Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Republicans Came Alive in Florida in the 1980s

Manning J. Dauer (general editor). Florida Politics and Government.2nd Ed. Gainesville, Fl.: University of Florida Press, 1986,

Spain claimed Florida in 1513. Ponce de Leon landed in Florida before the British landed in Plymouth in 1620. Spain made its first permanent settlement in Florida in 1565. By 1620, St. Augustine had a six bed hospital, fish market, 120 shops, a fort, and a church. Native Americans lived amongst the Spanish settlers as the Spanish made no effort to take away Native American lands. Florida survived with food, supplies, and cash from Mexico City until 1763. British settlers, led by Gov. James Moore of South Carolina, raided parts of Florida and destroyed Catholic missions in 1702, 1704, and 1706.

Spain sides with France in the French and Indian War versus the British colonists. England seized Havana. Spain trade Florida to regain back Havana.

Florida was ceded to England in 1763. England divided Florida into two colonies: West Florida and East Florida. These colonies were loyal to the British during the Revolutionary War. Tories poured into Florida, boosting its population from 6, 000 to 17,000. The Spanish, who had supported the American Revolution, retook West Florida in 1779 and then gained East Florida by a treaty in 1783. Many Americans moved into Florida and carried with them thoughts of independence. In 1810, the Republic of West Florida was declared. During the War of 1812, General Andrew Jackson defeated British troops at Pensacola, defeated a Seminole army, and seized a Spanish fort at St. Marks. The United States annexed West Florida in 1813. In 1819, the US took over$5 million of debt that Spain owed to American citizens and gave up any claims the US had on Texas. This was ratified two years later and Florida was transferred to the United States in 1821.

The Florida legislature first met in 1822 in St. Augustine. When Western delegates nearly died in a shipwreck going to the second legislative session, Florida decided to move its Capitol to a midway point in a log building in Tallahassee.

Several wars broke out between Seminoles and Americans. In 1843, 3.824 Indians were shipped out of state. By the 1850s, there were under 100 Seminoles left, and those that were left had fled into the Everglades.

Florida was admitted as a state in 1846 as a slave state at the same time Iowa was admitted as a free state. Florida then elected the first person of the Jewish faith to serve in the U.S. Senate, David Levy Yuke.

Florida was one of the states that joined the Confederacy. After the Civil War, Florida passed the Black Codes which sought to put the former slave system back in place without calling slaves as property. Reconstruction entered Florida, which was marked by creating public schools and a criminal code. This was followed, beginning in 1877, with the Bourbon Era which saw much unrestricted private sector development, low taxes, and few public programs.

The Democratic Party dominated Florida politics until the 1960s, when the Republican Party developed into a competing party. The Democrats had two major factions, the Wool Hats, who were working class, lower to middle class, and progressive to populist in their leanings, and the Silk Hats, or Bourbons, who were conservatives. Florida politics was considered relatively non-ideological compared to other states. Candidates were more apt to appeal to voters according to their personality and style of campaigning.

Florida was also a state that was considered as having a gerrymandered legislature. Before the Supreme Court made one person, one vote a rule, 13% of the state’s electorate selected a majority of the Senate and 15% of the state’s electorate selected a majority of the House. Most Governors previously served in the legislature and were from North Florida or the Panhandle. Statewide candidates played to their regional appeals.

In 1969, the Florida legislature adopted a professional staff. Most legislators hold other jobs. Florida then met in 60 day legislative sessions with special session afterwards, although most of those lasted only a few days. There was an inconsistency as some House members were elected from single member districts while other districts elected multiple House members.

Seven Administrative positions, including Governor and several Cabinet positions, were elected so there was not necessarily a unified Administrative position on issues. This gave the legislature some more influence over the Executive branch.

The 1980s, when this book was published, finds Florida as one of the fastest growing parts of the country. More money was generated then by tourism than by manufacturing. Agriculture was a growing industry. It had twice the national average in the percent of retirees living in a state. Its labor unions were strongest among public employees, transportation, and building trades. The relatively smaller manufacturing base also meant there were few strong traditional trade unions. Florida’s Constitution requires it be a “right to work” state, meaning union dues and union strikes apply only to union members and that employees can decline to join a union.

Florida is a state that seeks growth and modernization yet its voters are not generally liberal. The conservative voting patterns translated into a relatively less demand for social services than found in other states. The African American population in 1980 was 13.6%, a sharp decline when half of Floridians were Black during the Civil War.

The Democratic Party dominated Florida politics until the 1980s. Republicans often failed to even run candidates in many local elections. Claude Kirk was a Republican elected Governor in 1966 followed by Ed Guerney who was a Republican elected to the U.S. Senate in 1968. Both men faced scandal in office which turned away Independents who had helped elect them. Democrats who were elected to statewide offices in Florida, such as Gov. Reubin Askew, Gov. Robert Graham, and Sen. Lawton Chiles took moderate positions which attracted independent voters back to Democratic candidates.

Florida then had no state income tax, a relatively moderate sales tax of 5%, relatively strict state environmental regulations, and about average support for education. Florida, as a growing state, had relatively more planning and conservation regulations than found in other states.

Florida saw many local governments, some with overlapping jurisdictions, with varying degrees of abilities and efficiencies. The state government took more control of roads, public welfare, and other areas where county government management was inadequate.


Post a Comment

<< Home