‘Vote them out’ sounds like an option for disaffected voters. But it rarely happens.

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Steve Bousquet

Published March 6, 2018


TALLAHASSEE — “Vote them out! Vote them out!”

That punchy chant reverberates at the state Capitol and across social media as students and supporters of gun control fault Republicans and their loyal support of the NRA for lax gun laws that led to horrific carnage in Parkland.

On Twitter, they punctuate their anger and frustration with the hashtag #VoteThemOut.

“When you can’t change the laws, change the politicians who make them. November is coming,” tweeted state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.

November is coming. But voting anybody out of the Florida Legislature is easier said than done.

It seldom happens.

When it does, it’s more likely to be a product of a temporary turnout wave than a long-term political movement.

The question is whether 2018 will be different in Florida.

In 2016, with Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton at the top of the ballot, three incumbents in Florida’s Legislature lost their seats.

Three out of 160 seats.

Two were in Miami, and the third was in Pasco County.

In all three, voter turnout for president was a factor.

Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard of Miami lost to Republican Frank Artiles in South Miami-Dade, and Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami lost to Democrat José Javier Rodríguez.

Democrat Amanda Murphy, overwhelmed by a surge of pro-Trump voters, lost her Pasco seat to Republican newcomer Amber Mariano.

Two years earlier, voters ousted seven House members from office.

All seven were Democrats in Tampa Bay and Orlando who won in 2012 when they rode President Barack Obama’s re-election coattails.

But many of the Democratic voters who turned out for Obama in 2012 were no-shows in the 2014 midterm election.

That helped Republicans win back six seats and maintain an overwhelming majority in the Florida House, where the gun lobby has the loyal support of the GOP leadership.

But that was all long before Parkland, where the deaths of 14 students and three adults gave rise to the #NeverAgain movement that has brought thousands of demonstrators to Tallahassee to demand a statewide ban on assault weapons.

Survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are turning their anger to activism, including signing up new voters.

Student David Hogg, who’s approaching a half-million Twitter followers, tweeted: “Hey FL, get registered to vote. It’s annoying, I know, but that’s because they don’t want you to make your voice heard, so don’t let them! Register!”

Voting data from the 2016 election shows that younger voters, those age 18-29, voted in smaller numbers than older voters.

The Parkland massacre took place in Broward, by far the state’s most Democratic county, where it has repeatedly proven difficult to motivate Democrats to turn out in non-presidential election years in Florida.

In the last midterm election in 2014, the November statewide turnout was 51 percent, but in Broward it was 45 percent.

It has been more than two decades since Republicans won complete control of the Florida Legislature in 1996.

It’s not a Democrat that most GOP lawmakers worry about, but a more conservative Republican in a primary election, where lower turnout magnifies the clout of voters motivated by a single issue — such as abortion or guns.

Over time, fear of being “primaried” has made conservative interest groups more powerful, especially the NRA, which grades lawmakers and candidates from A-plus to F on one issue, guns.

Some Republicans worry what could happen next fall.

Rep. Joe Gruters, a Republican from Sarasota and his county’s GOP chairman, said he’s “losing sleep every night” over how voting for a three-day waiting period and age 21 gun purchase requirement will hurt Republicans with core supporters.

Gruters said guns is a major issue for nearly one of five GOP primary voters.

“What you’re asking Republicans to do, if you vote for this, you’re toast,” Gruters said. “It’s going to cost you in your next election.”

In most legislative elections in Florida, incumbents have an overwhelming advantage in fundraising, a factor that more than any other decides the outcome of an election.

Campaign money and name recognition create an aura of invincibility, and every cycle, dozens of incumbents from both parties win new terms automatically — without opposition.

Democrats have repeatedly failed to recruit challengers even in areas where they have a good chance of victory.

Eight-year term limits for legislators has led to fewer competitive elections. Challengers wait until a seat becomes open, with no incumbent, when a newcomer’s chances are better.

All 120 House seats are up in November.

At present, 45 House incumbents, 24 Democrats and 21 Republicans, have no active opposition.

Florida is a deep purple state, but Republicans currently hold 76 House seats and Democrats hold 41.

For the pendulum to swing back, Democrats would need to win 20 seats currently held by Republicans.

It’s a seemingly impossible hurdle.

But Democrats say public outrage over preventable gun violence and the gun lobby’s grip on Tallahassee have the potential to transform politics. They also are hopeful because two new polls show a clear majority of voters support a ban on assault weapons.

“You have a Florida House that is not reflective of the state’s electorate,” Rep. Smith said.

The Florida Senate has 23 Republicans and 15 Democrats with two seats vacant, one leaning Democratic and one leaning Republican.

Democrats would need to win five of 20 Senate seats up this fall to regain a majority.