The Florida Senate Turns Slowly but Increasingly Conservative
Around the State
This year is proving something of a change from the norm in the Florida Legislature as the usually more moderate Senate is to the right of the House on a few fronts.
The Senate has given conservatives’ heartburn in recent years, killing school choice bills and pension reform efforts, often proving ungovernable despite Republican majorities. Party lines simply aren’t as strong in the Senate where Democrats sometimes chair committees and party leadership fights can be extended.
In the House, the party whip is much stronger as representatives face the voters every two years instead of four years like senators. Add in the strong committee system and leadership fights often being settled before new representatives take their seats and the House is much more manageable.
But things are -- slowly -- starting to change. This year, conservatives can cheer the Senate over the House on a few issues. The Senate offered a budget proposal under $75 billion while the House went slightly higher with its version. Don Gaetz opposed legislation giving the children of undocumented aliens in-state tuition in the Senate while Will Weatherford championed it on the House side. Despite clearing the House, the immigrant tuition bill didn’t emerge in the Senate thanks to Joe Negron’s handling of it.
The Senate is starting to move a little more to the right. Part of that comes from the retirement of some of the more moderate Republicans with familiar faces like Mike Fasano, Paula Dockery, Dennis Jones, Evelyn Lynn and even JD Alexander no longer in the Senate. Conservatives are also set to hold seats in the Senate for years to come: Negron, Rob Bradley, Dorothy Hukill, Kelli Stargel, Aaron Bean, Jeff Brandes,Wilton Simpson, John Legg and others.
To be sure, Jack Latvala remains a force in the Senate and still has his eyes on moving up the leadership ladder. But his kind of moderate Republican simply doesn’t have control of the wheel like they did even a few years ago.
Of course there are some thunderclouds threatening on the horizon. Negron and Latvala continue to position themselves to take over as Senate president from Andy Gardiner after the 2016 elections. Simpson and Tom Lee are also rounding up votes to see who takes over in 2018 and leadership fights can make for strange politics and weird alliances -- as Gardiner can attest after Don Gaetz and John Thrasher tried to knife him.
Nor is any member of the Senate facing term limits in November, ensuring that almost every single member currently in the chamber will return next year. Even if the Senate starts leaning more toward the right, it won’t be changing drastic direction any time soon.
The Senate does appear to be set up for larger changes in the years to come. With conservatives like Matt Gaetz and Dennis Baxlery lining up to run in 2016, the Senate could tilt even more to the right in years to come.
Tallahassee-based political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.