Who Controls the County Commissions in Florida

As a side project I decided to look at the partisan breakdown of the 67 county commissions in Florida.  I also marked what method of election each county uses:  single-member districts, At-Large elections, or a mix of both.  I also marked which counties use a non-partisan ballot.  To calculate partisan control, I researched the party registration of each member in that county.

The results are below, more details after the image.

County Commissions

As the image shows, Republicans control a staggering 44 counties.  That may sound like a lopsided balance, but it is worth noting that Barack Obama won only 13 of Florida counties (15 in 2008), when he was re-elected in 2012.   Democrats win Florida by taking the large population hubs and losing the rural counties.

From this data there are a few key observations I have

1)  Democratic Reasons to be Happy
Democrats control 9 more county commissions than counties Obama won in 2012.   These are largely rural counties.  The south counties like Glades and Hendry are agriculture dominated where local Dems focus on wages and working conditions.  Democrats have managed to hold on to the panhandle counties of Congressional District 2 that are ancestrally Democratic but vote Republican higher on the ballot.  Wakulla fell to Republicans in 2012 and Gulf is trending away.  In these counties many Republicans run as NPA to combat these counties’ Democratic loyalty at the local level.  Democrats have also managed to hold Volusia County despite Obama losing it in 2012 after winning it in 2008.  In addition, the redistricting in Broward will likely cause the lone Republican commissioner to lose his seat in 2014.

2)  Republican Reasons to be Happy
Republicans maintain control of several Democratic counties.  Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange, Osceola, Monroe, and Miami-Dade all remain in GOP control.  Hillsborough uses a mixed system to elect (at-large and single-member).  Democrats don’t control all the at-large seats in Hillsborough, and the single-member districts have a strong hint of gerrymandering.  In Pinellas the Democrats made 2 gains in 2012 but are still short.  They don’t control an at-large and only control the African-American single-member district.  Democrats are weak in Orange, only controlling one seat.  In Osceola, this 60% Obama county, which does all elections at-large, is not in Democratic hands.  In Miami-Dade, the single member districts look to be gerrymandered, but Democrats are still weaker than they should be considering Dem gains with Cuban voters.   There are several other counties were Democrats are completely shut out and should at least be able to control a few seats in most counties.

3)  NPAs in the Panhandle
Republicans are still working their way down-ballot in these ancestral Democratic counties.  In Washington, Calhoun, and Liberty, more and more challangers to Democratic commissioners are Republican-leaning NPAs.  This phenominon has resulted in Dixie County being controlled by 4 conservative NPA commissioners who beat Democrats over the last few years.  How long these conservatives will use the NPA label before running as Republicans remains to be seen.

4)  Non-Partisan Ballots show no uniformity.
No specific type of county uses a non-partisan ballot for county commission, and the practice is fairly rare.

5)  At-Large is most common election method
Forty counties use At-Large elections for the county commission.  While this is not used in the largest counties and largely used in rural areas, there are some rural counties that use single-member districts.

Conclusions

Democrats reliance on large counties to win statewide means that they were unlikely to control a majority of the 67 county commissions in the state.  However, Democrats are shut out in many of these rural counties, not even holding one seat.  In addition, several Democratic-leaning counties are in heavy or mild Republican control.  Democrats first priorities for local elections should be to put these county commissions in Democratic control.

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