Friday, February 23, 2018
Politics

When partisans surprise us, maybe we can be a little hopeful

It seemed so obvious in November. Almost as if the narrative had been written in advance, and the roles were perfectly cast.

The Supreme Court justice? She was an activist in a jurist's cloak. A progressive appointee of a previous governor. She needed to be taken down in a retention vote.

Florida's governor? He was a conservative puppet. An ideologue in charge of the Republican Party's voter suppression plan. He needed to be ridiculed at every turn.

Or so went the partisan view of life.

A lot of Republicans seemed certain about Justice Barbara Pariente's liberal leanings, and a whole bunch of Democrats swore Gov. Rick Scott was an intractable zealot.

And so I wonder how many jaws hit the floor this week.

It was Thursday afternoon when the hyper-partisan governor agreed that Republican lawmakers erred when they cut early voting days. And that was right after the Democrat-appointed justice sided with the conservative opinion in a case involving state pensions.

Now you may disagree with the governor's reversal, or you may be furious with the justice's decision, but maybe there is another dynamic worth considering.

Try looking at it this way:

Is it a bad thing when the folks in Tallahassee surprise us?

I mean, partisan politics have become so ingrained in our lives that we can usually predict the outcome of any issue that crosses our path.

Seeing an R or a D attached to someone's name is like watching a movie that has been given a G rating. You kind of know what to expect before the first words are spoken.

That's why Republicans should accept that the governor turned his back on their election maneuvering. And that's why Democrats should not feel betrayed by this Supreme Court decision. If you accuse the other side of never backing down, you cannot act indignant when your own side takes a shot at being open-minded.

Now before you start shouting, I'm aware this probably wasn't a Kumbaya moment for Scott. It had as much to do with election day backlash, and perhaps seeing Charlie Crist's doppelganger hovering near the Governor's Mansion, as any bipartisan epiphany.

But that doesn't mean it isn't noteworthy. After all, the airwaves are littered with disgraced politicians who refused to back down in the face of logic and decency. (Hey there, Allen West!)

What's encouraging is that these are not the only cases of pols gone mild. Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have been pushing for campaign finance reforms, an issue not terribly popular for any party in power.

Now maybe they don't pull it off. Or, worse, maybe this turns out to be posturing. But, for a change, I'm going the optimistic route.

Just the idea that Republican leaders are willing to shine a spotlight on an issue that may not be in their best interests is pretty remarkable given the completely graceless direction of our most recent legislative sessions.

So are these the first signs of a new era?

Hardly.

I would assume, more times than not, issues will continue to be divided along party lines in the coming year. The friction will be real, the bickering will be distasteful.

But, if nothing else, we now have examples of the possibilities. We have seen public servants make unpopular calls. We have seen partisan politics get left behind.

We have reason to be hopeful.

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