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Republican legislative decisions rankle membership

By James Call


Tallahassee, FL – Voters are telling pollsters they are unhappy with cuts to the state budget and the direction they think the state is headed. A Quinnipiac Poll last month indicated 54 percent of voters say the state budget which goes into effect in July is unfair to people like them. James Call reports some groups are using people's frustration with a down economy and high unemployment as an organizing tool for next year's election.

"Well, we can't vote them out until 2012, in November."

Sheriff's Deputy Patrick Hanrahan is President of the Broward County chapter of the Police Benevolent Association. He said Republican Leaders in Tallahassee launched an aggressive attack on public sector workers during the spring Legislative Session.

"So they have another session facing them where they can even go after them again. So I think, my personal thing and I discussed it with my board and they agree let's start sending them the message now we're not going to sit idly by and let them attack us. We're going to go down with a fight."

Hanrahan mailed 4,000 invitations to a party to leave the party. In July, after the new state budget goes into effect election officials will set up behind the Broward PBA headquarters so that people can switch their voter registration from Republican to Democratic or Independent. The party is to protest budget cuts and other policy changes. Hanrahan represents one chapter of a statewide association. Matt Puckett is the executive director of the Florida Benevolent Association. The statewide group was part of the coalition that helped elect former Governor Jeb Bush and elevated the GOP to majority status in the late 1990s. It did not support the Scott campaign and Puckett said it is taking hands off approach to Hanrahan's party to leave the Party.

"This is Broward County. This is the grass roots membership of Broward County. That's how they are feeling in Broward County if you go to let's say Tampa they may not be feeling that way. If you go to Pensacola they may not be feeling that way. We're going to let the locals chapters and charters do the will of their membership. It's as simple as that."

Hanrahan and other public sectors look at the state budget and see a list of grievances. They see job losses. Lawmakers balanced the budget by eliminating state jobs. Prisons in south Florida will be privatized. Police, firefighters, teachers will see their take-home pay reduced by 3 percent; the amount public sector employees will be required to contribute to a pension. And during the session a union-dues deduction proposal that failed infuriated them. They called it a union busting bill.

Florida State University Political Science Professor Charles Barrilleaux finds the party to leave the party interesting, given the recent history of the PBA and GOP but said it is too early to say it represents anything other than local politics at play.

"I don't know if it is any large thing. I mean there is stuff all sorts of stuff going on within the Republican Party with people unhappy with things going on and stuff like that I think this may be a piece of something but I think it is mainly about that union and its interests."

Broward County is a heavy Democratic area in a state ruled by Republicans. More than a half million residents are registered Democratic, that's twice as many as Republicans. In fact, there are more independent voters in Broward than Republican.

The governor's office talks like it expected some push back against its agenda and the policy changes implemented. Spokesman Lane Wright said a stalled economy, a budget shortfall and a balance budget requirement forced Scott to make tough decisions that some may find unpleasant.

"If the governor is giving out money to every group and organization that is asking for it you are going to have a lot of people happy and they love the governor. But at a time when we have some harsh economic realities and tough decisions have to be made and these cuts have to be made and you got to find places to cut and to see that 54 percent of the people in that survey that the budget is unfair to them it is kind of an indication that the cuts are not from just one group but that it is spread out . The Governor is looking at this with a fair eye and making cuts in places that need to be cut."

Hanrahan and the Broward PBA disagree that the cuts are either fair or needed, so July 16th Hanrahan is hosting a party to leave the party.

"We are not going to take what they are doing to us. We are not going to sit idly by while they attack public employees. I mean, we are the ones who broke the mold so to speak, the Florida PBA and us by going with the Republican side because normally you just think unions and Democrats."