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Why the red wave in Florida? Here’s part of the answer | Editorial
Also in this week’s highs and lows: Clearwater and Pasco move forward while the universities step back
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This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 12, 2022

The red wave. Florida’s Democratic leaders have a lot of soul searching to do over the coming weeks. The Republicans won big locally and statewide. There are many reasons — money, messaging, redistricting, emphasizing the wrong issues, the advantages of incumbency, a more vital candidate at the top of the ticket. But Democrats have fallen down on some of the basic blocking and tackling. Voter turnout starts with registration. No one can vote if they aren’t registered. This is an area in which Republicans are eating their lunch. Since the last midterms in 2018, the number of registered Republicans has grown by more than 500,000 voters. The Democrats? Their registration tally fell by 9,000 — and that’s in a growing state that gained 1.25 million voters in the past four years. Yes, Democrats put the brakes on registration efforts during COVID, while Republicans barely let up on the gas. It’s important in a democratic system to have at least two viable parties, which can help keep the controlling party’s excesses in check. But if Florida Democrats want to be a serious opposition party or ever win more than the occasional statewide office they have to stop getting outworked and outmaneuvered when it comes to registering voters. A boost in registration won’t cure the Democrats many ails, but it would be a start.

Clearwater moves forward. Clearwater voters rightly took an ambitious leap this week to revitalize the city’s downtown. Voters approved the sale of two waterfront parcels to developers for what will become a $400 million project with high-rise apartments, a hotel and retail. The bluffs project was championed as an essential catalyst to bring full-time residents and visitors around Imagine Clearwater, the city’s $84 million transformation of the 22-acre waterfront and Coachman Park. That project, which includes an amphitheater, plaza and green, is expected to completed in June. Clearwater needed this shot in the arm, and Mayor Frank Hibbard, who tirelessly promoted the project, deserves credit for focusing voters’ attention on the future. The measure passed with two-thirds of the vote — a remarkable tally of confidence in the project, and a measure of the high expectations that voters have in the city getting the details right.

Pasco does, too. Speaking of local ballot measures in Tuesday’s general election that marked wins for the community, Pasco County voters overwhelmingly supported renewing the Penny for Pasco sales tax for another 15 years. The 1% tax, which has generated about $1 billion over the past 18 years, helps pay for big-ticket investments like school district construction projects and county transportation improvements. Voters have approved the penny twice, beginning in 2004, and it’s demonstrated its value as a critical resource for improving infrastructure, expanding jobs and supporting growth. “Republicans and Democrats at least in Pasco County have found some common ground,” deputy schools superintendent Ray Gadd told the Times. “You see how they love their schools, their parks and recreation and their environment.” Final vote tallies showed that nearly 65% of voters backed extending the sales tax another 15 years. Even in these partisan times, and in conservative counties like Pasco, residents understand that progress doesn’t come for free, and they work together to ensure a better today and tomorrow.

Chilling speech. The board that oversees Florida’s public universities moved ahead with an anti-indoctrination policy this week that largely amounts to indoctrination itself. As the Times’ Divya Kumar explained, the regulation would guide decisions on faculty tenure based on Florida’s new “Stop WOKE” law. The policy would create a review for all tenured faculty members in the university system every five years, and be based on several factors, including their compliance with the new state law that forbids universities from “indoctrinating” students. Good luck creating an even-handed process for making these determinations. Faculty rated unsatisfactory during the review could be fired, but not because of their political beliefs. And instructors would have the opportunity to improve and file appeals. Board chairperson Brian Lamb said he understood the concerns of officials at several universities, but stressed that the regulation was partly intended to help faculty feel appreciated and rewarded for good performance. If Lamb thinks faculty members are buying that, we have an oceanfront condo to sell him in Kansas. The whole point of this exercise is to chill protected speech and to provide academic cover for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ politically driven policy.

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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 Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.