Courtesy of The Miami Herald
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
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
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!
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
Gruters said guns is a major issue for nearly one of five GOP primary
“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
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