Thursday, April 26, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Lack of choices hurts democracy

No wonder Congress and the Florida Legislature don't reflect mainstream voters from either political party. There are so few competitive races in this state for the U.S. House and the Legislature this year that most voters are left with little or no choice. That is not healthy for democracy, and the predictable result is that the priorities in Washington and Tallahassee are out of step with the priorities in local communities — and voter approval ratings of Congress and the Legislature are in the tank.

In the Legislature, 20 of the 40 Senate seats and all of the 120 House seats are up for grabs. Yet eight Senate Republican incumbents automatically kept their seats because they have no opposition. In the House, 38 seats are automatically filled because no one filed to run against 37 incumbents and one challenger. In Florida's 27-member congressional delegation, four incumbents are unopposed, including Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, and Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. But the number of competitive races can be counted on one hand, with fingers left over.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of competition. The legislative and congressional districts still largely favor one political party, despite constitutional amendments that required state lawmakers to draw districts without trying to protect incumbents or political parties. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee is expected to rule soon on whether the congressional districts violated the amendment, and the issue ultimately will go to the Florida Supreme Court.

Second, the fundraising demands for running for the Legislature and Congress are overwhelming. Even legislative candidates regularly raise $250,000 or more, and that rules out virtually anyone who cannot tap into special interest money. The price for running for Congress is even higher, and the outcomes of those races can be decided by outside groups that raise millions and air television attack ads. The result is that too often the only candidates willing to run are independently wealthy or have such modest incomes that they want the government paycheck.

Third, the Florida Democratic Party remains weak even though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans and President Barack Obama won the state twice. With U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson the only Democrat elected statewide and Republicans controlling the congressional delegation, the Legislature, the Cabinet and the Governor's Mansion, the Republican Party of Florida remains much better positioned to raise money and recruit attractive candidates.

For representative government to work, voters need to see more viable candidates and more competitive races on Election Day. Florida's changing demographics gradually will help provide more political balance. But in the long run it will take more fairly drawn congressional and legislative districts, and campaign finance reform, to really level the playing field.

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Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Updated: 8 hours ago

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Published: 04/25/18
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18