Florida House District 44’s special election received little attention compared to other more high-profile races like St Petersburg Mayor and Senate District 40. The district was opened when Rick Scott appointed Incumbent GOP Representative Eric Eisnaugle to be a circuit judge. This meant a traditionally GOP seat that flipped to Clinton last year would be open. The question was, how competitive would the race be?
July 25th is the date of two special election primaries in Miami-Dade County. The specials are a result of the resignation of Republican Senator Frank Artiles. Artiles was forced to resign before the end of the spring legislative session when news broke of racially-charged language and cursing he directing at African-American lawmakers. Artiles remained defiant in the wake of calls for resignation for a few days, but eventually quit.
On May 26th, 1845, two months after being admitted statehood, Florida held its first Gubernatorial Election. Florida’s road to statehood was not simple. The panic of 1837 had hurt the state’s finances and divided its population over the issue of banks and lending. Sectional splits between the panhandle and the east had become so severe there was open talks among the territorial legislature of splitting Florida in two. One of the largest pushers for statehood was the state’s At-Large delegate to Congress, Democrat David Levy. The push for statehood had been years-long, with delays occurring for a multitude of reasons both from DC and the state. Levy pushed for statehood of Florida as a balance for Iowa’s soon-admittance to preserve the North/South balance in the Senate. Statehood was finally approved in 1845. May 26th was set as the date for the Florida to elect its Governor, state legislature, and member of Congress.
Election night was a resounding win for the Democratic Party over their rivals, the Whigs. Democrats nominated William Moseley, a senator for the state’s territorial legislature at their convention. The Whig Party, much less organized, finally chose Richard Keith Call, a former territorial Governor, at a last minute meeting in Tallahassee after previous efforts to pick a nominee failed. The Democrat’s superior party organization won them the election. The Democrats dominated eastern Florida as well as low-populated counties in the west while the Whigs won some of the largest counties in the state.
Note there is some debate on the proper totals for this race. Totals by county give us 3,391 for Moseley and 2,561 for Call. However, other documents say 3,292 for Moseley and 2,679 for Call, around a 108 vote difference. As of this writing the real answer is yet to be determined (a visit to the state archives is in my future).
Call’s loss can be a bit shocking considering his ties to the state’s history. He was a two-time territorial Governor and major player in state politics. However, the dynamics of Florida made a Whig victory in 1845 very tough. Florida’s battering during the Panic of 1837 left a long-lasting impact on the states politics. The western and middle panhandle (say, everything west of the Suwanee River) long held sway over territorial Florida. The panhandle had a larger population and a notable upper slave-owning class. The area was home to many of the power-players of early Florida, many who would become Whigs. The name often given to these panhandle power players was “The Nucleus.” The major issue that separated Whigs and Democrats was the role of banks. Whigs where generally more pro-bank, similar to the national Whigs, and dating back to Federalist/Hamilton ideals. Following the Panic, and subsequent efforts of banks to get bond money back from the state, Democrats in the east saw the banks as a more villainous entity. Democrats also pushed back against an aristocratic panhandle that was ruling the territory. “The Nucleus” quickly became a term of derision. Florida Democrats, like Jackson, cast themselves as a common-man party. This summary is a drastic over-simplification, as plenty Democrats were wealthy and many FL Whigs had been Jackson backers. The two parties traded control of the territorial legislature and Democrats held control of the at-large delegate seat leading up to the vote. The clear split between the east and panhandle existed and manifested itself in the Gubernatorial Election. The east was slowly growing and it’s solid margins ensured a Democratic Victory.
While the Democrat won the most land-mass, the eastern and southern counties were far less populated. The map below shows how each county voted with a pie-chart adjusted for the total votes cast.
The votes were clustered in the panhandle. While the Whigs won most of the largest counties, it was often by respectable but not landslide margins. The Democrats, however, crushed the Whigs in small counties like Dade, but also in large counties like Duval and Columbia.
While the Democrats won the Gubernatorial race with a solid margin, the Congressional race fared even better for the party. Levy was elected as the Congressman At-Large with 60% of the vote. He would go on to be appointed to the US Senate by the new Florida legislature, which was in the firm control of the Democrats. The legislative margins where even more lopsided for Democrats, with them taking 54% of the state senate and 75% of the state house.
The Whigs where not to be counted out, however. In October of 1845, a special election was held for Levy’s Congressional seat upon his appointment to the US Senate. The election saw the Whigs win with 50.8% of the vote.
In 1848, the Whig’s would win the Governorship with with Thomas Brown. That same year the Whig Congressman, Edward Cabell, would win re-election with 53% of the vote and Whig Presidential candidate Zachary Taylor would win the state with 57% of the vote. Of course, four years later, Florida was right back in the Democratic column with a Democratic Governor. Florida has the reputation of swing state today, something it had some history with back in the 1840s.
On Thursday, May 18th 2017, Florida’s Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision striking down slot machines in Gadsden County. Gadsden had approved slot machines for the racing track in the city of Gretna, approving the proposal in a 2012 local referendum. The argument from the court was simple, Florida’s constitution only allowed slot machines in the counties of Broward and Miami-Dade. The ruling effectively voided slot referendums in seven other FL counties as well. The whole debate goes back to a 2004 ballot measure in Florida.
History of Slots in Florida
Florida has gambling, anyone who has visits the state can tell you that. Race tracks dot the state and card games and slots are plentiful at casinos owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The state had been part of a compact with the tribe to allow card games (and restrict their use outside of tribe-owned casinos) in exchange for millions of dollars from the Seminoles. The current state of this agreement is up in the air and debate rages over a new proposal.
Way back in 2004, a measure was put on the November ballot asking voters if Broward and Miami-Dade counties should be allowed to have slot machines at existing parimutuel (betting) facilities if citizens voted to approve their addition. The measure was funded by ‘Floridians for a Level Playing Field’ – which spent $15 million to get the signatures and fund the campaign. Opposition groups spent less than $1 million. The measure narrowly passed, fueled by the South Florida counties and being rejected in the North.
Once the measure passed, Broward voted in March of 2015 to allow slots by a 57-43% margin.
Miami-Dade rejected allowing slots in a 2005 referendum by a 48-52% margin. However, in January 2008 they approved slots by a 63-37% margin.
Pushing for Expansion
2012 saw a slew of local ordinances in assorted counties to authorize slots at existing parimutuel facilities. The prospect of extra income, just a few years after the financial crisis, was appealing to counties of all sizes.
Gadsden, the source of the lawsuit, approved slots for the race track in Gretna by a 62-38% margin during the 2012 Presidential Preference Primary. Gadsden, the only majority African-American county in the state, consistently votes Democratic and the slot referendum saw 5x as many ballots cast than where cast for the GOP Presidential Primary. The measure saw broad support, with its weakest showing in Quincy and losing one rural county south of Havana.
The same day as Gadsden was voting, Washington, a deeply conservative county, also approved slots. The local measure approved slots at the parimutuel facility for Ebro, on the southern end of the county. The measure has strong support except in the area of Chipley in the north end of the county.
In April of 2012, Hamilton passed a measure approving slots for a racing track that was being built in Jennings, right by the Georgia border. The measure saw strong support, losing two rural precincts but winning in the largest population centers of the rural, conservative county.
In November of 2012, Lee county approved slots for its racing track in Bonita Springs. Lee county is a solid Republican, suburban county. While one precinct right in the city was narrower in support, the surrounding area showed strong support. The measure only failed in the communities along the islands of western Lee.
November 2012 also saw Democratic Palm Beach county approve a slots for parimutuel facilities in their borders. The measure had modest support across the county, losing some rural areas in the west and suburban and coastal pockets in the east. However, few areas saw huge margins of support or opposition.
The final slot measure of 2012 was in Brevard, a solid Republican county, where voters approved slots for the racing track in Melbourne. The measure saw modest support across the county with scattered rejection. Cape Canaveral was notably supportive.
After SIX counties approved slots in 2012, nothing happened in 2014. Then, in November of 2016, two more counties approved slots.
St Lucie, a working-class Democratic county that voted for Trump but Murphy for Senate, passed slots handily.
And last, Duval County, the city of Jacksonville, passed slots by a 8 point margin. The measure was heavily supported in the African-American community and more GOP-favorable areas. It lost in parts of the beaches, the rural/religious Westside, and the artsy-Hispter Riverside.
With the Supreme Court decision, slots in these counties are on hold. Florida continues to debate over a gambling compact, which would likely require voter approval. In addition, anti-casino forces want to ensure no expansion of gambling in the state. The issue is far from over. However, it is clear the growing drumbeat from counties of different demographics and partisan makeup is pro-slots and hence pro-revenue.
Last week, the Florida House passed a bill creating 12 year term limits for Supreme Court Justices. Florida justices already must retire around or shortly after their 70th birthday and face a retention election every 6 years. The main argument for the term limits proposal was that justices have never lost their retention votes, making them less checked than the other chambers of FL government. The Florida legislature’s conflicts with the FL Supreme Court are well documented in FL politics.
Leon County is one of only six Florida counties to vote Democrat for President in every election since 1992. A combination of three campuses (FSU/FAMU/TCC), a notable African-American population, and a large base of state employees, make it a reliable Democratic county. That said, there are plenty of Republican strongholds in the region. Leon’s northern suburbs are typically a reliable Republican base and County District 4, located in the Northeast end of the county, has stayed Republican for decades. Those who follow Leon politics will often name Golden Eagle, a high-end gated community, or Killearn Lakes, a large gathering of high priced suburban houses, as some of the most reliable Republican areas top and down ballot. Fort Braden, a rural community on the southwest end of the county, is often seen as a solidly Republican area.
A handful of Broward’s 30+ cities held their municipal elections on March 14th. While more cities are moving their elections to correspond with the federal/state races; plenty, citing a desire to keep low-key races from getting lost in the shuffle, opt for spring elections. Some elections where contentious while others proved to be blowouts.
In 2015, Florida’s Congressional and State Senate districts where struck down as GOP gerrymanders that violated the Fair District Standard of the Florida Constitution. However, Florida’s state house districts never saw a similar challenge. The plaintiffs that successfully sued over the U.S. House/Florida Senate maps plainly stated that the cost of research into so many districts was much of a financial burden. Thus, Florida’s 2016 elections commenced under the same map from 2012.
In 2015, Florida underwent mid-decade redistricting for its state senate lines, around the same time it was forced to redraw its congressional boundaries. Unlike the congressional case, where the state supreme court ordered a redraw, the legislature avoided a verdict and agreed to redraw their lines after evidence came to light that the legislature had worked to circumvent the Fair Districts Amendments passed in 2010. After a special session that resulted in no final map, the court picked a plan chosen by the plaintiffs that sued over the lines. The case was closed and Florida conducted its elections with new state senate lines.
Anyone who followed my Florida redistricting coverage in 2015 knows I was strongly against a senate district that linked Tampa and St Petersburg by crossing the Tampa Bay. The argument was that only by linking the African-Americans of Tampa and downtown St Peterburg could a proper African-American access seat be created. The flaw in this argument was that the legislature relied on outdated data and ignored recent elections that had taken place after large African-American registration increases in Tampa. At the end of the day, a district crossing the Tampa Bay was adopted. This set off a major primary for the open seat.