Voters in Tampa Bay and throughout Florida on Tuesday chose moderation over extremism and optimism about the future over pessimism. They preserved the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of the state Constitution. In Tampa Bay, they overwhelmingly voted to continue to invest in public works projects and education. And from the U.S. Senate to county courthouses in Pinellas and Hillsborough, they voted for moderate candidates over those with the most conservative social views. The first election with new redistricting rules also means the incoming Legislature will better reflect the state's more moderate makeup. Florida turned an even deeper shade of purple Tuesday, and it will be better for it.
Even as Floridians returned a strong Republican majority to Tallahassee, they overwhelmingly re-elected moderate Democrat Bill Nelson to the U.S. Senate over a Republican with a famous name, Connie Mack IV. They rejected an unprecedented partisan effort to let Republican Gov. Rick Scott stack the Florida Supreme Court. And they shot down a slew of irresponsible constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature.
The impact of the 2010 state constitutional amendment to ensure more balanced political districts means both legislative chambers are expected to include more Democrats — including three new House members from Tampa Bay. Those wins mean an end to the Republican supermajority that has shut down any meaningful debate in the state Capitol for the past two years.
Voters rejected at least eight of 11 constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the Legislature, including those on health care, abortion and opening the door to private school vouchers. And the three amendments that still had a chance for approval late Tuesday — property tax breaks for disabled veterans, surviving spouses of first responders and low-income seniors — reflect an electorate that appreciates the sacrifices of others.
In Pinellas, voters embraced science and public health by turning out two Republican county commissioners — Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield — who had voted to eliminate fluoride from the drinking water. Voters also renewed a much-needed half-mil property tax to enhance art, music and reading education in public schools.
In Hillsborough, voters opted for steady, competent leadership, rejecting overt partisans. Democrat Bob Henriquez, a former state legislator, beat conservative Republican state Sen. Ronda Storms for county property appraiser. Voters promoted Democrat Craig Latimer, the election supervisor's chief of staff, to the office's top job, rejecting Republican state Rep. Rich Glorioso, who had supported the Legislature's ill-advised 2011 voting law.
Hillsborough voters also returned thoughtful Carol W. Kurdell to the School Board, rejecting challenger Terry Kemple, whose poisonous crusades against Muslims and gays made him ill-suited to run the nation's eighth-largest school system.
In Pasco County, voters wisely renewed their optional penny sales tax for local government and schools' infrastructure, an investment that is absolutely essential for its long-term future.
The message to elected leaders from the governor to state lawmakers to county officials is clear. Voters want sensible, centrist leadership, not extreme positions on social issues or fights between branches of government.