Talk about TGIF. As Florida’s 2013 legislative session drew to a close Friday night in self-congratulatory good spirits, the only thing missing was a bipartisan flash mob of legislators launching into a rousing chorus of “Kumbaya”; that, and any significant progress towards taking better care of millions of struggling and middle class Floridians.
Without question, The Big Story of the session was the epic fail to scratch the surface of tackling Florida’s health care crisis; with 4-million uninsured Floridians still at great risk and millions more middle class taxpayers still stuck picking up the tab for their Emergency Room care. This, because the Florida House was unyielding in its anti-“Obamacare” posture, unwilling to insure over a million uninsured people because it was the federal government that would be picking up the tab.
The close runner-up Big Story (in terms of impact on middle class Floridians, not in terms of media coverage) is one that just keeps on keeping on, as House and Senate Republicans (joined by some Democrats) failed to close corporate tax loopholes that cost the state billions in lost revenues. Just for good measure, they also granted Governor Rick Scott his 2013 Big Wish by giving an additional, redundant, no-strings attached tax break to the manufacturing industry, at a cost of over 100-million a year in lost revenues.
Most Democrats fought the good fight to put the public interest over partisan politics and private special interests. But with Republicans in the overwhelming majority, the Blue team is left to play spoilers rather than policy-makers. To the GOP’s credit (or simply savvy, based on damage done to their brand in recent years by a confrontational “Our way or the highway” mentality), Democratic dissent was at least dealt with in more statesmanlike fashion than recent years.
Whether or not this return to a simple baseline of civil discourse and debate really warranted the effusive praise it got on Friday from more than one Democratic legislator is a subject that many Democrats and progressives in Florida will likely be debating for months to come.
Meanwhile, Republican Senate President Don Gaetz stayed busy late Friday spinning an end-of-session storyline about ruling party unity, telling the press that “The age of acrimony between the House and the Senate is over…”.
Gaetz, a diplomatic party elder, cleverly kept his eyes all session long on both closing the GOP ranks and “reaching across the aisle”, bending over backwards to be “inclusive” of Democratic Senators and getting the far younger, more conservative House Speaker Will Weatherford to join him in showing more tolerance, respect and yes, “inclusion” for opposing viewpoints.
And so with some help from a half-dozen or so moderate Senate Republicans – and lots of help from Democratic/Progressive political advocacy organizations and activists statewide – the “loyal opposition” successfully drew a line in the sand on several of what they saw as the session’s most unfairly anti-middle class, anti-worker initiatives:
- Defeat of Speaker Weatherford’s “top priority” to privatize billions of dollars in public employee pension funds.
- Defeat of GOP’s (and former FL Gov. Jeb Bush’s) pet “Parent Trigger” bill, which would divert funding from Florida’s public school system to private corporate interests.
- Defeat of the GOP/Florida Chamber of Commerce push to keep municipalities from enacting wage theft prevention ordinances protecting low-wage workers.
Such is the ongoing legacy of the Republican controlled legislature that Florida voters created almost two decades ago and have kept alive ever since; that the biggest perceived “victories” for working poor and middle class Floridians are the defeats of private special interest initiatives like those above.
As Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Acott Arceneaux put it, “The 2013 legislative session was a loss for Florida’s middle class.”
With all due respect for the new tone of civility in the legislature, the sad and disappointing reality of this session in the eyes of many Democratic activists is that while it could have been far worse, it remains a vigorously mitigated failure of public policy, economic equity and long-term vision.
Time (2014?) will tell if those same eyes ever get to see what Democratic majorities in the legislature might accomplish, if able to switch from playing desperate goal line defense of the middle class, to mounting an effective offense for them.