Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Opinion

Florida legislative elections rigged for tenure protection

For an institution held in lower esteem than elephant poachers, you would think anyone serving in the Florida Legislature would be anxious about getting tossed out of office by the voters.

After all, when you are correctly perceived to be little more than monkeys dancing to the organ grinder beat of Tallahassee's lobbyists, there should be a long line of opponents.

But no. There seems to be precious little interest in challenging the status quo. There are probably a host of technical explanations for the resounding indifference to the democratic process. But the most obvious reason can be found in the fact there isn't much of a real democratic process when it comes to serving in the Florida Legislature, or as it is otherwise known, a Confederacy of Chumps.

As the Tampa Bay Times' Michael Van Sickler reported recently, incumbents in the Florida Legislature enjoy virtually guaranteed reelection. In 2012, 96 percent of both Republicans and Democrats were handily returned to office, often with no opposition, or at best facing a token challenger.

That's not an election process. It's more like enabling a substance abuser hooked on an entourage addiction.

A few days ago, the filing deadline to run for the Florida House and Senate passed with no challengers stepping up to take on an incumbent in roughly one-third of the legislative seats up for grabs this year. And when you consider seats where the incumbent is basically facing an obscure third party or write-in candidate the percentage of mutually assured reelection jumps to 43 percent.

And why is that? Because even though a potential, well-intentioned political wanna-be might well make for an earnest candidate and if elected could become a hard-working, dedicated public servant, those on the outside looking in know Florida's electoral system is rigged against them.

Consider that in Florida's 120 House seats on the ballot this election cycle only 52 of those races will have a Republican and a Democrat running against each other. But invariably, given the way legislative districts are drawn favoring one party over another, few of those contested seats are truly competitive.

That's not a real election, either. It's tenure protection.

Incumbents get the fringe benefit of protected seats. And because they are the incumbent they attract more money to ensure they remain in that protected seat. And just to make sure that protected seat stays protected, often write-in candidates appear (as if by magic), which then legally prevents members of the opposite party and independents from voting in the primary.

Why would anyone with a scintilla of common sense want to subject themselves to the rigors of a campaign for a state legislative seat knowing the electoral deck is so stacked against them? Ambition is an admirable thing. Being a glutton for preordained rejection is quite another.

Or put another way, with roughly 4 percent of incumbents possibly vulnerable of losing their seats, the only opportunity for a newbie politician to win a seat is for the incumbent to be under indictment, or in the throes of a scandal, or perhaps, being exposed as a complete imbecile. Even then, in the Florida Legislature those sort of blemishes on a record are almost worn as a badge of honor.

A Skull and Bones Society blackball vote is more transparently democratic.

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