Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo and Florida Republican Party Chair Joe Gruters joined forces Friday to oppose a constitutional amendment that would create an open primary system in Florida.
The rare show of bipartisanship came during the Florida Tiger Bay Club 2020 Election Series, where the pair disputed claims that Amendment 3 would ease partisan tensions.
While both leaders acknowledged the era’s hyperpartisan nature, neither viewed Amendment 3 as a remedy.
“I think going forward we will see an opportunity and have more candidates who reach across the aisle and work together because we have to do this in order to heal our country,” Rizzo said during the forum. “This amendment, however, is not the one to do that.”
If passed in November, Amendment 3 would allow registered voters beginning in 2024 to cast a ballot in primary elections for the Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet regardless of party affiliation.
It would also create a single primary race for each office. Candidates from all parties would appear on the same ballot for an office and only the top two candidates would advance to the General Election.
Rizzo claimed the amendment would likely generate more “dark money” in races and reduce viability among third party candidates.
Gruters, who doubles as a state Senator representing Sarasota, agreed. He blamed the partisanship, in part, on the news media.
“I blame a lot of the media who gives the attention to the bomb throwers on each side,” Gruters said. “If you’re in D.C. and you want to be on TV on one of these news channels, you have to go and attack and go for the kill and strike your opponents.”
Gruters, notably, drew a distinction between Tallahassee and Washington.
“We have full grown respect for each other,” he said of Florida’s capital. “We have respect for the process. We’ve worked together on numerous bills up there.”
Meanwhile, the amendment’s proponents, including former Congressman Jason Altmire, see the top two primary system as a remedy.
Altmire is the author of Dead Center: How Political Polarization Divided America and What We Can Do About It.
“This amendment will result in less polarization,” he said. “It will force political candidates to appeal not just to their narrow base or the extreme but to all voters. If you want to win the election, you’re going to have to change your message and legislate in a different way that’s going to appeal to a wider swath of voters.”
All Voters Vote Chairman Glenn Burhans echoed Altmire’s remarks.
“The hyperpartisanship is being caused by the parties,” Burhans said. “That’s the very nature of partisanship. In a closed primary system, candidates are rewarded by appealing to their bases, by staying in their silos, by going on Fox News or MSNBC and lobbing bombs at their opponents. They’re being rewarded for bad behavior in a closed primary process, so if you want to get rid of that, let’s let all voters vote.”
A survey released by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Laboratory last week showed warning signs among likely voters for the “All Voters Vote” initiative.
The survey suggested if the amendment were to fail this year, it will likely be because of a lack of support from Republican voters.