As the end of the 2012 Regular Session approaches, Florida’s Democrats continue to send out press releases lamenting budget cuts and wrong priorities by the Republican majority. These public statements make for nice reading and are ideologically sound. But all too often in the past when the Democrats have been asked to stand and be counted they have taken a pass.
Giving speeches at local friendly Democratic groups and comments in the newspapers are all well and good, but all too often Democrats have been too chummy with Republicans as the majority party has gradually dismantled the safety net of programs and progressive structure of Florida Government over the past fourteen years.
The legacies of Reuben Askew, Bob Graham and the late Lawton Chiles have been squandered with the help of recent Democrats in favor of “me too” conservatism, coddling of home builders, developers, Realtors, and for a long period of time insurance companies. Term limited Democratic legislators were so terrified they wouldn’t go home with a passed bill they happily traded their votes on key GOP priorities for a guarantee of favorable treatments and in some cases guarantees of safe Legislative districts to run from in the future.
While the Legislative Democrats have been led by some competent leaders in the past ten years, most notably former Rep. Doug Wiles and former Rep. Dan Gelber, the majority of Democrats in the Legislature have at critical times acted like mindless sheep being led to the slaughterhouse. The number of House and Senate Democrats who voted for a Redistricting plan that ensured a GOP super majority for the past decade is staggering, and again in 2012 several Democratic State Senators sided with the GOP on the most basic of votes regarding reapportionment.
In 2002 and again in 2012, when forced to choose between helping progressive causes and ensuring their own re-election many Democrats, disproportionately from liberal southeast Florida, voted to protect themselves rather than promote the principles they ostensibly believe in. But of course they could always claim they added to Florida’s almost endless stream of meaningless legislation with a take home bill or two.
Other incidents of mindless cow towing to conservative priorities over the past fourteen years of GOP rule are too numerous to list in this post or on an entire page of this website. Liberal Democrats feel in many cases if they tow the progressive line on issues such as a woman’s right to choose, school prayer and gun control they are somehow great liberals. Yet continuing to give the state away to wealthy special interests while cutting social programs, health care and education isn’t liberal. It’s isn’t conservative either, but just plain wrong.
Democratic voters has voiced their views over and over again. They would prefer their elected representatives to stand on principle and be true to the core convictions that guide Democrats than to play ball with the Republicans. President Obama has wisely realized this on the national level and has moved “left” to reconnect with his base voters casting aside the (bad) advice of hired Washington DC politicos who wrongly feel all elections are decided by so called “swing voters.”
As we enter the stretch run of yet another miserable Legislative session in Tallahassee, the Democrats have an opportunity to stand tall. This is more an obligation to their constituents and to their core convictions than anything else. If the Democratic Party is ever going to achieve real relevance again on the state level, it begins by our legislators again becoming good Democrats instead of being concerned about being well liked in Tallahassee.