Former U.S. Sen. Geroge LeMieux says Florida will grow faster — and redder — than the rest of the country in short order. Central Florida will be home to 20 million people within two decades. Miami will be a financial capital with its own stock exchange. And Republicans will win elections more consistently.
“If we are purple, we are a reddish purple,” he said.
LeMieux presented his assessments at the annual meeting of Florida TaxWatch, held this year in Coral Gables.
The outgoing Chairman of the fiscal watchdog, LeMieux served as a chief aide to then-Gov. (and then-Republican) Charlie Crist before he was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2008. He now chairs the Gunster law firm.
As he moves into a role as immediate past chair for TaxWatch, LeMieux discussed the impact of rapid growth in Florida on the business environment, noting the state economy now rivals that of Mexico.
In his home community in South Florida, the change in recent years has been transformative.
“We’re the gateway to Latin America, which is really important where we’re sitting here in Miami Dade County when the Panama Canal expanded a few years ago,” he said.
But more recently, the arrival of numerous hedge funds made the Miami area more financially important than ever. He noted hedge fund manager Ken Griffin’s decision to move Citadel from Chicago to Miami, arguing it changed the character of the region immediately. Griffin notably was a megadonor to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-election campaign.
“Why did Ken Griffin decide to move his headquarters to Miami from Illinois? The reason, he articulated, was crime,” LeMieux said. “You couldn’t keep his people safe in Chicago. So if you think good governance doesn’t matter, if you think education and public safety doesn’t matter, what is the hit to the state of Illinois going to be when the biggest hedge fund in the country is moving to Miami?”
LeMieux predicted Miami will soon house a stock exchange, and noted law firms connected to Citadel are moving precisely because the fund is doing so. He also said partners at Goldman Sachs have revealed to him that the opening of an office with 1,000 professionals in Florida may soon become an office with some 4,000 people, all making six figures in a growth industry.
As for Central Florida, LeMieux pointed to development in the Tampa Bay area funded by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who is working financially with Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
LeMieux predicted the growth in Tampa and Orlando will soon result in a major connected metropolis that rivals Atlanta. Rather than growing in concentric circles, LeMieux predicted a megalopolis would soon span from Tampa Bay across the state and Interstate 4 corridor, then crawl north on Interstate 95 to Jacksonville.
As for politics, he notes the recent election results, where DeSantis won re-election with nearly 60% of the vote.
“Florida is trending toward a red state,” he said. He noted all statewide Republicans on the ballot this year, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and all Cabinet members, won by double-digit margins.
That, in many ways, is the end result of a decades-long transition. Democrats controlled the state into the 1980s, but then saw Republicans take firm control of the Legislature in the 1990s under then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the first Republican to win re-election in Florida.
The state more recently swung in Presidential Elections to backing Republican George W. Bush twice, then Democrat Barack Obama twice, then Republican Donald Trump twice. That shows it’s possible a Democrat could still win statewide in the future. But to date, conservative policies appear to be driving the growth in Florida in a way that makes the electorate more firmly Republican.
“You may not feel that if you’re in Broward County, where I’m from.” LeMieux said. “But the migration of people in The Villages are people who are coming with more traditional Republican values.”