Leon County, Florida is currently in the middle of going through its Charter Review process. The county, home to Florida’s capital, became a charter county in 2002, and every eight years the county commission appoints individuals to the ‘Charter Review Board’ to consider changes that can be put forward to the voters. It has come to my attention, however, that the board is debating two proposals, which, if passed, would severely hamper minority voters in the county.
At some point in your life you have heard the term “dry county.” For many of us it’s when we are trying and failing to buy alcohol while on a trip out of town. Despite Prohibition ending in the 1930s, there are still many places in American where you cannot purchase alcohol. Some jurisdictions limit purchases to “lighter” drinks like beer or wine. Other jurisdictions ban sales on Sundays. These different regulations are often referred to a “blue laws.”
Miami Beach is many things to many people. For many its a great place to retire right on the beaches. For middle aged folks its a tropical paradise to raise a family in. For locals and visitors its a place to party and have fun. For college students its the site of legendary South Beach. Miami Beach’s reputation for its night life and party scene has been part of its identity for decades. Establishments across the city have last call at 5am vs the traditional 2am you see in most of the state. The iconic Ocean Drive (next to South Beach) has an active club and nightlife scene that brings in money and tourists year round.
The November 7th, 2017 elections saw a huge swath of premier races that got a good deal of state and national attention. Virginia and New Jersey Gubernatorial elections dominated national coverage while Florida’s political press closely watched the St Petersburg Mayoral runoff. However, in Miami-Dade county the most closely watched election was for a $400 million dollar bond measure in the City of Miami.
This is the second installment about the St Petersburg Mayoral Election. For more background on St Pete politics, check out my August article.
St Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, the first Democratic mayor the city has in decades, was seen as a dead man walking as he faced re-election against the very popular former Mayor, Rick Baker. Kriseman spent the summer of 2017 trailing in polls and money as he looked to face off against a Republican who had strong support with African-Americans; a staple of the city’s blue lean. However, Kriseman shocked the Florida political class when he came in first in the August round of voting, forcing a runoff against Baker.
In celebration of Halloween this year, I decided to take a look at one of the most unknown and definitely most morbid, elected offices in America – County Coroner. Many if not most be would be shocked to find out coroners are still an elected position in America. Indeed, just under 1,300 counties in the United States still use elections to decide who holds a very obscure but important office. The Coroner’s responsibilities vary from state to state, but the key one is the same… determining the cause of death. This of course is very important when potential homicide is in play and incorrect determinations by coroners can cause serious problems in cases.
St Petersburg’s 2017 Mayoral Election is one of the most unique municipal races in Florida. A democratic city (giving Hillary Clinton 59% of the vote) with a popular Democratic Mayor who raised $700,000 for his re-election — August should have been a formality. Yet for months that Democratic Mayor, Rick Kriseman, was expected to lose the August 29th first round of voting. Kriseman was a former Democratic State Representative that beat an incumbent, Republican Bill Foster, in 2013, to capture the job as mayor. The first four years had some stumbles but overall Kriseman was popular with voters and seen as a shoo-in for re-election. That is, he would have been as long as former Mayor Rick Baker did not decide to run; which he did earlier in the year.
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.
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.