Florida lawmakers are required to do two things. First, prior to taking office, each member must take an oath. That oath obliges them to “support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Government…of the State of Florida.”
“I do solemnly swear…”
Second, in upholding that same charter document, they must also pass a budget. The Florida Constitution clearly says they have until June 30th to do so.
So how did Florida lawmakers do in upholding their oaths?
As to the first (upholding the state constitution), the Florida Supreme Court ruled last week that the House leadership violated the state’s constitution by ending early without the consent of the Senate. And on the second matter (passing a budget by June 30th) the jury is still out on that – but it’s not looking too good.
In my opinion, lawmakers have failed us.
They have failed to work together, to come together and to put the business of the people first. Despite the solemnity of the oath-taking ceremony, it appears that Florida’s lawmakers have snubbed their noses at the citizens they are supposed to serve. And if the headlines, guest columns and editorials are any indication, that sentiment appears to be universal.
So what will be the fallout? What will voters do to express their unhappiness?
And why is that?
Because most lawmakers – and by most, I mean nearly every single one of them – simply do not have to answer to the vast majority of voters in their communities. For starters, most reside in highly gerrymandered districts carved out to elect someone from a chosen party. Second, they run in closed partisan primaries where only members of their own party choose who appears on the ballot in the general election. As a result, almost every one of them only has to answer to a very small part of the electorate. Further, a large majority of voters are legally prohibited from casting a ballot that means something in a truly contested election.
Consider this: Last year we had only one (just one!) contested state Senate seat in all of Florida. Twenty were up, but 19 of the 20 were decided in the primary, and the general election contests (if there even were any) were mere formalities.
And it wasn’t that different in the House. In the lower chamber, only about 10 of 120 seats were seriously contested. That means in 11 out of 12 state house seats the race was all but decided in a closed partisan primary by a tiny part of the electorate. In these primaries, only a small number of voters were even allowed to vote – denying the vast majority of voters an opportunity to cast a ballot that actually mattered.
The crisis of failure we have been watching in Washington D.C. has finally come home to roost. The culture of do-nothing stagnation has finally – and frankly, expectedly – entered Florida’s capitol.
According to the secretary of state, currently more than 27 percent of Florida’s voters do not belong to either major party. As this number is clearly growing by about a point per year, it is clear that the number of those who do not belong to a party will soon outpace those who do. Isn’t it time we allow every single voter the opportunity to vote? Isn’t it time to allow all voters to have a chance to say who represents them?
It’s past high time to give voters – all voters – the chance to vote for those who represent them.
Imagine for a second, if those lawmakers who spurned their oaths of office had to actually face real voters – ALL voters – and not just of those from their own party in low turnout elections. Imagine how the session would have ended. I suspect they would have done their business, not broken the law and would have ended on time and with a state budget.
Ray Hudkins is the lead spokesperson for Florida Fair and Open Primaries. He can be reached at 850-346-5199 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Column courtesy of Context Florida.