The new year promises to be a busy one in Florida politics even as the presidential race dominates the headlines.
Florida will, once again, be the largest swing state in the Electoral College, ensuring the race for the White House will be on center stage for most of the year. But there will be other dramas on the Sunshine State’s political stage in the new year.
With Marco Rubio running for president, both Democrats and Republicans can expect competitive primaries to replace him. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson offer two very different messages for Democrats as they look to flip a Senate seat. There are several Republican incumbents in blue states defending their seats in November and Democrats will need Florida if they want to flip the Senate.
Republicans will look to keep this Senate seat and have four solid candidates already off and running for it. Ron DeSantis, David Jolly, Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Todd Wilcox aren’t well known but they all have different strengths which can help them in the primary. Dan Bongino and Bill McCollum could also get in what should be an interesting contest.
Democrats are also hoping to pick up a few congressional seats in Florida in the aftermath of the state Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling. Already Democrats have high hopes for Annette Taddeo to defeat Carlos Curbelo and to flip the seats currently held by Jolly and Dan Webster. But Republicans will have their own opportunities to flip the seats held by Gwen Graham and Murphy. In the meantime, Democrats will be running hard to replace Grayson while Republicans can expect primaries to replace DeSantis and the retiring Rich Nugent.
Over in Tallahassee, Rick Scott is pushing $1 billion in tax cuts, most of which benefit manufacturers, but he is also calling to lower the commercial lease tax. The business community is behind Scott on these issues but there will be some resistance in the Legislature, namely over whether these cuts will be permanent. The continued tensions between the House and the Senate left over from 2015 won’t help Scott achieve his tax cuts or his call to send $250 million to Enterprise Florida.
The state judiciary is mulling over a final state Senate map which will give Democrats a chance to make some gains in that chamber of the Legislature in 2016. Earlier this week Judge George Reynolds approved new Senate districts which would cut into the GOP majority though the decision might be challenger. Regardless, Democrats have better odds now of cutting into the Republican Senate majority. Republicans should easily keep control of the House in November but Democrats have the chance to end the GOP’s current veto-proof majority.
There will also be plenty of proposed amendments to the state Constitution. John Morgan will once again lead the charge to expand medical marijuana in Florida. There could also be amendments on solar power, mandatory sick leave, health-care, Medicaid expansion, expanded gambling, the minimum wage and other issues. Some of these matters, of course, will be dealt with in the legislative season which starts in January.
In 2016, Florida will hope to continue expanding job growth and reducing the unemployment rate helped, in part, by record numbers of tourists coming to the Sunshine State. But there are some stormclouds on the horizon, including the lowest forecast of oranges in half a century and a 29 percent reduction from last year’s crop.
There will be other political dramas playing in 2016 which will conclude in future years. Scott, Tom Rooney and other Republicans continue to mull over taking on Bill Nelson in 2018. Republicans, led by Jeff Atwater and Adam Putnam, and Democrats alike continue looking at running for governor in 2018. Over in the Legislature, politicians on both sides of the aisle will maneuver for position in leadership contests.
The presidential election will garner most of the spotlight over the next year. But there is far more going on and 2016 is shaping up to be a dramatic year in Florida politics.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @KevinDerbySSN