Ernest Hooper: Is Hillsborough’s deeper shade of blue a forecast for Florida?

The success of first-time Democratic candidates in Hillsborough should be a signal to the GOP.
Fentrice Driskell (center) poses in a celebratory photo with family members after capturing the Florida House, District 62 seat. Driskell's victory signals Hillsborough County's move towards the left. Also pictured: Rianna Morris, Ariel Driskell, Sheritta Morris, Shannon Rose and Duana Driskell. Photo courtesy of Fentrice Driskell.
Fentrice Driskell (center) poses in a celebratory photo with family members after capturing the Florida House, District 62 seat. Driskell's victory signals Hillsborough County's move towards the left. Also pictured: Rianna Morris, Ariel Driskell, Sheritta Morris, Shannon Rose and Duana Driskell. Photo courtesy of Fentrice Driskell.
Published November 8 2018

TAMPA — Republicans have been declared the winners in our statewide races, but Hillsborough County appears to be a deeper shade of blue after Tuesday’s general election.

Political pundits have long touted the county as a bellwether area for elections. The theory went that as Hillsborough goes, so goes the state — and in national elections, the country.

That hasn’t borne out in the last two major elections. Hillary Clinton won Hillsborough but lost the state in 2016. On Tuesday, Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson won in Hillsborough but appeared to fail in their respective bids to be governor and U.S. Senator, barring a recount reversal.

Still, the Democrats enjoyed significant wins in Hillsborough. With Mariella Smith and Kimberly Overman winning County Commission seats, the board now has a Democratic majority.

In area legislative races, Democrats had two significant victories: Adam Hattersley beat out Joe Wicker and Fentrice Driskell won over incumbent Shawn Harrison.

It all leads to an important question: Has Hillsborough gone from bellwether to future indicator for Florida?

Tampa’s left-leaning urban core clearly drove some outcomes, including passage of education and tax initiatives, but the victories by Hattersley, Smith and Overman all point to bluer suburbs.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature would be wise not to ignore the potential trend.

The narrow margins of victory by GOP candidates certainly aren't new, but if the Republicans continue to govern solely from the right, they risk the pendulum swinging further to the left.

It’s time compromise and collaboration became genuine entities in Tallahassee. Voters on both sides clearly want greater protection of the environment, easier access to medical marijuana and improved health care options for all.

Public school funding loomed larger as a campaign issue this year, and rightfully so.

The total number of state jobs rose under Gov. Rick Scott, but three dozen smaller, rural counties actually had fewer jobs in 2017 than they did in 2007.

Most of those counties voted for Scott and DeSantis, but how much longer can Republicans count on those folks to remain loyal if they continue to suffer?

The state’s responsibility to adequately fund mental health, child protection services, law enforcement and the prison system should no longer be buried under boasts of lower taxes and less government.

In the end, the results in Hillsborough may be a sign that Florida residents no longer favor bigger government or smaller government, but simply better government.

In a purple state, why not govern from the center?

That’s all I’m saying.

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