The 2016 election has brought out some of the worst the American electorate has to offer. Bitter and vitriolic, the race has been marked by allegations of corruption from the presidential ticket on down. Not surprisingly, it’s testing Florida voters’ already tenuous faith in government.
“I wouldn’t consider myself a Republican per se or Democrat per se,” Eric Christiansen says. “I think both parties are equally corrupt.”
The junior finance major at Florida State University is waiting in line for an event with Milo Yiannopoulos at the school last month. The alt-right darling known for incendiary rhetoric couched as an attack on political correctness attracted hundreds like Christiansen to hear his speech.
They broke out into chants of “Build the wall” and “USA.”
But the event drew opponents as well, with protesters chanting “Milo’s got to go.”
In line most agree: corruption is a big problem in government.
“So it seems to me that we don’t have people who are fighting for our rights in government but instead fighting for the rights of businesses or foreign powers,” Will Leech says.
Hagan Gary agrees. “I definitely think that government’s getting corrupt—just more corrupt every day,” he says. “To answer that question yes, it’s a snow ball effect.”
“It’s going to be in any government,” Austin Cole says. “Anywhere you have humans. It’s just human nature, corruption, churches, governments, so no way around it.”
But across the way, the protestors feel about the same. Here’s Bianca Balazhi.
“I can’t trust the government anymore,” Bianca Balazhi says, “because I’m constantly being lied to. By everyone—by Republicans, by Democrats. It’s not a Republican thing it is Democrats and Republicans working together to fool the American people.”
And while most focus their ire on the federal government, high profile scandals among state officials have likely done little to allay voters’ concerns. First there was Jacksonville Democratic Congresswoman Corinne Brown, brought up on federal charges related to an allegedly bogus charity.
“Half-truth witch hunt,” Brown says. “Period.”
And then Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi came under fire for accepting a donation from the Donald J. Trump Foundation shortly before deciding not to join a multi-state case against Trump University.
“I had absolutely no idea, nor would I have had an idea, that there was one complaint,” Bondi says. “There was never an investigation opened, nor was there ever a multistate.”
Both loudly proclaim their innocence. More recently Jacksonville Democrat Reggie Fullwood dropped out of his state House race after pleading guilty to fraud charges. University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus says those examples aren’t enough to call Florida’s government corrupt.
“You can’t really say that per se,” MacManus says. “There are individuals in Florida state government that probably—and we know—have been accused of crimes and been convicted. How broad is it? We don’t know.”
“It’s awful easy to just cast with a broad brush all the politicians as being corrupt simply because of the actions of a very, very small percentage,” Jack Richardson says.
He’s a retired firefighter who used to lobby on behalf of firefighters in the Florida legislature.
“And I met many lawmakers and staff people who I felt worked as hard as they could, to do the best job that they could, for the most people that they could,” he goes on.
He says the best way to combat corruption is to keep it from cropping up in the first place.
“I think if more john q publics like me, and others and yourself got involved in the process in a very personal way, and saw their legislators at least once a year or spoke to them on the phone or wrote them a letter, that maybe the politicians would get the idea that the rest of us are watching,” he says. “And we’re trying to pay attention and when they don’t get things done the way they should get things done, there’s a good chance we won’t bring them back into office.”
The most recent figures from the Pew Research Center show only one in five Americans have faith in their government. In Florida public disclosure, ethics, term limit and fair redistricting measures have all been approved to combat corruption. But determined officials have found ways to circumvent all four with differing levels of success. As voters head to the ballot box, it seems clear many are dissatisfied with the status quo—but the correct way to address those problems is far less certain.