Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Politics

Romano: Guess what? We finally have an election that matters

These are frisky days for voters in Florida.

We have, for a change, something known as "choices.'' These would be actual situations involving multiple candidates running for the same legislative seat in the state Capitol.

Apparently, this is commonplace in many states.

Around here, it borders on folklore.

Just consider the last time we had a chance to vote for state legislators. Of the 140 seats up for grabs in 2014, there were 124 incumbents in the field. And since incumbents win about 95 percent of state races, that meant your ballot could not have had less impact if you had used darts.

That's why this election — early voting started in some places on Monday, and mail-in ballots went out weeks ago — has the potential to actually make a difference.

Constitutional amendments on term limits and redistricting (with an assist from a 2015 court ruling) have changed the political landscape. I wouldn't call it wide open, but there are cracks.

This time around, incumbents are involved in about 55 percent of the Senate races and 64 percent of the House. Compare that with almost 89 percent in that last election.

So does that mean the usual power brokers have closed their PACs and gone home?

Not exactly. There are still an awful lot of familiar faces around. Of the 43 House incumbents not running for re-election, more than half are either shooting for a state Senate seat or the U.S. Congress.

And it is true that more than one-quarter of our lawmakers were automatically elected because they were unopposed in both the current primary season and the upcoming general election.

But those are complaints for another day. The point is votes are going to matter in this election. It may not lead to dramatic change, but the influence will be greater than what we normally see.

"Any time you have open seats it increases the likelihood of greater variations or flux in the usual voting patterns,'' said Darryl Paulson, emeritus professor of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. "But arguing against that, these are still districts that are pretty well dominated by one party or the other. So you may end up with a different face in Tallahassee, but will you really have much of a change if they're replacing somebody from the same party?''

Right here in the Tampa Bay area, there are a half-dozen legislative seats that are, more or less, up for grabs. (And a few more that are foregone conclusions.)

A redistricting domino effect led Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, to step down, and provided an opening between Republican Dana Young and Democrat Bob Buesing in District 18 in November.

Term limits forced out Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and have led to a primary battle between Democrats Ed Narain, Betty Reed, Augie Ribeiro and Darryl Rouson.

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, is running for a judge's seat, leaving a primary battle in District 68 between Ben Diamond and Eric Lynn. Three other House seats in Tampa and St. Pete (those vacated by Narain, Rouson and Young) also have the potential to be interesting.

Will any of these races make a difference in Tallahassee?

Probably not. And certainly not in the short term.

But it's rare we get the chance to have any effect in the Legislature, and it would be a shame to let this moment slip away.

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