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Kevin Cate: Florida Democrats should change the rules, again

Richard Nixon helped end, but can still save, the Florida Democratic Party.

It’s no secret that Florida Democrats have yet to figure out how to increase voter turnout during midterm elections. That’s why, despite Democratic voter registration advantages, Republicans have dominated state government for two-plus decades.

But it’s not like Democrats haven’t tried.

This election cycle, the Charlie Crist for Governor campaign spent about $3.7 million on its field, or get-out-the-vote, program. Outside groups spent even more, about $15 million.

Crist basically lived in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties. Yet, turnout still disappointed and the campaign fell 1.1 percent behind Republican Rick Scott and his $100 million campaign.

This should infuriate and motivate Florida Democrats like never before.

Or maybe just like 1961.

That’s the year Florida Democrats changed the rules.

And to increase turnout and win, Florida Democrats should change the rules back in 2016.

According to legendary journalist Martin Dyckman, in 1961 Democrats were scared of presidential election cycles screwing up their dominance of state government, specifically Nixon vs. Kennedy.

So, instead of allowing JFK to be a drag on the (conservative) Democratic ticket, the Florida Legislature amended the Constitution, requiring the governor and the Florida Cabinet to be elected in midterm, nonpresidential election cycles.

This resulted in racist segregationist Democrat Haydon Burns serving an abbreviated two-year term. In 1968, the new rules were further cemented in the Florida Constitution.

Today, because of this change, about 2.5 million presidential cycle voters entirely ignore the governor and the Florida Cabinet.

They could vote, or care, but they just don’t.

However, if Florida Democrats believe, as I do, that more voters mean a more representative and consequently progressive government, here is a clear, albeit bold, path to victory in 2020.

Instead of investing $15 million or $20 million to turn out a few extra voters in 2018, invest about $4 million to collect the signatures required for a ballot initiative to change the rules, and the Florida Constitution, back to what they were.

With more than 2.5 million non-midterm voters voting during the 2016 presidential cycle, the 60 percent required for constitutional ballot amendments doesn’t seem that far out of reach.

The fallout would be incredible.

It would shorten 2018 gubernatorial and Florida Cabinet terms to two years. The lawsuits and appeals from Republicans would be endless. And most importantly, in 2020, the new governor and Cabinet would look and act a lot more like Florida.

All thanks to Richard Nixon.

Kevin Cate, called a “multimedia wiz” by the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald, is a media consultant for some of the largest corporations, associations and campaigns in the country. He is also a media adviser to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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