1. Opinion

Romano: It's up to voters to make Florida better

Voters wait in line at the Suncoast and Dance Party Center on County Line Road in Spring Hill on Election Day 2012. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Voters wait in line at the Suncoast and Dance Party Center on County Line Road in Spring Hill on Election Day 2012. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Jan. 8, 2016

No offense, but Florida voters make lousy revolutionaries.

On our best days, we might spring for an edgy bumper sticker or forward an incendiary email. But when it comes to doing something meaningful — like radically changing the direction and outlook of the state — we are hapless followers of the status quo.

That's not an exaggeration. Technically, it's not even an opinion. It's a quantifiable, if somewhat inexplicable, fact.

We say we are angry, frustrated, distrustful and disgusted. We say we are fed up with elected officials and we're not going to take it anymore.

And then we vote for the same politicians.

Again. And again. And again.

When the economy tanks, the housing market crumbles and the unemployment rate soars, the only safe job in Florida is being a state legislator.

During the last seven election cycles, the success rate for incumbents running for re-election in the Florida House has been hovering around 96 percent.

And the House folks are actually living on the edge compared to the Senate.

Other than a redistricting year when two incumbents faced each other, sitting senators have a 100 percent success rate for re-election since 2002.

Not even labor unions negotiate for that kind of job security.

It's as if we are taking accountability right out of the equation for lawmakers. Why shouldn't they pass whatever lame-brained, partisan-obsessed, anti-constituent bill they want? Why shouldn't they listen more to lobbyists and fat cat campaign donors than the folks back home? Why should they worry about doing their jobs when they know the people with the power to hire and fire them are not paying attention?

Not only are we getting what we asked for, we are getting what the millionaires and corporations and super PACs are paying for:

Puppet politicians.

Now, at this point, I need to point out that this situation isn't entirely the fault of voters. Lawmakers have drawn themselves districts with outcomes so predictable that gamblers in Las Vegas would choke on their buffets.

Typically, a third of the races don't even reach the ballot because no one is masochistic enough to challenge the incumbent. And a good chunk of the races that do make it all the way to Election Day are so obviously lopsided that your vote is largely worthless.

This is why a new Senate map chosen Dec. 30 by Circuit Judge George Reynolds could be a game-changer. Just the idea that senators were quickly talking about a possible challenge to his ruling is a good indication they're worried about losing cushy districts.

Now, it's true, there will always be races that are foregone conclusions simply because of the quality of the candidates, or the tilt of the demographics.

But the judge, along with the League of Women Voters which initiated the suit, has given us a fighting chance. They have given us the opportunity to make accountability a two-way street in Tallahassee.

And it has been a long, long time since that was the case.

Do you know why most legislators leave office? It certainly ain't poor job performance, scandal or greed. More often than not, it's because they've reached the end of the road.

Since 2002, more than 170 senators and representatives have given up their seats due to term limits. That makes them seven times more likely to reach the end of their term limit than to be voted out of office by you or me.

Heck, they're almost four times as likely to leave of their own accord, to chase other jobs or offices. Even term limits can't prevent them from carrying their files from one side of the Capitol to the other. Of the 40 senators currently holding jobs in Florida, 32 previously had stints in the House.

I'm not suggesting all of them deserve to be booted from office. A lot of our elected officials are well-meaning and could make legitimate cases for re-election.

The larger issue is that we've given them no reason to fear us.

And, thus, they have no reason to listen to us.

Never in the history of this country has it been so easy to vote. We don't even have to show up at voting booths anymore. All it takes is a postage stamp and some gumption. (And, hopefully, a basic grasp of the issues and a candidate's record.)

If you want a better Florida, you at least have to be willing to do that.

After all, why should we expect politicians to hold up their end of democracy when we can't even be bothered with our most basic duty?