Ever since the Republicans gained a majority in Florida Legislature, the Republican delegation from Miami-Dade County has consistently sided with the ideological and partisan priorities of the Republican Party over the very real concerns of Florida’s third most urban and most populated county.
One after another after another, Republican legislators from Miami-Dade have placed advancement within the party caucus and approval on the Tallahassee cocktail party circuit over their own consistencies. When Governor Lawton Chiles tried to ensure adequate funding for school facilities the GOP legislators from Miami-Dade county went along with a plan pushed by North Florida Republicans to count portable classrooms as permanent classroom space. This was even as many Republicans from Central Florida and the Tampa Bay area were working to find a compromise on this and other issues related to classroom funding.
This change in the law would have affected Miami-Dade County more adversely than any other school district in the state. When Governor Chiles called the legislature back into special session to fix the mess they had created, Miami-Dade Republicans caved but only after the voices of their constituents had been aired loudly.
When Jeb Bush became Governor, the Miami Republicans impressed by their access to power continued their crusade against their constituents. Repeatedly, Republicans from Miami-Dade voted to cut projected spending for Education, Health Care and Children’s Services. They voiced on many occasions strong opposition to capping the size for Florida’s public school classrooms despite repeated calls from parents and teachers in Miami- Dade County to do so. When Kendrick Meek pushed the Class Size initiative, it was opposed by almost every Republican legislator from Miami-Dade County despite the fact that the amendment itself was conceived by Miami-Dade parents and teachers tired of problems at the local level.
As the Republican majority grew, Miami-Dade Republicans perhaps insecure with the fact they were from liberal South Florida became more radicalized and further to the right on budgetary matters than many Republicans from other parts of the state. Marco Rubio and Ralph Arza emerged as conservative champions statewide for their demagogic rhetoric towards taxes and government spending. The Miami-Dade Republicans were proving nobody in Florida would get around them to the right.
It was at this time Rubio emerged as a major statewide figure. While lots of ink has been spent on discussing how a generational shift was making Cuban-Americans more liberal and less Republican, younger Cuban-American politicians are largely more radicalized than their predecessors. Rubio and his allies are classic examples.
In the State Legislature, Rubio and his allies pushed an agenda of extreme laissez faire capitalism. Any effort to cut spending, cut taxes and to attack public interest groups was undertaken. Rubio’s speakership is rivaled only by that of Johnny Byrd for its radicalism in the history of modern Florida.
In the 1980s and 1990s as Cuban-American political power grew in Dade County, the leaders sent to Tallahassee often found common ground with Democrats on labor issues and education. While some Cuban-American legislators were clearly trying to advance a conservative agenda, most were moderate both temperamentally and politically.
But when the GOP gained a majority, things changed quickly. The most moderate Republicans became those from the Tampa Bay area while Miami Republicans and the small number of GOP elected representatives from liberal Broward and Palm Beach counties became firebrands.
In the late 2000s current budget crisis, Governor Charlie Crist and State Senator JD Alexander made mistakes but also tried to honestly deal with Florida’s problems. But key Miami-Dade Republicans David Rivera and Anitere Flores ignored the attempted moderation of the Governor and the welfare of their constituents in helping to craft a budget that could be best described as a statement of conservative ideological priorities out of the ALEC playbook.
Even as crime rates soured and police chiefs worked closely with county officials to regulate firearms, Miami-Dade’s elected representatives were coordinating legislative strategy with the NRA. It was after all Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas who made the courageous effort to initiate lawsuits against the gun manufacturers. This effort was backed by almost every police chief in the county but openly opposed by the majority of Republicans in the Miami-Dade legislative delegation.
For many years prior to the 1970s, Miami-Dade County was seen as the sole bastion of Florida liberalism. As Republicans ascended in the county they seemed to have one goal in mind: punish the liberals and punish those who supported the liberals. Sadly for many constituents of Republican lawmakers from Miami-Dade, that meant them.
The Governorship of Rick Scott has brought continued radicalism from the Miami-Dade delegation. While they represent an area very different than that of most Republican legislators, partisan and ideological considerations mean that they are more likely to make common cause with members from Pensacola or Palatka than with those from Fort Lauderdale or Miami Beach.
As the GOP becomes more and more radicalized as a party, Miami-Dade’s Republican legislators move further and further away from their constituents interests. It is about time they were held accountable.