Friday, June 10, 2011

Fired Up In Florida

Mitch Perry at Creative Loafing reports on the progressive movement in Florida in response to the disaster that is Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida legislature’s first session with the Republican super-majority in place.

Last week, about a dozen activists from various liberal groups held a news conference in front of Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s Tampa office, denouncing his vote in support of the Paul Ryan-Republican budget that would end Medicare as we know it.

Three weeks earlier, an estimated crowd of 150-200 gathered in front of Republican Representative Jeff Brandes’ office in St. Petersburg just days after the legislative session ended, protesting most of the bills supported by Brandes and his GOP allies.

For longtime observers of Florida progressive politics, it’s been an unusual sight — disgruntled Democrats hitting the streets on a regular basis to show their opposition to a governor and a legislature.

It’s not as if one-party rule in Tallahassee were something new, as it’s been in effect for 13 years now. But the election of Rick Scott, followed by a FL legislative session that some say will set the state back decades, has activated a previously somnolent Democratic base into demonstrating their displeasure with the status quo, a la the Tea Party protests from two years ago.

There are a few hopeful signs that things could be turning around. In Jacksonville, the mayoral election went to a Democrat for the first time in decades when Alvin Brown beat a Tea Party favorite. And there are signs that the voters are beginning to notice that Mr. Scott’s welcome is wearing thin even with some Republicans, especially those who found their pet projects vetoed out of the budget. (It’s easy to talk about cutting spending as long as it’s someone else being cut.)

And then there’s the shades-of-dictator factor. Last month’s budget signing event at The Villages, a mega-sized retirement community in central Florida, had all the trappings of a North Korean pageant to honor the Dear Leader, with pre-printed signs to hand out to the school kids that were bussed in for the event and dissidents — including people who live at The Villages — escorted out of the event by sheriff’s deputies at the behest of the governor’s staff. Mr. Scott remains aloof and isolated from the press and the public, a habit he probably formed when he was in charge of Columbia/HCA and was accountable to nobody. That would probably explain why Mr. Scott has approval ratings in the 20’s.

One of the hardest things to do is get the Democrats and progressives organized to work together. In that respect, Mr. Scott and the legislature have worked a miracle. Now let’s see if they can actually do anything.