Northwest Florida has felt like the redheaded stepchild of Florida ever since term limits forced the powerful W.D. Childers out of the Florida Senate in 2000. Before then, the westernmost counties could dominate the Florida Legislature because they always re-elected the incumbents.
Today, we have to share legislative power with the rest of the state, rotating the most powerful positions every 10 or 12 years, if our lawmakers don’t get indicted before then. Northwest Florida has to stand in line behind the larger southern counties.
Now Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties have been team players for the Republican Party by voting in overwhelming numbers for Republican candidates for nearly every national, state and local office. When Republican presidential and gubernatorial candidates need to lift their spirits, they can always count a huge turnout at the Pensacola Bay Center.
Northwest Florida loves Republicans.
So when Gov. Rick Scott said in his 2014 State of the State address that opportunity stretches from Key West to Panama City, those living in the counties on the Florida-Alabama line felt slighted.
Yes, Panama City is in Bay County, which is technically in the Florida Panhandle, but another 700,000 people live west of that county.
The oversight was particularly painful for Escambia County that has two large economic development projects, Navy Federal Credit Union and ST Aerospace. In April 2013, Scott was in Pensacola to hear Navy Federal Credit Union announce its plans to expand its corporate operations and bring 1,500 new jobs to the region. ST Aerospace is negotiating with the state, county and city of Pensacola to bring 350 jobs when it sets up a repair operation at the Pensacola International Airport.
Both projects required state economic development grants and both have huge upsides. Navy Federal has plans to expand to 10,000 jobs by 2020. ST Aerospace is considered a magnet that will attract other aerospace suppliers to the region.
Why did Scott overlook us? It may be that he knows he can count on this region in 2014 whether he mentions us or not. Maybe Northwest Florida has been too loyal to the Republican Party. Maybe we will stage a voter uprising in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties, our redneck version of the “Arab Spring,” that will throw out of office all Republicans. Then the Republican leadership will pay attention, then they will listen.
Nay, that’s just crazy talk. Scott will win Northwest Florida by a landslide and people will continue to grumble about being the redheaded stepchild.
Rick Outzen is the publisher and owner of the Independent News in Pensacola, founded in 1999 to provide an independent voice on the issues facing Northwest Florida.