The GOP has now controlled the State Senate for 18 consecutive years.In that period of time a core of moderate Republicans has emerged that has served as an effective check on the excesses of the House and Governor. But term limits has had an effect, as the state senate has gradually moved to the right, with many of the members behaving as if they were still in the House.
The collegiality of the State Senate has not yet broken down, but the three truly moderate GOP Senators based on our ratings are term limited and will not return for the 2013 session. Senators Dennis Jones (R-Treasure Island), Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland) and Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) have used decades of legislative experience to attempt to craft a non-partisan consensus on issues of concern to many Floridians over the past decade. Their path is in direct contrast to many Republicans from urbanized and more liberal areas whose voting records have been disgraceful. Senators such as Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale), Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Wellington) and three Cuban-American legislators from Miami-Dade County have repeatedly voted against the sentiments of many of their constituents. In Benacquisto’s case she is wisely moving to a more conservative west coast-based district.
We’ve also seen the gradual replacements of moderate Republicans in other areas of the state with conservatives. Senator Garret Richter is far more conservative than his predecessor Burt Saunders, John Thrasher is more conservative than the late Jim King and Joe Negron has consistently voted more conservatively than Ken Pruitt did. One time moderates Mike Bennett and Jack Latvala have, at least based on the 2011 and 2012 sessions, moved significantly to the right of where they were at one time. It seems inevitable that Jones, Dockery, and Fasano will be replaced by less independent and more partisan members.
Meanwhile, several Democrats have begun a rightward drift in recent years on critical issues, giving the GOP important cover to label ideological initiatives as bi-partisan. While Senator Bill Montford, who hails from a conservative big bend/panhandle district, is probably voting in line with his constituents, Senators Gary Siplin (D-Orlando), Jeremy Ring (D- Margate) and Gwen Margolis (D- North Miami Beach) are almost certainly not.
Many Democrats have chosen a path of self-preservation and advancement within a GOP controlled legislature rather than to fight for and serve their constituencies. Democratic Leader Nan Rich (D-Weston) and longtime liberal firebrand Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) are the only two Senators who voted a perfect liberal line according to our ratings over the past two sessions. That is contrasted with 15 senators, a full 38% of the current Senate, that voted a straight conservative line the past two sessions.