Florida Legislature
11:00 am
Tue March 12, 2013

Democrats In Tallahassee Less Outnumbered Than They Used To Be

REVIVAL: They still don't have a majority in the capitol but Democrats felt new confidence at their recent Awake the State rally.
Credit Rick Stone / WLRN
WLRN-Miami Herald News reporter Rick Stone's story on the new mood of Democrats in Tallahassee.

The election results and new leadership in the Florida legislature have made life a little easier for the state's elected Democrats.

Not that that there's been a substantial change in how the state's laws are made. The elections may have stripped House and Senate Republicans of their super-majorities, but Democrats remain profoundly outvoted and relatively powerless.

NOT FOR SCOTT: Gov. Rick Scott remains a rallying point and a target for Democratic activists.
Credit Rick Stone / WLRN

"Under no circumstance do we have the votes to single-handedly pass any legislation," said State Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek. "What we do have is the ability to influence some of what is being drafted and some of the amendments."

Case in point: House Bill 655, a business-backed measure that would prohibit cities and counties from ordering local employers to offer benefits such as paid sick leave or, under some circumstances, pay a higher-than-federal minimum wage. Under the bill, counties such as Miami-Dade that have local minimum wage ordinances on their books already would see them forcibly repealed.

Democrats were swamped 12 to 5 when the bill came up in the House State Affairs Committee. But, for a change, it emerged with a Democratic amendment. The ordinances would phase out over three years instead of disappearing overnight.

Over the last two years of Republican domination, that compromise would have been unimaginable.

State San. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, the Republican leader, says the last two years were an "aberration" caused mostly by former Senate President Mike Haridopolos' failures of leadership. The next two years under new Senate President Don Gaetz, he says, should be different.

"Senator Gaetz is an older and more mature leader," Latvala said. "He's done a lot of successful things in his life. He doesn’t want a breakdown like maybe we've had in the last year or two."

The 2012 election brought disaster to national Republicans. The damage was less but still significant in Florida where a series of constitutional amendments comprising the Republican governing program were mostly defeated. Some Republicans lost their seats, including State Rep. Chris Dorworth, who was scheduled to become the House Speaker in 2014.

The election itself, conducted under restrictive laws passed by Republicans in 2011 and 2012, featured long lines and waits that angered Democrats and may have contributed to Republican losses. And  the re-election of President Obama caused Gov. Rick Scott to drop his once-leading position against the Affordable Care Act, although his initiative to expand Medicaid under the health care law may already have been thwarted by separate committee votes in the House and Senate.

"It was a repudiation of the Republican agenda," said Democratic strategist Damien Filer of the election results. "We have seen a significant sea change and I think it will be reflected in what we see in the legislative session."