Chamber of the Florida House of Representatives. Credit: Imani Thomas
The Republican Party is within a handful of election victories of achieving supermajorities in the Florida Legislature on Nov. 8— that is, control two-thirds of the vote in both the House and the Senate.
Theoretically, that would allow the party’s members to override a governor’s veto and ignore the rules that govern the lawmaking process, making it even more difficult for Democrats to pursue policy initiatives and pass legislation.
That said, Floridians might be hard pressed to notice a difference because the GOP caucuses are already very conservative and frequently vote down Democratic attempts to alter legislation. Democrats had led in voter registration for most of Florida’s history, but the GOP took the lead last year for the first time and that lead is growing.
Republicans now hold 76 seats in the 120-member Florida House and Democrats 42 seats, with two vacancies. In the 40-member Senate, Republicans hold 23 seats and the Democrats 16, with one vacancy.
Do the math: Eighty seats comprise a two-thirds vote, meaning the GOP needs four more seats to achieve a supermajority; in the Senate, 27 seats constitute a supermajority, meaning the party needs to add four seats there, too.
Democrats are aware of the situation, and a number of incumbent legislators launched a road trip to bolster fellow party members in tight races.
“We’re getting dangerously close to losing ground, so it is all hands on deck,” Sen. Jason Pizzo of Miami-Dade County said, as reported by Florida Politics.
Incumbent Sen. Janet Cruz, a Democrat from Hillsborough County who is facing off with Republican Jay Collins on Tuesday, told the Phoenix:
“Pay attention to the fact that this lopsided Legislature and this lopsided Senate. It’s not really democracy. It’s as Democrats standing up and fighting and fighting and fighting and we go up to session for 60 days and hit us in the nose and we fall down but we get up the next day and we say, ‘Is that all you got? Hit us again.’ And they hit us again and we fall down and we come back and we fight for 60 days, knowing that they have a majority vote in both the House and the Senate. We have to rectify that,” she said.
Indeed, the Democrats are well accustomed to being steamrolled by the majority, but a GOP supermajority could further sideline them because it takes a two-thirds majority to waive the rules governing debate. That’s routine during floor debate, when Democrats join Republicans in the interest of comity and efficiency in waiving rules calling for bills to be read in full each time.
If they feel the GOP is bullying them, Democrats can insist on a full reading, at least giving them the satisfaction of slowing down the train.
When that happens, the House clerks deploy an autoreader that can move through material faster than humans can, said Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy for the AFL-CIO in Florida.
“That hasn’t been something that’s happened in the past several years,” Templin said.
“But it does allow the minority party to have a little more juice when they’re trying to negotiate with the majority party about how business in each chamber is going to operate,” he added. “Having a little bit of parity between the parties leads to more compromise and statesmanship.”
Patricia Brigham, president of Prevent Gun Violence Florida and a former president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, acknowledged in an interview that a legislative supermajority would have little effect on policy.
“The Legislature is already run by the Republicans. They already have complete control — the governor, the Cabinet, the Legislature. There’s no compromise on issues as it is — which we’ve clearly seen with guns, with LGBTQ rights, with ex-felons voting rights. It’s just on and on and on,” Brigham said.
“The only thing that could change is if Charlie Crist wins the governor’s office because he has the power of the veto. That would be it.”
Republicans would never override a DeSantis veto, she added.
“There would have to be dramatic turnover in the Legislature in the direction of the Democrats. As much as I would love to say that that could happen, I’m skeptical of that happening,” Brigham said.
One thing she figures is certain: A GOP supermajority drives another nail in the coffin for gun reform. “Those chances go away,” Brigham said.
This list of some of the races to watch is based on Florida Phoenix reporting, interviews with lobbyists, published news reports, and information posted by Matthew Isbell, a data consultant for campaigns.
In HD 37, Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith is an incumbent seeking reelection in a district drawn more favorably for Republicans. His Republican opponent is Susan Plasencia. Smith was the first openly gay member of the Florida House and has been perhaps the foremost advocate of gun control in the Legislature. Smith was elected in 2016, around the time of the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting. Plasencia runs an events organization company and is the sister of Rene Plasencia, who resigned his House seat in March. The district includes part of Orange and Seminole counties.
Democrat Tiffany Hughes and Republican Doug Bankson are running in HB 39, which includes portions of Orange and Seminole counties. Hughes is a former chairperson of the Orange County NAACP who now serves as the co-chair of the Orange County Community Development Advisory Board, according to her campaign materials. She also runs a staffing firm. Bankson serves on the Apopka City Council and a pastor at Victory Church in Apopka. In his campaign website, Bankson said he’s running in part because of rampant inflation, housing less affordable and “attempts to bring radical gender ideology into the classrooms of kindergarteners.”
Democrat Andrew Learned seeks a second term in the Florida House, running in a reconfigured HD 69 in the Tampa Bay region that includes a slim GOP voting majority. He’s a U.S. Navy veteran, which includes three Middle East deployments, according to his House bio. He is an owner of a neighborhood learning center, according to his campaign materials. Republican opponent Danny Alvarez is an Army veteran, according to his campaign website, and practices family law. He is general counsel to the Tampa Police Benevolent Association.
SD 3 is a North Florida seat that includes Tallahassee, where Democratic incumbent Loranne Ausley, an attorney, faces a challenge from Republican Corey Simon, a Black former football player at FSU and in the NFL who served as CEO of Volunteer Florida under DeSantis but resigned in June to run for the Legislature.
In SD 10, Republican state Sen. Jason Brodeur had his district redrawn this year and now faces Democratic state Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil. Brodeur allegedly was tied to a “ghost candidate” scandal in his last election. He is president and CEO of the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce. Groff-Marcil is an attorney first elected to the state House in 2018.
SD 14 is in Hillsborough County, where Democrat Janet Cruz faces Republican Jay Collins, who describes himself in his campaign website as a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran and Purple Heart awardee and is a program director for Operation BBQ Relief, a nonprofit that serves meals to people including first responders in disaster areas. Cruz has been a lawmaker in the House and Senate since 2010, according to her Senate bio, and lists her biographical information on her Senate website as optician/healthcare executive.
Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia, a former radio and TV personality, is seeking reelection in SD 36, having won her seat by 34 votes last time in a race marked by a “ghost candidate” targeting the then-Democratic incumbent (she denies any involvement and hasn’t been charged). The seat, reconfigured to include parts of Miami-Dade County including Miami Beach, is vacant because Democratic House member Michael Greico, who was going to run for the Senate seat, abandoned his campaign — he felt he was drawing insufficient support from his party. Running in his place is Raquel Pacheco, who has run unsuccessfully for the Miami Beach City Commission. She served in the Connecticut National Guard and runs a translation business, according to her campaign website and a Miami Herald report.
SD 38, in Miami-Dade County, where Democrat Janelle Perez is vying for an open seat against Republican Alexis Calatayud, a lobbyist for the Florida Department of Education who between August 2021 and March 2022 served as the agency’s director for policy and programs. Perez is a cancer survivor who has worked with medical nonprofits and at a family-owned Medicare HMO, according to campaign materials and published reports.
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