Just like the smaller, duller fish in a home aquarium, municipal elections often get ignored for the two-pound bloated goldfish of Presidential elections.
But ignore the smaller elections at your own risk!
The past elections in Florida on Nov. 5 may not have been the flashiest, and not even statewide, but they can give us an idea about future elections and current political climate.
Consider Hialeah in Miami-Dade County. It had a busy ballot, with four council member positions and five referenda up for vote. The largest takeaway from the results is that populism and small government conservatism is on the rise in South Florida.
We can see populism in the fact that Councilwoman Lourdes Lozano, despite being an incumbent supported by Mayor Carlos Hernandez, lost her seat to elementary school teacher and political newcomer, Mónica Pérez. It was grassroots, not deep pockets, that elected her.
We could also read into this result even more as a sign of public discontent against Mayor Hernandez.
He was denied an increase in power by the failure of Referendum 3, which would have given him the right to declare a State of Emergency and control more relief funds. There is currently a group petitioning to recall Hernandez, on charges of intimidating rivals and corruption.
Hialeah voters further denied an increase in the abilities of their council by striking down all other referenda as well.
Let’s remember that, despite a lack of news coverage, conservatism is still a force in the Hispanic community. While Hispanics have a historically low trust in government, the percentage of Hispanics who trust the federal government has actually increased during the Trump presidency.
If the GOP can capitalize on these sentiments with the 20% of Hispanic Floridians (and especially with the anti-socialist/Castro voters of Cuban heritage), then they are well on their way to swinging Florida to red for the 2020 Presidential election. Though, this assumes the Democrats select a candidate with plans to increase federal power.
Supporters of leaner government were successful across the state as well.
Voters in Seminole, which is in Pinellas County, re-elected Mayor Leslie Waters in a landslide for her claims to fiscal conservatism, increase of firefighter pensions and city development.
Across multiple municipalities in the state, candidates who won council seats, such as incumbents Michael Cadore Sr. of Rockledge, Scott Nickle of Indian Harbor Beach and Doug Wright of Indialantic, tended to focus on job creation, infrastructure and supporting first-responders.
In these smaller towns, the people who turn out to vote seem to appreciate a smaller government and conservative talking points like balanced budget and public safety. This should be no surprise for Florida because it is one of only two states to have Democrats lose by a larger margin between the 2016 and 2018 elections, the other being Louisiana.
Is it too early to call Florida for the GOP in 2020?
Yes, much too early, but that isn’t the point of my observation here.
But, since municipal elections are mostly nonpartisan, we can draw these conclusions about the mindset of the minority of voters who decide local officials and policies while getting a feel for the mindsets that each party will need to influence and appeal to.
For example, appeals to environmentalism may be the Democrats’ best friend in Florida, considering the GOP on a national level has painted itself into a corner with climate-change denial. Though, candidates did not rely on being green alone.
Sustainability and economic growth combined were bywords that, for example, helped elect Ron Feinsod as mayor of Venice in Sarasota County and elect both Jane Castor of Tampa and reelect Buddy Dyer of Orlando in landslides to mayorship.
The more politically nerdy of you may have noticed that I brought up the election of Mayor Castor, despite that happening in April 2019. The reason being that her nature as an ex-police chief while simultaneously being the first LGBTQ+ Mayor of Tampa reminds us of the beautiful complexities of our politics.
So, yes, while we can see that the portion of Floridians that vote or run for office tend to respond to or use appeals that many consider Republican, that should not force us to think that liberalism is on the decline. We should not fall trap to talking about monolithic voting blocks.
Still, broadly speaking, the winning trends in Florida in Nov. 2019 were populism, appeals to public safety and fiscal conservatism. It also seems that Democrats will have a more uphill battle in the state come 2020.