With the political wind at their backs, Florida Republicans increased their majority in the state Senate, claiming 28 of its 40 seats -- a very comfortable majority for incoming Gov. Rick Scotts legislative agenda.
Tonight, the voters of Florida have chosen to increase the number of Republicans serving in the Florida Senate to 28, said incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. This is the first time a party has picked up multiple seats during a regular election since the mid-1980s, making this the largest majority of any party in more than 25 years.
This increase will allow our Republican-led Legislature to tackle tough issues facing our state in the upcoming 2011 legislative session from balancing our states budget to reforming Medicaid and cutting wasteful government spending, all with our conservative principles in mind, added Haridopolos. By gaining a stronger majority with an additional two seats, I am confident that we will be able to pass meaningful legislation that will have a positive impact on the state of Florida. I look forward to working with these new Republican lawmakers in the Florida Senate.
Republicans picked up the seats currently held by Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, who both unsuccessfully sought other offices. In the race for Justices seat, former Senate Majority Leader Jack Latvala handily defeated the Democratic candidate, Pinellas County School Board member Nina Hayden. With almost 129,000 votes counted, Latvala had 64 percent and Hayden took 36 percent. In the race for Aronbergs seat, longtime Wellington Councilwoman and Vice Mayor Lizbeth Benacquisto, the Republican candidate, defeated Democratic Rep. Kevin Rader of Boynton Beach. With more than 144,500 votes counted, Benacquisto had 54 percent while Rader had 46 percent.
Democrats had high hopes of knocking off two Republicans in North Florida but were not able to defeat either Sen. Steve Oehlrich of Gainesville or Sen. John Thrasher of Jacksonville, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Oehlrich held off former Rep. Perry McGriff, taking 54 percent to the Democrats 46 percent.
Thrasher did even better, crushing Democratic candidate longtime Jacksonville news anchor Deborah Gianoulis. With almost 180,000 votes in, Thrasher took 60 percent while Gianoulis trailed with 40 percent.
I congratulate Senator Thrasher on his re-election to Senate District 8, and I look forward to him being a key part of my leadership team, said Haridopolos. Senator Thrashers focus on keeping taxes low, reducing wasteful government spending and growing our states job base is vital to the continued success of the Florida Senate.
There were few surprises in the other Senate races as most incumbents cruised to re-election.
Five incumbent senators -- Haridopolos, Republican Don Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, Republican Joe Negron of Palm City, incoming Democratic Senate Leader Nan Rich of Weston and Democrat Arthenia Joyner of Tampa -- faced no opposition on Tuesday. Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, easily survived a challenge from a write-in candidate.
Some of the incumbents had harder tasks but all of them prevailed.
With no Democratic candidate in the race, Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, defeated independent candidate Steve Edmonds on Tuesday. Altman took more than 67 percent of the more than 153,000 votes counted to continue to represent parts of Brevard, Orange and Seminole counties.
Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, won a second term -- beating Republican nominee Patrick Laffey with 64 percent of the almost 95,000 votes counted. Ring, a moderate Democrat whose work on ports' issues has earned him the praise of the Associated Industries of Florida, made a large impression on Wednesday, calling for Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman to step down after the results of Tuesdays elections.
The Senate will also have some new faces with nine candidates winning election to the Senate for the first time and two former members rejoining the upper house of the Legislature.
Rep. Greg Evers, R-Milton, crushed TEA Party candidate Christopher Crawford and a write-in candidate on Tuesday to replace Sen. Durrell Peaden, R-Crestview, representing all of Holmes and Washington counties, as well as parts of Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa and Walton counties.
Former Leon County Schools Superintendent Bill Montford defeated Republican nominee John Shaw, a computer-repair business owner, as well as a write-in candidate, to keep the seat currently held by Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee for the Democrats. Montford, who took 67 percent of the vote, will represent all of Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty and Wakulla counties and parts of Bay, Jefferson, Leon and Madison counties.
Despite a protracted legal struggle that saw his name at one point removed from the ballot before a judge intervened, Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman kept the seat currently held by Sen. Victor Crist of Tampa for the Republicans. Norman defeated two write-in candidates to represent parts of Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
Rep. Alan Hays of Umatilla kept the seat held by retiring Sen. Carey Baker of Eustis for the Republicans by beating Democratic candidate Eunice Garbutt. Hays took more than 67 percent of the more than 200,000 votes counted to win the seat, which covers parts of Lake, Marion, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties.
With Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, term-limited out of office, former Rep. David Simmons -- who served in the House from 2000 until 2008 -- is headed back to Tallahassee. Simmons was the only candidate who made the November ballot, keeping this seat -- which covers parts of Orange and Seminole counties -- in Republican hands.
Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, defeated Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, to replace outgoing Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, representing Broward and Palm Beach counties. With more than 138,000 votes counted, Bogdanoff took more than 57.5 percent while Skidmore placed second with 37.8 percent. Harvard grad Miranda Rosenberg, who ran with no party affiliation, placed third with just under 5 percent.
With Ted Deutch having vacated his seat in the Senate after winning election to Congress, Rep. Maria Lorts Sachs, D-Delray Beach, stepped up to the Senate to keep itin the hands of the Democrats. Sachs, the only candidate to make the ballot, will represent partsof Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Former Senate President Gwen Margolis crushed conservative Corey Poitier, who ran with no party affiliation, keeping the seat vacated by Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach for the Democrats. Margolis took almost 78 percent of the more than 77,500 votes counted to head back to Tallahassee to represent parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
With Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, leaving the Senate, his brother, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who has served on the Miami-Dade County Commission, replaced him, keeping this Miami-Dade seat for the Republicans. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla defeated two write-in candidates.
Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, defeated Democratic candidate Dr. Les Gerson, a veterinarian, on Tuesday to replace term-limited Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, to represent parts of Miami-Dade. With more than 93,000 votes counted, Flores took more than 68 percent of the vote.
With Sen. Rudy Garcia, R-Hialeah, retiring due to term limits, former Rep. Rene Garcia, a Republican who served in the House for eight years, defeated a write-in candidate on Tuesday and will head back to Tallahassee to represent parts of Miami-Dade.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.