If you believe that government is by nature messy, slow, and expensive you might want to look away now. The Florida House District 72 special election taking place on February 13 is shaping up to be a first-rate boondoggle.
The resignation of republican Alex Miller (pictured) from her seat in August 2017 triggered this special election which will directly cost the taxpayer and estimated $350,000. The three political parties vying for the seat are set to spend twice as much again during their respective campaigns. Meanwhile, as this gold-plated exercise in democracy unfolds, Sarasota will have had no voice for just over half of Florida’s 60 day Legislative Session.
Resigned to wastefulness
The now-resigned freshman representative from district 72, Alex Miller, was only elected to office in 2016. She was seen by many commentators as a possible future star for the Florida Republican party. As successful businesswoman, Miller contrasted sharply against the stodgy middle-aged men who tend to make up most state legislatures.
The original reason Miller gave for resigning was family. She said in her resignation letter, “As a mother with two teenage boys who is the CEO of a rapidly growing business, I have come to the conclusion that I must spend more time at home than my service in the Legislature would allow.”
Fair enough, but Miller had served for over half of a two year term. Running for office and then having a change of heart is one thing, but it seems unlikely a successful entrepreneurial millionaire would not have the stomach to see out the 2018 session (set to finish on 9 March) just because of her children. Surely there was more to the story?
Much, much more to the story
In an interview via text Miller gave with Zac Anderson of Sarasota’s Herald Tribune, the reasons for her mysterious resignation become clearer. While she still stuck to her original reasons for resigning, Miller also gave new ones.
“There were business and health care-related votes I simply could not support in good conscience and as expected was punished for them in the removal of my best committee assignments. Knowing my future was limited in this kind of environment I thought it best that someone else take the seat.”
The two votes referred to by Miller were: voting against a taxpayer-funded business incentive scheme championed by House Speaker Rick Corcoran, and voting against an anti-abortion bill.
Miller is the CEO of a very successful medical supply company, Mercedes Medical, so it would stand to reason she would have strong reasons rooted in personal experience for voting against her party on both these occasions (especially if she has succeeded without taxpayer funded incentives in her own business dealings).
But parties sometimes have to crack the whip to get legislation through – right? Was Miller putting Republicans in a precarious position by withholding her support on these bills?
No. The Republicans control 76 of 120 seats in the Florida House. The Democrats control 40. In other words, the Republicans have a lock on the chamber with nearly twice as many seats as the Democrats. Corcoran can afford to lose close to twenty Republicans before one of his legislative pet projects are in jeopardy.
Alex Miller’s treatment appears to be old-fashioned bullying from a tinpot speaker. And the results are pretty disastrous: the Republicans have lost a promising up-and-comer from their ranks, and a special election costing taxpayers $350,000 is triggered. Apparently the famous Republican concern for fiscal responsibility has left the building.
Money, money, money
With the heightened political atmosphere left over from the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns of 2016, what would normally be a mostly unnoticed special election has exploded into a huge waste of an enormous amount of money.
Florida voters have plenty of reasons to be furious with this situation. Here are three of them:
- The Florida Legislative session, which lasts for a total of 60 days, began on 9 January and will finish on 9 March. This means that, barring a special session, the winner of this absurdity will represent Sarasota for less than a month in total before having to run another election in November.
- The Republicans and Democrats have both put forward fairly mediocre candidates. Republican James Buchanan has dodged all debate appearances but one, and Democrat Margaret Good appeared unable to answer the basic question “Where are you from?” during an televised interview last week.
- The two-major party candidates have raised an obscene amount of money for a race of this size. According to SRQ Magazine on January 27, Buchanan has raised $282,630 and Good $227,314 (so far!). Big fundraising leads to big favors owed – someone will have to pay the piper.
Given what a mess they have made of things, it is unsurprising that a third party candidate has managed to make a relatively strong showing against the two major parties so far. Libertarian Alison Foxall has reported record donations for a Libertarian State House candidate ($19,252), and has punched well above her weight in debates and candidate appearances.
Historically, third party campaigns have surged when both major parties have lost trust with voters. If nothing else Buchanan and Good appear to be giving Foxall a bigger oppening than third party candidates typically get, and she appears more than able to take advantage of it.
Special Election: spend more for less
Even without knowing all the gory detail, it seems probable that Alex Miller’s resignation could have been avoided if House Speaker Rick Corcoran and the rest of the Florida Republican leadership had behaved differently.
The result of that resignation has been no voice for District 72 in the first half of this year’s session, and (at best) a sub-par replacement for Alex Miller scrambling to find their feet for the remainder of the session. For this magnificent outcome the overall spending is expected to top $1 million.
And then the seat will be contested all over again in nine months time.
Will it be enough to provoke Florida voters to stick their heads out their windows and scream, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”?
We will find out on February 13th!