The Florida Republican Super-Majority Could Work with Democrats
Tallahassee, FL – Florida's Democratic lawmakers have essentially been rendered powerless, thanks to the GOP's veto-proof ranks in both chambers. But the question remains as to whether all Republicans will side with the state's soon-to be Chief Republican Rick Scott on all the issues. Gina Jordan spoke with a Democrat and two Republicans, all incumbents who won easy re-election to the House, about the super majority and the incoming governor.
Rep. Michelle Rehwinkle Vasilinda of Tallahassee is coming off her freshman term, finding her job even more difficult now, but still expecting that her voice will be heard.
"Republicans have been in pretty much complete control of the state for a dozen
years," she said. "They've had both the House, the Senate and the Governor's Mansion. Where the state is, they need to be accountable for. And if I were them and in their shoes, I would be taking the wisdom, advice, council, expertise wherever I could get it. And the Democrats have some excellent ideas."
In 2009, Rehwinkle Vasilinda crossed the aisle to vote in favor of an offshore drilling bill, in exchange for a deal on renewable energy. That brought criticism from some fellow Democrats, and led to a primary battle this year with the former chair of the Leon County Democratic party. But Rehwinkle Vasilinda says she's ready to make more deals if necessary, and watch as the Republican leadership that largely supported Attorney General Bill McCollum in the gubernatorial primary "gets to work" with Governor Scott.
"I think there's gonna be a dance to get to know one another, but I do think the
Republicans generally are very strategic in how they move, and they will - as you've seen them - close ranks. I think they will continue to do that. If there isn't a time where this very powerful Senate and House don't agree with the Governor, I'm sure they will show themselves. But I think at this point in time, I think you can rely in the Kumbayas going into the next session."
Republican Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel is in line to be House Speaker in 2012. He says GOP lawmakers may disagree with Scott from time to time, but right now they're all on the same page.
"Certainly we want to be respectful of both parties," Weatherford said. We don't just serve, I don't just represent Republicans in my district. I represent Republicans and Democrats and independents and everybody, and that's what is expected of us. But you know our focus is going to be very simple. It's going to be to help turn the economy around in Florida by creating a business friendly environment; it's going to be reducing the size and the scope of government; and it's going to creating a 21st century education system that's based on the students' needs."
Weatherford says the new governor shares those priorities. Rep. Marti Coley of Marianna is among the Republicans who supported Bill McCollum's campaign. But after Scott won the primary, she says, she was able to share her concerns with him, especially regarding possible cuts to state workers.
"I think we have someone who is very business minded and wants to help shape
Florida government in a very responsible manner, one that will not grow," said Coley. "So, I'm optimistic."
Coley considers herself to be good about working across the aisle. While she believes Democrats will have an opportunity to be part of the conversation, she says voters sent a clear message on Election Day that they want a limited government.
"I think that we will continue in that direction being fiscally responsible and
making sure that we're not growing government. Now, I do believe that every member has an opportunity to be heard. There's a lot of partisan politics, and I think the other message that voters sent was that they're really tired of that."
Senate President Mike Haridopolos did extend a small olive branch to Democrats, rewarding Senators Jeremy Ring and Gary Siplin with committee chairmanships, and Senators Nan Rich and Gwen Margolis with vice chairmanships.