1. Florida Politics

Medical marijuana's statewide support doesn't mean Legislature will act

to Italy.  Photo Courtesy of U. S. Embassy of Rome
to Italy. Photo Courtesy of U. S. Embassy of Rome
Published Nov. 16, 2014

We have heard a fair number of predictions that state lawmakers next year will pass laws to open the doors for legalized medical marijuana in Florida — but do it in a way that leaves fewer potential loopholes than the constitutional amendment initiative that failed to pass.

After all, the thinking goes, how could the Legislature ignore an idea that received an overwhelming 57 percent support from voters even if it failed to reach the 60 percent threshold for passage?

Tre' Evers, an Orlando-based strategist who helped lead the successful "No on 2" campaign, makes a good case for why most legislators will have little incentive to make medical marijuana more accessible. What matters more than overall statewide public opinion is public opinion in individual legislative districts — and particularly among Republican primary voters in those districts.

"Legislators will look to their constituents," Evers predicted in a memo about the campaign. "They will more closely look at primary voters within their districts — why? Because most legislative races are decided in primaries. Amendment 2 exceeded 60% in only 9 of Florida's 67 counties. It will not be lost on Republican legislators (who now control 81 of 120 House seats) that conservatives opposed Amendment 2 by a 2-to-1 margin. As Tip O'Neill famously said, 'All politics is local.' And for most legislators, it makes little sense to them locally or within their primaries to liberalize drug laws."

Evers also made special note of arguably the two most important, and overlooked, individuals responsible for defeating an initiative that at one point looked almost certain to pass: Mel and Betty Sembler, of St. Petersburg. Evers wrote:

"Typically, campaigns opposing 'medical marijuana' are grossly underfunded, when compared to the campaigns that support it. In many cases, anti-legalization campaigns are outspent 10-to-1. That was not the case in Florida.

"The reason?

"Florida is home to Mel and Betty Sembler, two longtime opponents of drug legalization who have dedicated much of their lives to stopping the spread of drug abuse. They seeded the 'NO on 2' campaign with their own money and raised most of the remaining $7 million personally. Like all of their undertakings, Ambassador and Mrs. Sembler never sought public attention for their efforts. They simply do what they know is right, regardless of what polls say. Their humble and serious nature about this very serious issue stands in stark contrast to the proponents of Amendment 2. Florida owes Mel and Betty Sembler a debt of gratitude."

Rubio's early support

The Club for Growth, which gave Marco Rubio a key endorsement in his 2010 Senate run, last week said that it is endorsing him for re-election, along with other freshmen.

"The Club's PAC will immediately begin bundling contributions from Club members directly to their campaign accounts, a process that has raised millions of dollars for Senate candidates across the country several election cycles in a row," a release from the conservative group states.

The endorsements include Sen. Rand Paul, who like Rubio might run for president in 2016. So the group tacked on this note: "Should any of these candidates for Senate announce a campaign for president, the Club's PAC will cease to actively bundle for their Senate campaign committees. The PAC's endorsement of their Senate re-election campaigns is not an endorsement of a presidential candidacy. The Club's PAC will go through a separate endorsement process that considers all presidential candidates, once that field of candidates becomes clear during the course of 2015."

Infighting continues

It's only logical that Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant would decry "bed-wetters" in her party looking to shake up the leadership after the beating that Democrats took in the midterms. But her fist-pounding is not stopping state Rep. Dwayne Taylor from continuing his campaign to unseat Rep. Mark Pafford as House minority leader. Weak fundraising by Pafford, Taylor said, helped lead to Democrats losing six seats in the House.

"Any criticism of the epic calamity of the current leadership's strategy is met with poor excuses and accusations of 'Monday morning quarterbacking,' " Taylor wrote in a letter to fellow Democrats. "To that I say, when a football team loses, an effective coach never proclaims that his team lost because his opponent had more money or higher paid players. When the team does well, the coach is showered with accolades. On the contrary, when the team loses, a good coach bears the burden of criticism, painstakingly analyzes the imperfections in his game plan, and adjusts his strategy accordingly. I have seen no such action from our 'coach' and therefore feel that new leadership is absolutely necessary for our team to secure some desperately needed wins going forward."

Michael Van Sickler contributed to this week's Buzz.