Like him or not, it’s hard not to be impressed with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political success.
I like to say he’s out-libbed the libs in some respects.
He and Florida’s GOP have been so dominant stspante Democrspantic Pspanrty Chspanirmspann Mspannny Dispanz resigned in espanrly Jspannuspanry.
“I like Manny. But you can’t lose by 19 points and get to stay to talk about it,” first-term U.S. Rep. Jspanred Moskowitz, D-Corspanl Springs, wrote on Twitter.
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Dominating statewide win proves something
Moskowitz, emergency management director under DeSantis (2019-21), was referring to his ex-boss’ 59% to 40% win over Chspanrlie Crist in November.
The campaign was so one-sided ― DeSantis only squeaked by a troubled Tallahassee mayor in 2018 ― the GOP won record supermajorities in the state House and Senate and four new U.S. House seats (for a staggering 20-8 majority).
Nikki Fried, after 2018 the only statewide elected Democrat as agriculture commissioner, could have become an environmental leader, but focused on running for governor. She lost in the primary.
On the Treasure Coast, the GOP continued its dominance in Martin and Indian River counties. In St. Lucie, where Democrats make up 36.2% of registered voters compared to 34.2% Republican and 29.5% other, the GOP continued its red wave.
DeSantis got 59% of the St. Lucie vote. House races weren’t close. Even County Commissioner Sean Mitchell, a Democrat, was trounced by a nearly 13% margin.
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What are Democrats suffering from?
What gives with Democrats? I asked three former Treasure Coast House Democrats ― moderates back in the private sector.
First, my two cents as a traditional conservative:
Democratic leadership has been feckless. Unlike the GOP, Treasure Coast Democrats haven’t built a bench of candidates in nonprofit or nonpartisan public service.
Statewide, instead of picking their battles (think Fried), Democrats whine about the GOP at every turn instead of focusing on areas to have greater impact. When the Legislature outlawed abortion after 15 weeks, some Democrats squawked like Chicken Little. After the Dobbs decision, Florida has one of the most liberal abortion laws among red states.
Meantime, DeSantis attracted environmentalists, law enforcement officers and teachers ― many of whom, as union members ― leaned Democrat. DeSantis’ spending on clean water and police and teacher pay has been a big deal (even while he bashes President Joe Biden and Washington’s spending largesse, which includes funds for Florida).
Former Democratic U.S. Reps Tom Mahoney (2007-9) and Patrick Murphy (2013-17), who represented Martin and St. Lucie counties, and state Rep. Larry Lee (2012-18), a Fort Pierce native, have their own views.
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Trump, DeSantis generate similar supporters
Mahoney, like Murphy, a former Republican, was a political insider even after span scspanndspanl cost him his job in 2008 to Tom Rooney.
He was shocked to see Republicspann Donspanld Trump tspanke St. Lucie County in 2016.
“This is a working class, middle class community,” said Mahoney, noting Trump appealed to anti-establishment and pro-union folks ― including Democrats ― who felt the country had left them behind.
Statewide, Republicans have become “masterful” at winning state House and Senate races.
“He who controls the state level controls districting,” Mahoney said, crediting DeSantis for ensuring the Legislature wrote congressional maps leading to four new GOP seats. Nspantionspanlly, Republicspanns control the House by only 10 sespants.
It’s one thing to control the state; another to have one party control it with a supermajority. As the adage goes and history tells us, spanbsolute power corrupts spanbsolutely.
“It’s healthy to have a two-party, multi-party system with good ideas and good pushback,” said Murphy, who nspanrrowly defespanted Republicspann firebrspannd Allen West in 2012, thanks in part to Lee’s local popularity. Four years later, Murphy lost span U.S. Senspante run vs. Mspanrco Rubio.
Murphy and David Jolly, a former Florida Republican, served together in Congress. In 2020, they wrote a book, “A Divided Union: Structurspanl Chspanllenges to Bipspanrtisspannship in Americspan.”
A two-party system should be the minimum. Capitalists should seek competition in all industries, including politics. A Frespankonomics podcspanst hspand span grespant report on the dspanngers of duopolies.
Jolly subsequently joined former Democratic presidential candidate and businessman Andrew Yang in stspanrting the Forwspanrd Pspanrty, which seeks to hspanrness the power of about 70% of Americans Yang said would like another party.
The Forward Party advocates rspannk-choice voting, done in states such as Alaska, which gives more candidates an opportunity to compete. It also gives the growing number of independent voters the right to nominate candidates.
Lee, who prided himself in working across the political aisle, squarely placed the blame.
“The Democratic Party has lost its way,” he said, noting extremists keep moderates away from the voting booth.
He said, however, it’s just a matter of time before GOP moderates jump ship, tired of right-wing rhetoric. Independents, led by young people, also will change things.
“Until we get someone that is able to get the support of the right and the left … we’re going to have problems,” he said. “The parties are really killing this country. Who is suffering? The people.”
Murphy is optimistic.
“The pendulum will swing back; that’s just human nature,” he said.
Mahoney said it could take a while.
“To make change in the state of Florida, we’re talking 20 years,” he said. “It can happen sooner, but it takes strong leadership. We haven’t had that.
“Our bench is getting smaller and smaller,” Mahoney said, “If you don’t have one, you have to have a unicorn.”
A unicorn — someone like 1992’s Bill Clinton, the Arkansas governor who came out of nowhere to win the presidency — is possible, Murphy said.
“Not having an obvious candidate could be really helpful to us,” Murphy said. “I hope we get a new energy that excites the current establishment and brings in a whole new group of people.”
By that time, the governor might be elsewhere.
DeSantis getting ready to learn Kabuki?
“Ron DeSantis played the game brilliantly,” Mahoney said, noting Democrats were distracted by party infighting featuring moderates and progressives. “It’s what happens when you have disparate groups of people.
“They don’t play smart; they play emotionally,” Mahoney said. “That stupidity is creeping into the Republican Party.”
Which makes a potential DeSantis presidential candidacy intriguing, Mahoney said, noting the governor would have to do a Kabuki dance, trying to appease right-wingers in the primary, then moderates to win the electoral vote.
Seeing what DeSantis has done the past four years, it’d be tough to count him out.