If you channel surf, travel out of state or peruse headlines, chances are you’ve heard some wildly inaccurate — ignorant, even — views on Florida.
This mythical version of the Sunshine State is an amalgamation of Florida Man stories, memories of the 2000 recount and, of course, theme parks.
The outsider view on Florida Republicans is just as fallacious.
People and the national media tend to think of Florida Republicanism as an adjunct of Trumpism. Indeed, Donald Trump is popular here. In what other state was a hundreds-strong flotilla organized to celebrate the President’s birthday?
As the coronavirus pandemic puts the spotlight on Florida government, GOP politicians are being lambasted for their handling of the crisis. Admittedly, Gov. Ron DeSantis deserves a little heat — and I’ve criticized him when he has crossed the line.
But Florida’s take on Republicanism is not synonymous with Trumpism. Not in the slightest.
Take Sen. Wilton Simpson, for example, he’s just months away from becoming Senate President. His power is nearing its peak, and he could push just about any bill through the Legislature with brute force.
But he didn’t use it to pass a Trump World priority. Instead, he expended his political capital on a bill reforming the Department of Children and Families — something members of both parties could get behind and a policy that will make a direct positive impact on Floridians’ lives.
For his environmental priorities, the Governor didn’t have to look far to find an advocate. Sen. Debbie Mayfield and Rep. Bobby Payne delivered the ambitious and comprehensive Clean Waterways Act to his desk, with unanimous support from both chambers.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, meanwhile, has been one of the most outspoken advocates — from either party — on criminal justice reform. He has sponsored legislation to reduce prison sentences for some young adult offenders; early release for certain ill or elderly inmates; and allow more diversion from state prison altogether.
Current Senate President Bill Galvano was a proponent of a Medicaid Home and Community Based Waiver, which will help the state better manage the costs of caring for disabled Floridians without making cuts to their health care.
Why? He summed it up best when the bill was signed: “In my view, one of the core functions and responsibilities of government is to ensure that our laws protect the most vulnerable among us.”
These lawmakers are not aberrations, they’re simply a continuation in a long line of Florida Republicans who have put the needs of their constituents first. Think Will Weatherford’s quest to end poverty, or Andy Gardiner’s scholarship program for special needs students, or Jeb Bush’s work to expand school choice.
Their critics might not believe it, but care for others is seemingly a prerequisite for climbing the ranks of the Republican Party of Florida.
If we could bottle up the formula for the Florida Republicanism and make others drink it, Trump’s GOP would be a better place.