Republicans now have supermajority in Florida. Here’s what it means.
Former Florida State University defensive lineman Corey Simon blocked the reelection bid of Sen. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, Tuesday and secured a supermajority for the GOP in the Florida Senate.
Simon had never run for office and his victory gives Republican enough votes to change the rules and procedures for policymaking.
The Florida Republican Party launched an aggressive midterm offensive to gain complete control of Tallahassee, spending at least $33 million on five senate races.
The GOP needed 27 seats to achieve a two-thirds majority. They flipped three and claimed two open seats to get to 28.
The House campaign was even more successful. Republicans needed to flip two seats, and converted seven. House Republicans now enjoy a 85-35 vote supermajority over Democrats.
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“These victories show what happens when you have leaders like Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislators who chart a bold conservative agenda,” said Evan Power, Chair of the Leon County Republican Executive Committee.
Power, a candidate for state party chair, said voters rewarded DeSantis and lawmakers “for their leadership.”
A supermajority provides enough votes for the majority to end discussion or debate, and to call for a vote whenever it wants.
“Basically, there is no longer any shot at delaying or halting anything the Republican caucus wishes to do,” said Jon Ausman, a former member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida, known for his parliamentary maneuvering at party meetings.
With DeSantis’ reelection and Republicans sweeping all three Cabinet seats, Simon will walk into a Florida Capital that has not been this red since the 1870s, when Harriett Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” her brother Charles, and other northern Republicans moved to Tallahassee to help Gov. Harrison Reed transition Florida to a post-slavery society.
Like the Reconstruction Republicans, whose efforts are recalled in “Beechers, Stowes, and Yankee Strangers,” by Florida A&M University professors John T. Foster Jr., and Sarah Whitmer Foster, the DeSantis-led GOP has a vision for Florida.
The past four years, DeSantis has led Republican lawmakers to impose a 15-week abortion ban, restrict discussion of race and sexuality in public schools, curtail access to voting, and eliminate minority-access congressional districts.
Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, said whatever is next on the DeSantis agenda, could happen without any structural debate and input from Democrats and others.
Is it a supermajority or no opposition?
In the eyes of the National Conference of State Legislators, supermajorities are ad hoc, bipartisan coalitions formed to pass extraordinary measures like a constitutional amendment or to override a governor’s veto.
The NCSL describes them as products of “deliberation and compromise.”
Nova Southeastern University political scientist and historian Charles Zelden said that is not a correct description of what happens at a state capital under one-party rule.
“It does not create compromise. It does the opposite. It allows the party in power to do whatever it wants, and there is nothing the Democrats can do about it,” said Zelden.
Incoming House Minority Leader state Sen. Fentrice Driskell suggested the Democrat's playbook remains unchanged when asked about how the party's delegation will stop further abortion rules.
"We will do what we always have which is to try to, you know, try to stop that that bill from happening, try to put on some amendments where we can to try to soften the bill and make it less harmful to the people of Florida," she said during Local 10's This Week in South Florida.
Pizzo, the Democrats’ second in command, knew he did not have the votes to block the Parental Rights in Education Act, which opponents branded the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, or the 15-week abortion ban approved during the 2022 session.
But he said, with the ability to debate Democrats were able to force Republicans to explain what they wanted to do and why.
Democrats filed 35 amendments to the abortion bill – forcing a late-night session.
They filed 29 amendments on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“That they all failed was not the point,” said Pizzo, walking a Tallahassee neighborhood in a get-out-the vote effort for Ausley.
“I’m laying a record for constitutional issues (challenges),” said Pizzo, a former prosecutor who is aware that some of his colleagues find his questioning irritating.
In March, during a floor discussion of Don’t Say Gay, Pizzo asked the sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, to define “sexual orientation” as meant by the bill.
“He said, ‘I’m not going to be cross-examined by you. Maybe, I’ll ask one of my lawyer friends to answer for you,’ recalled Pizzo. “Now, that flippin’ screw you kind of attitude is not the democratic process.”
Under current rules, a minority, if it numbers more than a third, can negotiate to include more time for discussion and debate to get the majority to explain why a measure is needed.
That’s what the Democrats did.
When questioned by Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Fort Lauderdale, Baxley expressed concern about what he called the “trendy posture” of some LGBTQ kids.
He added: “And all of a sudden, overnight, they’re a celebrity when they felt like they were nobody ... I know parents are very concerned about the departure from the core belief systems and value ... I think they have a seat at the table.”
Polsky then asked, “So just to confirm, there seems to be a big uptick in the number of children who are coming out as gay or experimenting, and therefore we need to not discuss it in the younger grades?”
No more discussion in Tallahassee?
Supermajorities puts such discussions in jeopardy, said Pizzo.
Senate rules are updated and voted on at the beginning of each term.
The updates typically clarify procedural issues that have arisen, or in the case of COVID, might arise.
Senate President-designate Kathleen Passidomo of Naples is also the current chair of the Rules Committee and has drafted a set of proposed changes.
“And is not proposing any significant changes, and certainly not any changes that would limit the opportunity for any senator to be heard,” said spokeswoman Katherine Betta.
Betta said the changes are being finalized and will be released this week, in time for senators to review for a vote during the Nov. 22 Organizational Session.
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY Network – Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee
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