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Joe Henderson: Primary solution was left on table

To the Florida Department of Elections, I am known by the acronym “NPA” – no party affiliation. That means I have not registered as a Democrat or Republican.

This was a deliberate choice on my part, but it comes with consequences.

NPA’s will be treated as non-people in the August primaries. We can’t cast a ballot for candidates from either of the two major parties, even though the primary determines who appears on the ballot in the general election.

The other consequence, as a political operative once explained to me, is that I am targeted by both parties.

My phone will ring constantly with suggestions that I vote for this person or that one. And my mailbox will be over-stuffed with fliers and pleas from all candidates on the final ballot. I’m the guy they want on their side.

I can live with the second consequence.

The first one, though, is becoming more of a problem for me and the estimated 3.5 million Floridians who have declined to formally choose sides.

The Constitutional Revision Commission took a stab at addressing that issue with Provision 62, proposed by Commissioner William Schifino, a Republican from Tampa.

It would have allowed voters in November to decide if the state wanted to adopt a so-called “top two open primary” where every candidate appears on one ballot and everybody gets to vote. The top two finishers, regardless of party, then go to the general election.

A few states already do this, notably California.

The plan passed the Ethics and Elections Committee 6-3, but it was skunked 7-0 in the General Provisions Committee, chaired by Republican Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.

Or, in the parlance of the commission, it was laid on the table. Voters don’t get to choose.

The result is that we see candidates in both parties run to the extreme left or right in the primary, then disavow much of what they said when the general election rolls around because they have to appeal to the whole state.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, for instance, spent the early days of his campaign trying to sound like Rambo on steroids – talking tough about all the red-meat issues his party’s base adores.

I think he is a lot more moderate than he has been letting on, but general wisdom is that only the most dedicated voters in each party turn out for the primary – in other words, the base.

And with challengers Ron DeSantis and more-than-likely Richard Corcoran shooting routinely flames out of their mouths, Putnam is basically forced to prove he won’t cave to those lilly-livered liberal elites if he is elected.

That’s no way for anyone to govern.

Fun fact: In 2010, when Rick Scott came from nowhere to win the governor’s mansion, only 22 percent of registered voters turned out in the primary compared to 49 percent in the general election.

In 2016, primary turnout was 22 percent compared to 75 percent in the general.

An open system would help moderate some of the primary garbage we hear every time an election rolls around.

The same goes for Democrats. Gwen Graham is defending herself from those on the hard left who will settle for nothing less than full support of everything on their agenda.

The problem is, most people live somewhere in the middle.

That brings us back to the NPA choice a lot of us make.

Right now, there are two choices: stay the same, or swallow hard and pick a party.

Neither one helps solve the problem.

People say they are tired of all the negativity in politics. The CRC had a chance to make a small dent that but laid it on the table instead.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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