Florida tops 21.5 million people. How the state can keep making strides | Editorial
What the Census does and doesn’t tell us about living in the Sunshine State.
Florida as seen from space.
Florida as seen from space. [ NASA | NASA ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Apr. 30

In just two generations, Florida has doubled in population and gained immense electoral clout. The newly released Census puts our population at 21,538,187 as of April 1 last year, the official Census Day. Only California and Texas have more Electoral College votes (Florida now has 30). We have 10 times more people than the day Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. So what do those facts tell us about where we are and where we’re going as a state?

Before the next Census in 2030, we’ll know a lot more about how we’ve coped with climate change and sea-level rise in a state on the beachhead of both. They will almost certainly worsen between now and then. Odds are, we’ll have faced the devastation of a major hurricane or two. We’ll know how well we’ve managed to harden what we can and retreat where we can’t. We’ll know if our insurance industry can pay for the damage, and we’ll face tough decisions about whether to rebuild and where. We’ll also know a lot more about how we’re educating our next generation: Will we have invested what it takes to ensure a bright future?

We know that our state will keep growing, though perhaps not as fast. Low taxes and lovely weather aided by air conditioning remain a powerful draw. Our state will become ever more diverse, which should be a strength. Newcomers, whether from other countries or other states, have been instrumental in making Florida the modern state it has become. With hundreds of people still arriving every day, we will be more crowded, which means more chances to connect with Floridians who think and act differently. That’s good. Because insulation is good for keeping out the heat, but it’s bad when it keeps out the future.

One thing the Census cannot do is tell us what it means to be a Floridian. Having more members in Congress than ever will be meaningless unless they can transcend party and geographical differences and petty politics and work for the common good of the state. That means pushing policies like protecting the environment, avoiding sprawl and ensuring adequate clean water. In other words, find an approach that benefits all Floridians, no matter their other differences. Our leaders should find points of agreement and push those, not focus on things that pull us apart. As we become more crowded, we also will have to become more tolerant. Florida will have strength in numbers to assert its interests, if its members of Congress pull together. As the late poet Maya Angelou wrote, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” Let’s not forget that fundamental fact. After all, we are all Floridians.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.