Florida Legislative Surprises

The Florida Democratic Party was able to accomplish something tonight that it had not done in several elections: win seats. Seven of them, in fact.

The State of Sunshine had predicted two of them: House 52, formerly held by Republican Frank Farkas, went to Democrat Bill Heller; and House 51, formerly held by Republican Leslie Waters, went to Democrat Janet Long.

We were toying with two others: House 120, held by Republican Ken Sorensen, was captured by Democrat (and former State Senator) Ron Saunders. We had Ron’s name penciled in while drafting the prediction post, but switched after looking at campaign finance numbers. In House 39, newly-converted Republican Shari McInvale was obliterated by Scott Randolph (Sidebar: The new representative-elect always makes me think of Blazing Saddles – which has several references to Randolph Scott, a hero of 1950’s westerns).

The Democrats also picked up the former seat of Republicans Donna Clarke, House 69 was won by Keith Fitzgerald; took the former seat of Republican Gus Barreiro in House 107, and defeated Republican incumbent Susan Goldstein in House 97.

The Republican majority in the Florida House went from 85-35 to 78-42. This is important because the GOP no longer has a two-thirds majority, giving the Democratic party more clout.

But the biggest surprise of all races — to some — was here in the Tampa Bay area: the flip of Republican Senator Jim Sebesta’s Senate 16 seat to the Democrats, by a victory for Charlie Justice. This was easily the most expensive state senate race in Florida, maybe the most expensive state legislative race in the nation. It was called the nastiest race by some pundits and media-types.

The Republicans didn’t lose any State Senate seats, however, as Republican candidate Steve Oelrich managed to win the seat formerly held by Democrat Rod Smith. Oelrich was the Alachua county Sheriff, a GOPer in a largely Democratic county. The Republican majority will still be 26-14, one short of two-thirds.

The Democratic tsunami that took control of the U.S. House and maybe the U.S. Senate had rippling effects down the ticket in Florida. The saving grace for the Republican Party of Florida is that the Republicans simply had a significantly larger number of “good” candidates.

About Jim Johnson

Editor and publisher of The State of Sunshine.
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