The midterm election gave Republicans 17 new members in the Florida House, while Democrats are welcoming six to their minority caucus. The GOP now has a veto-proof super-majority in that chamber.
Republicans needed to defeat at least five incumbent Democrats to achieve the super-majority. They ousted six. One of their successful candidates comes from Orlando.
“My name is Rene Plasencia. I also go by Coach P. I’m a high school teacher and track coach at Colonial High School, where I’ve been for the last 15 years,” he says.
Plasencia says his proximity to young people makes him want to fight for educational reforms like less student testing and fairer teacher assessments. “Coach P” defeated one-term Democratic Rep. Joe Saunders by just under a 2 percent margin. The coach says he believes he had the home-field advantage over the incumbent.
“This is a community that, although Orlando is turning into a rather big city, it’s still a small town to a lot of us who were born and raised there,” Plasencia says.
And the 41-year-old first-time public office-holder says he thinks he got a boost from the top of the ticket.
“I think a lot of Republicans came out because they are happy with the job that Governor Scott did,” he says. “And the sweep that Republicans had statewide is a testament to the job that he’s done.”
The sweep, of course, was not limited to Florida. The GOP picked up enough U.S. Senate seats to get a majority and also flipped a handful of governorships from blue to red. Florida State University political scientist Carol Weissert says national sentiment could have trickled down to Florida statehouse races.
“There’s a lot of thought maybe that there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the president,” she says. “It’s hard to believe that goes down to the state legislative level, but possibly it did.”
She says the super-majority shouldn’t change much in the Legislature, because Republicans already had large majorities in both chambers. And the power to override vetoes becomes less important, she says, than it would have been if Democrat Charlie Crist had won the governor’s seat.
But despite chambers packed with Republicans, six newly elected Democrats have chosen to join the Legislature’s ranks.
“My name is Bobby DuBose. I am—well, as of Tuesday—I’m a former commissioner in the city of Fort Lauderdale. I’ve served there for over five years.”
DuBose replaces another Democrat, Perry Thurston, who was term-limited out this year. The 43-year-old insurance adjuster and father of two young children says he realizes the uphill battle his party faces in the Legislature—but he says he has some experience building consensus.
“In Fort Lauderdale, I’m the only minority on that Commission, and so I have the experience of being in the minority but being effective,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s about relationships.”
DuBose says, as a city commissioner, he brings to the Legislature a wariness of unfunded mandates the statehouse sometimes hands down to the local guys. And he says he’s also concerned about improving public schools.
He, along with Plasencia and 21 other new Florida House members, will be sworn the third week in November in Tallahassee.