction in her youth involving a small amount of drugs. That same drug has now been legalized by Florida voters.

I was invited by TaxWatch to be one of the three panelists on the felon vote issue. Although a former Fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, I have long supported the restoration of voting rights to nonviolent felons. The libertarian-leaning Koch Foundation held meetings in Orlando on the same day as TaxWatch and they have supported making fewer crimes felony offenses.

The TaxWatch panel was called “From the Cell Block to the Ballot Box.” It was a catchy title, but somewhat deceiving in that only about a quarter of felons go to prison. The vast majority are given probation or are serving suspended sentences because they were first-time offenders who were charged with nonviolent offenses.

The felon vote and racism have been historically linked together in the southern states. Blacks make up 17 percent of Florida’s population, but make up 48 percent of Florida’s prison population. Unless one believes that blacks are inherently the “criminal class,” one would have to conclude that race has played a role in the disproportionate conviction of black citizens. Studies have shown that blacks are more likely to be arrested than whites for the same felony issue, and blacks are much more likely to be convicted than whites for the same felony offense.

The felon vote issue in Florida and the South emerged after the Civil War. Many former Confederates lost the right to vote for participating in the rebellion, and many former slaves received the right to vote for the first time. As a result, blacks held voting majorities in many southern states and many counties within those states.

Florida’s black population was about 45 percent of the total population after the Civil War but, due to the factors mentioned above, blacks were often a majority of the electorate. In 1867, there were 25,582 registered voters in Florida. 15,434 were black and 11,148 were white. This was something white voters could not accept.

After Reconstruction ended in the South, Florida and all the southern states passed laws and drafted new constitutions designed to eliminate the black voter. Florida was the first state to adopt the poll tax in 1889. Florida also adopted the Grandfather Clause, the white primary, the literacy test, the eight ballot box law and tissue ballots, along with the denial of voting rights for felons as a means to eliminate the black voter. By 1900, most blacks and Republicans lost the franchise and not a single black held a state position.

The racial motivation behind the felon vote was apparent during the discussion of the issue in southern states. At Alabama’s 1901 constitution, one delegate stated:  “the crime of wife beating alone would disqualify 60 percent of Negroes.” At the 1906 Virginia constitution, state senator Carter Glass said Virginia’s felon vote law “would eliminate the darkey as a political factor in less than five years.” The end result, according to Carter, “will be the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”

(Part 2:  The options on the felon vote)


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Darryl Paulson: Getting schooled on the Electoral College

Going into the 2016 presidential election, virtually all political pundits and pollsters projected an easy victory for Hillary Clinton. Several of the most respected pollsters gave Clinton an 85 percent chance of defeating Donald Trump. Highly respected presidential scholar Larry Sabato projected that Clinton would win 347 electoral votes to Trump’s 191.

As we now know, Trump won 290 electoral votes to 232 for Clinton with Michigan’s 16 electoral votes still undecided. Although Trump won the electoral majority and the presidency, Clinton is leading by over 2 million popular votes.

This marks the fourth time in presidential history where the candidate winning the popular vote lost the electoral vote battle. Andrew Jackson lost to John Quincy Adams in 1824, Samuel Tilden lost to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000, and now Clinton has lost to Trump. All four of those who won the popular vote but lost the election were Democrats.

Movements are underway to pressure electors to vote for the popular vote winner. Lady Gaga’s petition requiring this to happen in 2016 has already garnered 5 million signatures.

Movements are also seeking to abolish the Electoral College and replace it with the direct election of the president. Both movements are likely to fail.

Supporters of direct election do have the support of a majority of the American public. Their strongest argument is simply that direct election is the most democratic way to select the president. It also is the reason that the drafters of the Constitution opposed direct elections.

Those who drafted the Constitution created a republic and not a democracy. Alexander Hamilton believed the masses could not be trusted since “they seldom judge or determine right.” Hamilton urged the “first class” to “check the unsteadiness of the second.”

James Madison, one of the co-authors of The Federalist Papers written to secure passage of the Constitution, wrote that unfettered masses tend to “tyranny.”

John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the nation’s second president, noted that “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

Supporters of direction elections argue it is only fair that the popular vote winner is elected as president and not the electoral vote winner. But, if the direct election was used, the candidates would alter their campaign strategy.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is no guarantee that Jackson, Tilden, Gore or Clinton would have won under a popular vote system, because their opponents would have altered their campaign strategy. Republicans would focus more on blue-state Republicans and Democrats would concentrate more on red-state liberals.

Trump, in response to critics who said Clinton should win because she won the popular vote battle, tweeted that “If the election were based on total popular vote, I would have campaigned in New York, Florida, and California and won even bigger and more easily.”

Those who want to alter the Electoral College system face several significant hurdles. The system was designed not only as a check on the masses but also to, protect the small states from the domination of the large states.

If no candidates receive a majority of the electoral vote, the election is thrown into the House where every state gets one vote in selecting the president. California gets one vote as does Alaska. After 230 years, can we amend the Constitution and violate an agreement that was essential to the passage of the Constitution?

Amending the Constitution to replace the Electoral College system with direct election is unlikely to happen. Amendments require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate and the approval of three-fourths of the state legislatures. This is unlikely since the small states would be undercutting one of their political powers.

As opponents of the electoral college point out, it is not necessary to amend the Constitution if states enter into a compact requiring their state’s electors to vote for the national popular vote winner. The position of elector would be retained, but they would be required to vote for the popular vote winner.

The compact plan, is advocated by computer scientist John Koza, whose 800-page book, Every Vote Equal, can be downloaded for free. Koza’s plan would only kick in when enough states sign the compact and equal 270 or more electoral votes.

So far, 10 states and the District of Columbia, have signed the compact. The 10 states that have signed on are Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, Vermont, California, and Rhode Island. These states represent 165 electoral votes.

Notice anything about the states signing the compact?  Every one is a blue state. Not one red state has signed on and the key battleground states like Florida and Ohio, which receive disproportionate attention under the current system, are not likely to sign the compact.

Even if enough states sign the compact, there is little doubt it would face a constitutional challenge. The Compact Clause of the Constitution states that “no state shall, without the consent of Congress, enter into any agreement or compact with another state, it with a foreign power.”

Tara Ross, the author of Enlightened Democracy, wrote that “If ever a compact encroached on federal and state sovereignty, this is it. The compact would change the presidential selection process without amending the Constitution.”

If you want to make a safe bet, look for the Electoral College to be here for another 200 years. Then again, we thought it was a safe bet that Clinton would beat Trump.


Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.

Darryl Paulson: It’s now or never for #NeverTrump

The opposition to Donald Trump has been constant from the start of the 2016 presidential campaign. However, it has been unfocused and essentially leaderless. Many Trump opponents believed he would not enter the race. When he entered, they believed he had no chance of winning. Now that Trump has all but won the nomination, they believe he can be stopped by an independent or third-party campaign.

As early as December 2015, before the first caucus or primary, Mike Fernandez, a Coral Gables, Florida health care executive and financial backer of Jeb Bush, took out full-page ads in the Miami Herald and other newspapers stating he would support Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

Fernandez described Trump as a narcissistic ”Bullyionaire” with a hunger to be adored. Fernandez was critical of fellow Republicans “blinded by the demagoguery” of Trump.

In January 2016, National Review devoted an issue to conservative writers who made the case that Trump was not a conservative, and his nomination would do long-term damage to conservatism and the Republican Party. The issue contributed to the formation of the #NeverTrump movement, but it failed to stop Trump from winning the GOP nomination.

With Trump having secured the nomination, many Republicans now look at the race as a binary choice:  Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Most Republicans, unlike Mike Fernandez, see Trump as the preferred option. Foster Friess, a Wyoming financier and supporter of Republican candidates and causes, said Trump was not his first choice, but “he’s better than Hillary.” During the presidential primaries, even Jeb Bush stated that “Anybody is better than Hilary.”

Some of Trump’s strongest critics have now jumped aboard the bandwagon. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who called Trump a “cancer” on the GOP who would lead the party to “perdition,” has now offered to help Trump win the election. Oh, by the way, he would also be interested in being Trump’s vice president.

Many Republicans believe it is now a question of party loyalty. As Republican strategist Ford O’Connell observes, “political parties are not meant to be ideological vessels, but competing enterprises whose job is to win elections.”

Rick Wilson, one of the most vehement anti-Trumpers, described the party loyalty argument as nothing more than “the D.C. establishment rolling over and becoming the Vichy Republicans we all know they would.”

The last hope of the #NeverTrump movement is recruiting an independent or third-party candidate to provide an alternative to Trump and Clinton. RNC Chair Reince Priebus calls such efforts a “suicide mission.”

Supporters argue that an independent candidate would not only give discontented voters a choice, but they believe such a candidate could win. At the very least, such a candidate could siphon off enough electoral votes to throw the election into the House, where the Republican majority could select someone other than Trump or Clinton.

Supporters of an independent option argue that recent polls show 58 percent of voters are not happy with their choices, and 55 percent say they support an independent candidate. Historically, the idea of an independent candidate is more appealing than the reality.

Teddy Roosevelt and his Bull Moose Party is widely regarded the most effective third-party movement. Roosevelt actually came in second and swamped incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft. Roosevelt received 27.4 percent of the vote and 88 electoral votes to only 23.2 percent and 8 electoral votes for Taft.

In 1948, Gov. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina won only 2.4 percent of the national vote but, because it was concentrated in a few Deep South states where Truman’s name did not appear on the ballot, Thurmond captured the electoral votes of four states. Twenty years later, Gov. George Wallace replicated much of Thurmond’s success in winning 13.5 percent of the vote and 46 electoral votes in five Southern states.

In 1992, Texas businessman Ross Perot and his Reform Party won almost one out of five votes, but failed to capture a single state. At one point, Perot led both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton but, as Election Day approached, many of his supporters returned to support their traditional party.

To run as an independent or third-party candidate, there is one important requirement: you need a candidate. So far, the #NeverTrump movement has not found a willing person to oppose Trump.

Among the possible candidates are Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. Romney has name recognition and money, and would likely qualify for the debates. Romney was opposed by many conservatives in his 2012 race, which would once again be a problem. In addition, Romney’s enthusiastic acceptance of Trump’s endorsement in that campaign would be another concern.

Marine Corps General James Mattis seriously considered running before backing out. Mattis would have commanded support as a military figure and a political outsider. But, Mattis is not an Eisenhower and is an unknown commodity.

Marco Rubio‘s name is being tossed about as a possible candidate. Rubio is young, charismatic and has appealed to woman and minority voters. The downside is that Rubio won only in Puerto Rico, Minnesota and the District of Columbia, and badly lost his home state of Florida to Trump. In addition, Rubio signed the pledge to support the Republican nominee “and I intend to keep it.”

Ben Sasse, a first-term Republican Senator from Nebraska, has been a leader in the #NeverTrump movement. Sasse is only in his second year as a senator, which will raise questions about his experience. He also is unknown outside of Nebraska.

Finally, former House member and Senator Tom Colburn has expressed interest in running and is highly respected by conservatives for his attempts to cut federal spending. Colburn has stated that Trump “needs to be stopped,” but recently said he would not be the candidate.

One of the maxims of politics is that it takes something to beat nothing. So far, nothing looks like he has the race all wrapped up.


Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at The University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Darryl Paulson: The trials and tribulations of Reince Priebus and Debbie Wasserman Schultz

When the 2016 presidential campaign began, everyone believed Hillary Clinton would quickly wrap up the Democratic nomination since she faced what many saw as token opposition. It was the Republicans, who had enough candidates to field a football team, who were expected to have a bitter, protracted primary.

As so often has been the case in 2016, conventional wisdom was dead wrong. Donald Trump, who most thought would never enter the primary process, not only entered the primaries but tore his opponents to shreds. Trump did what Julius Caesar wrote about 2,000 years ago: He came. He saw. And he conquered.

Clinton, who was supposed to dominate the small and weak Democratic field, is still engaged in a long and increasingly bitter campaign with Bernie Sanders. It may well be the Democrats, not the Republicans, who find themselves in the midst of a contested national convention.

Both parties are headed by individuals who have chaired the party for many years. Reince Priebus was perceived to have the most difficult job in expanding the party’s appeal to minorities and women, while at the same time having a candidate who spat at vitriol at those groups as fast as he could Twitter.

On the Democratic side, Debbie Wasserman Schultz has chaired the party since 2011. Managing the 2016 Democratic presidential campaign has been far more confrontational than she and fellow Democrats anticipated.

Both Priebus and Schultz have faced a common problem: dealing with a candidate who believes the system is rigged, and the party establishment is doing whatever it can to defeat their campaign.

Trump was considered such a loose cannon and political liability to the party that Priebus developed a loyalty oath procedure to prevent Trump from fleeing the party and mounting an independent or third-party campaign. Splitting the party would guarantee a Democratic victory in the fall.

As difficult as it has been for Priebus to manage the Republicans, it has been even worse for Wasserman Schultz. From the very beginning, Sanders and his supporters have argued that Schultz has done everything possible to undermine his campaign.

Sanders and his campaign manager Jeff Weaver have contended that Wasserman Schultz had “rigged the election” for Clinton. Few debates were scheduled, and when they were held, they were scheduled on weekends when viewership would be minimal.

The Sanders campaign also alleged that the party chair denied them access to their own election data, and they had to sue to retrieve their own data. Finally, they argue Wasserman Schultz appointed “hostile Hillary partisans” to key committees at the national convention.

It is not just the Sanders campaign that is complaining about the biased conduct of the party chair. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a DNC member, was critical of the number and scheduling of the debates. As a result, the chair revoked her invitation to the first Democratic presidential debate. Gabbard resigned from the DNC in protest.

Van Jones, a CNN contributor and active Democrat, has complained that Wasserman Schultz, instead of being neutral, is “coming in harder for Hillary than she is for herself.” “I wish Reince Priebus was my party chair,” notes Jones. “He did a better job of handling the Trump situation than I’ve seen my party chair handle the situation.”

MSNBC News host Chris Hayes summarized a common view of the bias of Wasserman Schultz for Clinton. “It is clearly the case when given truth serum, Debbie Wasserman Schultz vastly prefers Hillary Clinton to be the party’s nominee. . .”

Mika Brzezinski, co-host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC has called on Wasserman Schultz to resign, and Joe Scarborough said that “If the party I was a member of treated me like this … I’d say, ‘Go straight to hell, I’m running as an independent.'”

Donald Trump has jumped in to support Sanders by saying “Bernie Sanders is being treated very badly by the Democrats and the system is rigged against him.” Trump clearly benefits from a divided Democratic Party and has urged Sanders voters to support Trump in the fall.

Wasserman Schultz’s management of the Democratic presidential race has created problems in her own re-election campaign. She is now facing a serious challenge from Tim Canova, a law professor at Nova Southeastern Law School. Canova has raised more than a million dollars to challenge Wasserman Schultz, an impressive amount for someone running against the chair of the Democratic Party.

Wasserman Schultz has raised $1.8 million and has the support of both President Obama and Vice President Biden. But, for those who think Wasserman Schultz will easily win re-election, they might want to talk to former Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who ended up losing to little-known professor Dave Brat.

On the primary election night, Wasserman Schultz might recall the words of songwriter Leslie Gore:  “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.”


Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg

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