Ben Kirby: Expect a lot of complex issues on November 2014 ballot

No matter their party affiliation, the political class in Florida is looking forward to the 2014 election.

Incumbent Gov. Rick Scott will be on the ballot. He is seeking re-election after a tumultuous first term that saw persistent low approval ratings and a raft of scandals, including the resignations of his Lt. Governor, as well as his chief of staff.

For their part, Democrats have managed to keep their gubernatorial prospects dim. Today the only announced candidate is former State Sen. Nan Rich (D-Westin). The 71-year-old former Senate Democratic Leader has struggled to raise her because of Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who may decide to seek that office again, only this time as a Democrat.

Neither U.S. senator will be on the ballot, but there will be races for the U.S. House, cabinet officers, state senators, state representatives, judges and others.

After voters sort out those choices, they likely will be asked to decide on amending the Florida Constitution to allow for the prescription use

 of medical marijuana. Following that, they may be able to vote on whether to effectively legalize gay marriage in Florida.

Finally, voters may well have to educate themselves as to what, exactly, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment is all about, too.

Attention Floridians: expect delays at your polling place on election day.

Florida being the critical state that it is, one can be assured that national figures will traverse Florida on behalf of candidates and initiatives of all kinds over the next 15 months.

In short, the 2014 political season in Florida begins now, and it will be a zoo.

Most everything will be made political, or used for political gain by one side or the other.

However, while voters are standing in line wondering whether to provide funding for the Land Acquisition Trust Fund by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents, voters should remember the important role transportation plays in our lives.

In Pinellas County, our ballot won’t look too much different than the rest of Florida. But the issue of whether to embrace light rail and a new and modern system of transportation may be on the ballot as well.

Right now, the catch-all word “transportation” is just a conversation, sparked by Greenlight Pinellas. But like every conversation in Florida in the coming months, it too will be made political.

Scott has sent mixed signals with respect to transportation.  In early 2011, he rejected federal funding for a high-speed rail project connecting Tampa to Orlando. Later that summer, Scott approved funding for SunRail, a commuter rail system in the Orlando area.

The governor’s sweeping but unpredictable actions on transportation issues might meet a foe in his own party: State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg). He’s the Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and he has his own innovative ideas about transportation.

In fact, the political attacks on transportation issues have already found their way to Brandes. Last cycle, he was the subject of a political ad targeting him for his support of driverless cars, an idea currently being pioneered by Google.

In case you remain skeptical that something as banal as transportation could possibly capture the attention of Democratic and Republican political figures on the national stage, look no further than the United States Congress.

In early August, Republican House leaders pulled a $44 billion bill from the floor. It was a transportation spending bill, and it did not get acted upon in Congress before the start of the recess. It was pulled because the moderate and conservative wings of the Republican Caucus could not agree on spending cuts.

Not to fear. Transportation as a political cudgel is a bipartisan exercise. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez is withholding billions in transit dollars for California because of a labor dispute.

Political experts will tell you they are looking forward to the 2014 political season in Florida.  They also will tell you it is too early for predictions.

The conversation about transportation, transit, and light rail will start now, but it is too early to say what exactly will appear on the ballot. One prediction is safe, though: it will all get very political, very fast.

Guest Author


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