Democratic Party
Opinion

The Collapse of the Florida Democratic Party

On Nov. 5, 2021, the Florida Democratic Party hit a new alarming low.

In its long and steady fall, the party has gone from dominating state politics to powerlessly criticizing Republicans who hold all but one statewide position. For the first time in Florida’s history, the total number of registered Republican voters exceeds the number of registered Democrats.

One can only wonder if the Florida Democratic Party will ever recover from collapse. Massive blunders over the past 30 years have led to this turning point in Florida Democrats’ fortunes.

A Decades-Long Decline

Starting in the 1980s, Florida’s once-dominant Democratic Party began to decline. With the election of Republican Bob Martinez as Florida’s governor in 1986, Republicans began to feel energetic. 

They rapidly made inroads with the people. This happened first with the old Dixiecrats in the Panhandle. While these voters were scarcely missed due to racist beliefs, Republicans quickly expanded upon those gains as the state turned increasingly red.

No Democrat has been elected governor since 1994 or attorney general since 1998. The last time Florida sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate or voted Democratic in a presidential election was in 2012, and the last time Florida elected a Democratic majority to the U.S. House was in 1986. 

A similar trend has followed in the state legislature; the last Democratic Senate majority was elected in 1992 while the last Democratic House majority was elected in 1994.

Since 2012, Democrats have won exactly one of 12 statewide elections. Nikki Fried, D-Florida, won the Commissioner of Agriculture seat in 2018, a year that saw Republicans cruise to victory in Florida even in the midst of a national Democratic wave.

In 2020, Republican Reps. Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar were elected to serve in the U.S. House representing areas in Miami that traditionally lean Democratic. Additionally, recently released redistricting maps indicate that Republicans will gain the new congressional seat that was allocated to Florida (due to a population boom in Central Florida), further shoving Democrats into the shunted state of an ignominious minority.

Neighboring districts represented by Democratic Reps. Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy would turn more red, as would Giménez’s and Salazar’s. Democrats are powerless to prevent these changes.

On top of that fiasco, Democrats’ once-enormous voter registration advantage — a fear for Republicans from Pensacola to Key West — is gone. At its peak, Florida Democrats outnumbered Republicans by over 1.6 million voters in 1980, when 64% of all voters in the state were Democrats. 

Even in 2012, this advantage numbered 558,272 voters and in 2018, when Nikki Fried won, Democrats held a 257,175 voter lead.

As of Nov. 5, Democrats have lost nearly all advantages.

Florida Democrats’ Systemic Issues

A majority of the issues in the Florida Democratic Party can be chalked up to a lack of leadership. Earlier this year — frustrated with the failures of the past several decades and losing traction with crucial Hispanic voters — party chair Terrie Rizzo stepped down and former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz took the reins.

Months later after a frustrating 2021 legislative session, Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, was removed from his position as Senate Minority Leader in favor of Sen. Lauren Book, D-Weston.

Then, on Oct. 21, Gov. Ron DeSantis called a special legislative session to fight the Biden administration’s ‘dangerous’ vaccine and mask mandates. This special session resulted in massive wins for DeSantis at the expense of Floridians. 

Making matters worse, Rep. James Bush III, D-Miami, enraged Democrats by voting in favor of every single bill passed in the special legislative session. This allowed Republicans to peg ‘bipartisan’ to the bills they passed into law. Bills that, among other things, set in motion Florida’s withdrawal from OSHA in a massive waste of taxpayer dollars and banned vaccine mandates threatening the health of Floridians.

Bush was not the only Democrat to enable Republican victories. Indeed, the one bill that Democrats could have unilaterally blocked — a bill exempting vaccine records from being public — passed due to the aid of both Democratic absences and votes. 

That bill passed 26-10 in the Senate, with two Democrats voting in favor. These Democrats were Reps. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersberg. Meanwhile, four Democrats were absent — though one, Book, was fearing for her safety in unrelated matters.

In the House, the situation was even worse. Rep. Michael Greico, D-Miami Beach, and the infamous James Bush III voted in favor of the OSHA withdrawal bill. Republicans’ goals were further achieved when a slew of Democratic absences enabled DeSantis and his Republican sycophants to have more easy victories.

Solutions to These Issues

In a statement provided exclusively to the Florida Political Review, Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, acknowledged that “the Democratic Party has lost touch with connecting to voters” on important issues. 

The senator shared his awareness of the many reasons behind Florida’s sad state of affairs. These include Democrats’ failure to reach out to rural and minority voters as well as systemic issues such as “lack of transportation to voting sites” and more recently “misinformation on mail-in ballots.”

Jones suggested that rather than try to gain back “those who have turned away from” the Democratic Party, Florida Democrats should “refocus energy toward outreach to the thousands of Floridians who are disenfranchised from the electoral process year after year.” 

Considering these points, particularly in the wake of DeSantis signing a cruel election bill, there is a new urgency behind Jones’s words.

Just last year, Floridians voted for the progressive idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The overwhelming support clearly demonstrates there are thousands of rural and minority voters who do like Democratic ideas, even if they do not support the party itself.

Yet, Democrats have not appealed well to rural or minority groups. The most recent Democrats to appeal significantly to rural voters were Lawton Chiles and Bob Graham in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Meanwhile, Democratic oversensitivity has led to words such as “Latinx” alienating a key constituency in diverse Florida. Simultaneously, Democrats insist on putting people into race and gender-based blocs that make people feel uncomfortable rather than seeing everyone as a unique individual. 

Despite the party’s abundance of issues, Jones expressed confidence that “Florida has the potential to become the next Georgia.” 

However, he stressed this can only happen once Democrats “succeed in creating a compelling, unified platform” that appeals to every Floridian left behind by failed Republican ‘leadership.’

While these words may fill Florida Democrats with hope and optimism, change will only happen if the work needed to turn Florida blue is done. Only time will tell if Jones is proven right or if Florida turns into a solid red state.

Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.

Featured image: Then-outgoing governor Rick Scott, R-Florida, and then-incoming governor Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, meet in 2018. Unmodified photo by the State of Florida and used under the public domain. (https://bit.ly/3ERXHHw)

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