Over the course of Republican dominance over Florida politics, the State House has represented the extreme ideological zeal of the right while the State Senate has been characterized as a more moderate and statesmanlike chamber. While the perception has some bearing in fact, why is it that Democrats in the House have been more consistently willing to stand up and say “no” to excesses of the GOP agenda while the Democrats in the Senate have consistently made deal making part of their function in the chamber?
A wise high-ranking Democratic operative I know who wishes to remain anonymous told me many years ago with regards to the Senate caucus “our members are more interested in being good Senators than good Democrats,” when explaining to me the number of controversial bills Democrats in the House opposed with great energy but Democratic Senators rubber stamped. The infamous Stand Your Ground law is just one example of this phenomena. Even on issues where several Republicans have defected in the Senate, enough Democrats have crossed the aisle to help move the GOP agenda forward. This trend goes back to 2003 when despite massive defections on Medical Malpractice Reform from Republican Senators, a compromise plan eventually passed with the support of many Democrats.
In 2005, massive GOP defections scuttled a dangerous School Voucher proposal despite the willingness of many Senate D’s to “play ball” with Governor Bush and his right wing allies. That same year the Stand Your Ground bill passed the Senate without a single dissenting Democratic vote. This is despite the fact that in the House the majority of the Democratic Caucus voted against the legislation which has led directly to an increase in violent crime here in Florida.
This story has repeated itself over and over again. While the Senate has won praise from editorial writers for killing the onerous “Parent Trigger” legislation this session, on issues such as Cap & Trade, Redistricting and other fundamental causes, the majority of Senate Democrats have voted OPPOSITE a majority of House Democrats.
While the overall ideological excesses of the interest group and ALEC led Republican party have been watered down in the Senate over the last decade, often times Democrats become more conservative as they cross over to the senior chamber. The opposite has happened with many GOP House members who cross over to the Senate side. Many of those members grow less ideological and partisan in their bent.
Senate Democrats may be having an impact on legislation but they are doing far less than their House colleagues to advance liberal causes or make cognizant points . While many claim this is because the Senate is a different kind of body, more collegial and moderate in tone, opposition parties should work to differentiate themselves more aggressively.
When we publish our inaugural Political Hurricane legislative rankings next week, it is almost a certainty that the House Democratic Caucus will produce far more standouts than the Senate. Perhaps that is the way it was always supposed to be, but it still begs the question as to why the Senate has a moderating effect that hurts the opposition party?