The 2016 election cycle will most likely be remembered as one of the most combative in history – beginning long before the Primary and lasting through the General Election. The harsh criticisms levied during coarse and protracted Primary and General Election debates served to increase voter fatigue, which was already at an all-time high from the persistent battles between President Obama and Congress.
An onslaught of independently wealthy candidates funding their own races with personal money trended from the Presidential race down to state legislative battlegrounds. Fueled by voter disappointment with politics as usual, many candidates for Florida’s Congressional Delegation and the Florida Legislature spent significant personal money to win state legislative seats. These candidates used their “outsider” status as a means to badger establishment candidates, who they painted as being too beholden to special interest groups.
The Republican Presidential Primary was marked by a crowded field of 12 candidates, endless televised debates that mimicked reality shows, and the emergence of businessman Donald Trump as the party’s final nominee – to the chagrin of many party faithful. Even after endless gaffes and his seeming inability to steer clear of controversy, Trump’s message as a political outsider resonated with voters who felt increasingly disenfranchised in a rapidly changing global economy.
Early on, political insiders expected former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to sail easily to the convention and become the Democratic nominee. However, voter mistrust and her personal unpopularity catapulted support for Bernie Sanders and ultimately pushed Clinton to adopt portions of his platform as her own to secure his support and clinch the party’s nomination.
Following the Primary, party nominees Clinton and Trump continued to bear negative poll numbers near 60 percent indicating that Republican and Democratic voters, as well as those with No Party Affiliation (NPA), were disenchanted with both candidates. Questions regarding Trump’s treatment of women and minorities paralleled an unrelenting controversy over Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State.
The election was historic. Trump’s victory is the first time a person without any government service at all – in the military or elected office – was elected President. A Clinton victory would have marked the first time a female would have been elected President.
As one of the swing states most likely to decide this election, Trump and Clinton campaigned across Florida in the final days. The day before Tuesday’s General Election, polls in Florida showed Clinton and Trump in a virtual tie. At that time, it was estimated that more than 6.4 million Floridians had cast their ballots either through early voting or by absentee ballot. The final day for early voting saw record numbers across Florida. When all ballots were cast, Florida saw an upswing in voter turnout of 74.2 percent. In the end, Trump won Florida’s 29 electoral votes.
The tough election cycle did not bring about significant changes to the U.S. Congress even though anti-incumbent sentiments were expressed by voters of all parties. Going into election night, the U.S. Senate was comprised of 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and two Independents. Post-election, Republicans currently retain 51 seats while Democrats hold 48 seats with one race to be addressed in a runoff.
On the House side, going into election night, the party breakdown was 246 Republicans to 186 Democrats and three seats were vacant. Republicans now have 239 confirmed seats while Democrats have 193. At this writing, remaining races are still undecided.
Another aspect affecting Florida election results was a change, over time, in the state’s voter registration. Over the last several years, registered Democrats have grown in this state, even though the Governor, Cabinet, Senate President and the House Speaker are Republicans. The state, much like the rest of the country, saw a marked increase in voters registered as NPA. As a result of Hurricane Matthew that hit the state in October, the voter registration deadline was extended by one week. During that time, Democrats outpaced Republicans with new voter registrations by more than 8,000. The increased Democratic registration did not result in the Democrats gaining a significant amount of seats in Congress or the Florida Legislature.
One area not in the mix this election cycle was the state’s executive branch, i.e., the Florida Cabinet. The Governor and all three Cabinet officers will vacate their seats in 2018 having reached their eight-year term limit. The race to fill those coveted positions will undoubtedly be contentious.
Florida Executive Branch
As previously mentioned, neither Governor Rick Scott nor the three Cabinet officers – Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam – have elections this cycle.
There is speculation that Governor Scott will run for the U.S. Senate seat held by longtime Sen. Bill Nelson. Republican CFO Atwater has flirted either with a run for Governor or U.S. Congress. It remains to be seen which race he ultimately chooses. If it is the Governor’s mansion, Atwater will surely face Agriculture Commissioner and former U.S. Congressman Putnam in the Primary. Putnam has not been coy about his plans to run for Governor, and he is seen by many insiders as the frontrunner for that seat.
Pam Bondi has been quiet about her plans; however, as a strong Trump supporter, her future may lie with the federal government.
Democrats considering a run for Governor reportedly include former U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Graham, daughter of popular former Governor Bob Graham, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
Although the field of candidates running for the rest of the Cabinet is still evolving, all seats will be hotly contested. Some names mentioned for CFO include Republican Senators Jeff Brandes and Tom Lee, who made an unsuccessful run for CFO in 2006. For the Democrats, expect former Broward County Sen. Jeremy Ring to run. For Attorney General, both incoming presiding officers – House Speaker-Designate Richard Corcoran and Senate President-Designate Joe Negron – have been mentioned. On the Democratic side, former Alachua County Sen. Rod Smith and former Broward County Sen. Dan Gelber are in the mix.
The Legislative Branch
Florida Senators serve four-year terms and are allowed two terms for a total of eight years in one seat. The current breakdown in the Senate is 26 Republicans to 14 Democrats. Typically, half of the Senate runs in even-numbered years, but the December 2015 approval by a Circuit Court Judge of a new Senate map triggered the requirement that all 40 seats be elected in 2016. What resulted was an active Primary and General Election cycle, which was intensified by an anti-incumbent sentiment and the surge of “political outsider” candidates illustrated by the popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Eight Senators were termed out of office having reached their eight-year term limit. Another 13 retired or ran for a different office bringing the total number of open seats in the Senate to 19. Following the June 24th qualifying deadline, nine Senators did not draw opposition. Further, three candidates – Republican auto dealership owner George Gainer, Democratic child abuse advocate Lauren Book and former Democratic House leader and attorney Perry Thurston – were elected to the Senate without opposition.
Democrats gained two Senate seats in the General Election – one in Central Florida and one in South Florida. Former Democratic Rep. Linda Stewart took the Orlando seat previously held by outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner. In South Florida, incumbent Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla lost to current Democratic Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez. Both districts became more Democratic as a result of the Senate map that was ultimately approved by the Court in December. On the Republican side, South Florida Republican Rep. Frank Artiles bested incumbent Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard. The final breakdown in the Senate going into the 2017 Session is 25 Republicans to 15 Democrats.
The Florida Senate
NOTE: Bold font denotes re-elected Senate members; Blue font denotes current House members elected to Senate; Green font denotes new members who have not previously served in the Legislature
Background and Potential Session Focus
Broxson, Doug (R)
Property Insurance Agent; House member from Milton
Gainer, George (R)
Owner of eight Auto Dealerships; County Commissioner
Montford , Bill (D)
CEO FL Association of District School Superintendents
Bean, Aaron (R)
Small Business Owner; Previously served in House
Bradley, Rob (R)
Municipal and Local Government Attorney
Gibson, Audrey (D)
Paralegal and Public Relations Liaison; Previously served in House
Hutson, Travis (R)
Owner of Land Development Company; Previously served in House
Perry, Keith (R)
Roofing Contractor; House member from Gainesville
Simmons, David (R)
Environmental, Land Use, Real Property and Probate Attorney; Previously served in House
Simpson, Wilton (R)
Egg Farmer and Contractor; Simpson Environmental Services, Inc.
Bracy, Randolph (D)
Director of Business Development for Workforce Advantage Academy; House member from Orlando/Ocoee
Baxley, Dennis (R)
Funeral Director and Consultant; House member from Ocala
Stewart, Linda (D)
Former Orange County Commissioner; Previously served in House
Hukill, Dorothy (R)
Business/Real Estate Attorney; Previously served in House
Torres Jr., Victor (D)
Former NYC Police Officer and Marine; House member from Orlando
Latvala, Jack (R)
Owner, GCI Printing Services, Inc.
Mayfield, Debbie (R)
Mortgage Broker; Mayfield Group; House member from Vero Beach
Young, Dana (R)
Business Attorney; House member from Tampa
Rouson, Darryl (D)
Trial Attorney; House member from St. Petersburg
Lee, Tom (R)
Vice-President of Sabal Homes; Former Senate President 2004-2006
Galvano, Bill (R)
Commercial Litigation, Bankruptcy Attorney; Previously served in House
Stargel, Kelli (R)
Investment Property Manager; Previously served in House
Steube, Greg (R)
Government Law Attorney; House member from Sarasota
Brandes, Jeff (R)
Real Estate Developer; Previously served in House
Negron, Joe (R)
Senate President-Designate; Governmental/Real Estate Attorney; Previously served in House
Grimsley, Denise (R)
Registered Nurse; Hospital Administrator; Previously served in House
Benacquisto, Lizbeth (R)
Realtor and Special Events Coordinator
Passidomo, Kathleen (R)
Real Property, Probate and Trust Attorney; House member from Naples
Rader, Kevin (D)
Insurance Agent/Business Owner; House member from Boca Raton
Powell, Bobby (D)
Urban and Regional Planner; House member from West Palm Beach
Clemens, Jeff (D)
Energy Contractor; Previously served in House
Book, Lauren (D)
Sexual Abuse Advocate
Thurston, Perry (D)
Attorney, Broward County Public Defender’s Office; Previously served in House
Farmer, Gary (D)
Trial Attorney; Former Head of the Florida Justice Association
Braynon, Oscar (D)
Senate Democratic Leader; Former Vice-Mayor of Miami Gardens; Previously served in House
Garcia, Rene (R)
Vice-President of Marketing and Public Relations at New Century Partnership; Previously served in House
Rodriguez, Jose Javier (D)
Trial Attorney; House member from Miami
Campbell, Daphne (D)
Registered Nurse; House member from Miami Shores
Flores, Anitere (R)
Attorney; President of Doral College; Previously served in House
Artiles, Frank (R)
Public Adjuster; General Contractor; House member from Miami
House of Representatives
Florida House members serve two-year terms and may hold one seat for four terms totaling eight years. The current breakdown heading into November was 81 Republicans to 38 Democrats, with one vacant seat. The seat held by Democratic Rep. Reggie Fullwood was vacant following his guilty plea for misuse of campaign funds.
Twenty-one Representatives exited the House due to the eight-year term limit condition. Also, a number of House and Senate members left their seats early to run for another office. As such, 51 freshman House members head into the 2017 Legislative Session. Following the mid-June qualifying period, 26 incumbents qualified with no opposition and were automatically re-elected.
In a strange twist, current Wellington Democratic Sen. Joe Abruzzo won House District 81 without opposition after trading seats with sitting Rep. Kevin Rader. Abruzzo and Rader switched races when it appeared millionaire Rep. Irv Slosberg would run against Abruzzo for the Senate. Ultimately, Slosberg ran for another Senate seat and was beat in the Primary and Rep. Rader moved from the House to the Senate.
Three new House candidates were also elected without opposition. Michael Grant, a former Rep. from Port Charlotte who owns an ambulance service now rejoins the House. Further, two Republican candidates who have never served in the Legislature – Sumter County Commissioner Don Hahnfeldt from The Villages and Lecanto physician Ralph Massullo – were elected to the House when no other candidate qualified to run.
The unofficial campaign results for the General Election indicate that Democrats picked up two seats – one in Central Florida and one in South Florida. One House seat appears to be headed for a recount.
Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith won House District 49 by a wide margin. The seat was formerly held by Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, who moved to run in House District 50, which was more favorable to a Republican. In South Florida, Democrat Daisy Baez narrowly beat her Republican opponent to win the seat previously held by term-limited Rep. Eric Fresen. Lastly, it appears Democratic former police investigator Robert Asencio has beaten former Republican state Representative and Congressman David Rivera. If the margin between the two candidates is within one half of one percent, there will be a recount.
Republicans gained one seat in Central Florida by the surprising win of Amber Mariano over incumbent Democrat Rep. Amanda Murphy. The 20-year old University of Central Florida student whose father is a Pasco County Commissioner, becomes the youngest Florida House member ever elected.
When the dust settled, the party breakdown in the House was 79 Republicans to 41 Democrats with one race still pending. If Republican Rivera wins the recount in HD 118, the GOP will retain their two-thirds majority providing greater ability to advance their agenda.
Florida House of Representatives
NOTE: Bold font indicates re-elected members; Blue font indicates a new House member.
Ingram, Clay (R)
Realtor; Former Teacher
White, Frank (R)
CFO and General Counsel of Sandy Sansing Dealerships
Williamson, Jayer (R)
Ponder, Mel (R)
Founder of Workplace Ministry
Drake, Brad (R)
Trumbull, Jay (R)
Water Company Owner
Beshears, Halsey (R)
Nursery and Landscape Company CEO & President
Alexander, Ramon (D)
Non-Profit Executive; Political Consultant
Ausley, Loranne (D)
Business Attorney; Previously served in House
Porter, Elizabeth (R)
Medical Billing and Consulting
Byrd, Cord (R)
Workers’ Comp/Constitutional Law Attorney
Yarborough, Clay (R)
UPS Human Resource Supervisor
Davis, Tracie (D)
Deputy Supervisor of Elections in Jacksonville
Daniels, Kimberly (D)
Former Jacksonville City Councilman
Fant, Jay (R)
Chair, Caroline Family Office
Fischer, Jason (R)
Stevenson, Cyndi (R)
Certified Public Accountant
Cummings, Travis (R)
Insurance and Employee Benefits Consultant
Payne, Bobby (R)
Electric Generation Provider
Watson, Jr., Clovis (D)
Retired City Manager
Clemons, Chuck (R)
Vice-President of Santa Fe Community College
Stone, Charlie (R)
President/Owner of Stone Petroleum Products, Inc.
McClain, Stan (R)
Builder; Former Marion County Commissioner
Renner, Paul (R)
Business/Environmental/Real Property Attorney
Leek, Tom (R)
Managing Partner/Business Litigation Attorney
Henry, Patrick (D)
Daytona City Commissioner
Santiago, David (R)
Brodeur, Jason (R)
Seminole County Chamber President; Health Care Consultant
Plakon, Scott (R)
Publisher of The Claims Pages
Cortes, Bob (R)
Owner of Towing Company
Sullivan, Jennifer (R)
Youth Development Leader
Metz, Larry (R)
Civil/Commercial Litigation Attorney
Hahnfeldt, Don (R)
Retired Navy; County Commissioner
Massullo Jr., Ralph (R)
Ingoglia, Blaise (R)
Mariano, Amber (R)
21-year old University of Central Florida Student
Corcoran, Richard (R)
House Speaker-Designate; Commercial Litigation Attorney; Former Chief of Staff for Speaker Marco Rubio
Burgess, Danny (R)
Former Mayor of Zephyrhills; JAG Corps and Attorney
Combee, Neil (R)
Rancher; Real Estate Sales; Former Polk County Commissioner
Burton, Colleen (R)
Killebrew, Sam (R)
La Rosa, Mike (R)
Cortes, John (D)
Retired Corrections Officer
Eisnaugle, Eric (R)
Commercial Litigation Attorney
Brown, Kamia (D)
Former Legislative Aide
Antone, Bruce (D)
Miller, Mike (R)
Director of Development for Rollins College
Mercado, Amy (D)
National Mango Board, Director of Operations
Smith, Carlos Guillermo (D)
Government Affairs Manager, Equality Florida
Plasencia, Rene (R)
Goodson, Tom (R)
Altman, Thad (R)
Astronauts Memorial Museum President; Previously served in House and Senate
Fine, Randy (R)
Grall, Erin (R)
Pigman, Cary (R)
Emergency Medicine Physician
Albritton, Ben (R)
Citrus Industry; Self-Employed/Business Manager
Raburn, Jake (R)
Raulerson, Dan (R)
CPA; Former Mayor and City Commissioner of Plant City
Spano, Ross (R)
Toledo, Jackie (R)
Shaw, Sean (D)
Real Property/Probate Attorney; Former Consumer Advocate
Cruz, Janet (D)
Harrison, Shawn (R)
Commercial Litigation Attorney
Grant, James (R)
Criminal Defense/PIP Attorney
Sprowls, Chris (R)
Assistant State Attorney
Ahern, Larry (R)
Owner of Pool Remodeling/Commercial Fountain Business
Latvala, Chris (R)
Vice-President GCI Printing Services; Son of Sen. Jack Latvala
Diamond, Ben (D)
Probate/Public Policy/Trial Advocacy Attorney
Peters, Kathleen (R)
Former Mayor City of South Pasadena
Newton, Wengay “Newt” (D)
Boyd, Jim (R)
Miller, Alex (R)
CEO Mercedes Medical
Gruters, Joe (R)
CPA; Head of Local Republican Party
Gonzalez, Julio (R)
Grant, Michael (R)
Owner of Ambulance Service; Previously served in House
Rodrigues, Ray (R)
Budget Manager, Florida Gulf Coast University
Eagle, Dane (R)
Real Estate Broker
Fitzenhagen, Heather (R)
Caldwell, Matt (R)
Real Estate Appraiser
Donalds, Byron (R)
Abruzzo, Joe (D)
U.S. Coast Guard Port Security Specialist; Family Business; Previously served in House and Senate
Magar, MaryLynn (R)
Vice-President, General Manager of Heart Care Imaging
Harrell, Gayle (R)
Health Information Technology Consultant
Lee, Larry (D)
Roth, Rick (R)
Owner, Roth Farms, Grower-Shipper
Willhite, Matt (D)
Fire Captain, Vice-Mayor of Wellington
Silvers, David (D)
President of Publishing Company
Jacquet, Al (D)
Local Government/Criminal Attorney
Hager, Bill (R)
Insurance Attorney; Reinsurance Arbitrator
Berman, Lori (D)
Commercial Litigation Attorney
Slosberg, Emily (D)
Hawkins-Williams, Patricia (D)
Lauderdale Lakes City Commissioner
Moraitis, George (R)
Real Property, Probate and Trust Attorney
DuBose, Bobby (D)
Former City Commissioner and Vice-Mayor of Ft. Lauderdale
Russell, Barrington (D)
Jacobs, Kristin (D)
Water and Transportation Public Policy Professional
Moskowitz, Jared (D)
Director of Government Relations, General Counsel of Ashbritt Environmental
Edwards, Katie (D)
Environmental/Land Use Attorney; Former Member of Plantation Planning & Zoning Board
Jenne, Evan (D)
Small Business Owner
Geller, Joe (D)
Civil Litigation and Administrative Law Attorney
Jones, Shevrin (D)
Research Specialist at Broward Sheriff’s Office
Pritchett, Sharon (D)
Retired Chief Investigator
Diaz, Manny (R)
Stark, Richard (D)
Trujillo, Carlos (R)
Commercial Litigation; Insurance Claims Attorney; Former Assistant State Attorney
Rommel, Bob (R)
Watson, Barbara (D)
Hardemon, Roy (D)
Stafford, Cynthia (D)
Oliva, Jose (R)
CEO of Oliva Cigar Company
Avila, Bryan (R)
Professor at Miami-Dade College
Duran, Nicholas (D)
Attorney, Executive Director, Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics
Richardson, David (D)
CPA and Consultant
Baez, Daisy J. (D)
Health Care Consultant
Bileca, Michael (R)
Owner of Towncare Dental
Diaz, Jose Felix (R)
Environmental, Land Use and Government Attorney
McGhee, Kionne (D)
Criminal Defense Attorney; Former State Attorney
Asencio, Robert (D)
Retired Law Enforcement
Rivera, David (R)
Former US Congressman; Previously served in House
Nuñez, Jeanette (R)
External Affairs Vice-President for Kendall Regional and Aventura Medical Center
Raschein, Holly (R)
Healthcare Special Projects Manager; Former House Aide
Heading into election night, the U.S. Senate was comprised of 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and two Independents. Only 34 of the 100 Senate seats were up for election in 2016, and there was speculation early on that Democrats might win the necessary five seats to take control of the Senate. Trump’s late surge ensured Republican control was retained.
Post-election, Republicans have 51 confirmed seats while Democrats have 48, with one race undecided. In Louisiana, a runoff election will be held on December 10th to decide who will replace Republican Sen. David Vitter who chose not to run again. The race will be between Republican John Kennedy and Democrat Foster Campbell.
Republican Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell will continue as Majority Leader of the Senate, and New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer is expected to serve as the Minority Leader.
In Florida, longtime Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is not up for re-election until 2018, although some speculate he may retire after this term. Further, it is expected that current Republican Governor Rick Scott will run even if Nelson does not vacate the seat.
Following a weak showing in the Republican Presidential Primary and, at the behest of party leaders, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio sought re-election to his U.S. Senate seat. Most elected officials who were running for Rubio’s seat sought election to their original office. Real estate developer Carlos Beruff, hoping to capitalize on the popularity of outsider, self-financed candidates, remained in the Republican Primary, but was bested by Rubio.
In the General, Rubio tussled with Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy on the Affordable Care Act, minimum wage and immigration in a number of televised debates. The race turned nasty early on, as did most other races this cycle. Rubio berated Murphy for lying about his college career and profession, while Murphy blasted Rubio for missing the most votes of anyone in the House. Ultimately, Rubio held onto his seat by a comfortable margin.
U.S. House of Representatives
In the U.S. House of Representatives, all 435 seats were up for election and the party breakdown going into election night was 246 Republicans to 186 Democrats. Three seats were vacant. There was never a question that Republicans would maintain control of the House as Democrats would need to gain 30 seats to win a majority.
As of this writing, Republicans have 239 confirmed seats while Democrats have 193 with additional races still undecided. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan from Wisconsin is expected to remain at the helm. During the campaign, Ryan showed tepid support for Trump throughout the cycle. However, Ryan’s home state went with Trump over Clinton on election night.
Florida redistricting and a number of retirements within the state’s 27-member Congressional Delegation gave rise to an unusually large turnover in representation. The following seven sitting members of Florida’s U.S. House Delegation left office – Jeff Miller (R), Gwen Graham (D), Ander Crenshaw (R), Alan Grayson (D), Rich Nugent (R), Patrick Murphy (D) and Curt Clawson (R). Further, longtime Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown lost her primary due to a change in the district makeup as well as fraud allegations levied against her.
Prior to the election, Florida’s Congressional Delegation makeup was 17 Republicans to 10 Democrats. When the ballots were counted, the Democrats picked up two seats and the Republicans gained one, shifting the delegation ratio to 16 Republicans to 11 Democrats. The most hotly-contested races included:
- District 7 – Twelve-term Republican Congressman John Mica lost his re-election bid in this newly-configured seat, favorable Democratic seat to newcomer Stephanie Murphy, a former defense department employee and teacher for Rollins College. Mica played up his leadership role in Congress while Murphy said Mica was out of touch with the voters on women’s issues as well as gun control. The race attracted a flood of national money on both sides.
- District 13 – Sitting Republican Congressman David Jolly, who originally planned to run for Rubio’s Senate seat, easily won his primary when he decided to run for re-election. The newly- reconfigured district was more favorable for a Democratic candidate and, in the general, Jolly faced a formidable opponent in former Republican Governor, now turned Democrat, Charlie Crist. In the end, Crist beat Jolly by a narrow margin thereby ending his losing streak in his last two election attempts.
- District 18 – In the final days of the election, the race to replace U.S. Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy was a dead heat between disabled Republican Army veteran Brian Mast and Democrat Randy Perkins, owner of a disaster relief company. Ultimately, Mast bested Perkins and also NPA Carla Spalding, a former nurse and Navy veteran.
- District 26 – The rematch between Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Joe Garcia earned attention from the White House with President Obama and Vice-President Biden endorsing Garcia in the final weeks of the hotly-contested race. In 2014, Curbelo beat then-Congressman Garcia by three percentage points. When the ballots were counted, Curbelo retained his seat.
Florida Congressional Delegation
NOTE: Bold font denotes re-elected members; U.S. Senators are elected for 6-year terms; U.S. Representatives are elected for 2-year terms.
Rubio, Marco (R)
Former Republican Presidential Candidate; Elected to U.S. Senate in 2011; Former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives
Gaetz, Matt (R)
Attorney; Former State Representative
Dunn, Neal (R)
Yoho, Ted (R)
Veterinarian; Home Renovator; Elected to Congress in 2012
Rutherford, John (R)
Former Director of Corrections and Jacksonville Sheriff
Lawson, Al (D)
Former State Senator, owns Al Lawson & Associates, Marketing and Communications
DeSantis, Ron (R)
JAG Officer in Navy; Elected to Congress in 2012
Murphy, Stephanie (D)
Educator; Businesswoman; Former National Security Specialist
Posey, Bill (R)
Real Estate Executive; Former State Representative; Senator; Elected to Congress in 2008
Soto, Darren (D)
Attorney; Former State Senator
Demings, Val (D)
Orlando’s First Female Chief of Police
Webster, Daniel (R)
Former State House Speaker and Owner of Air Conditioning Business; Elected to Congress in 2010
Bilirakis, Gus (R)
Former State Representative; Estate Planning Attorney; Elected to Congress in 2006
Crist, Charlie (D)
Former Florida Republican Governor and Attorney General
Castor, Kathy (D)
Attorney; Former Hillsborough County Commissioner; Elected to Congress in 2006
Ross, Dennis (R)
Attorney; Former State Representative; Elected to Congress in 2010
Buchanan, Vern (R)
Car Dealership Owner and Insurance Executive; Elected to Congress in 2007
Rooney, Tom (R)
Attorney; Former Prosecutor with Florida Attorney General; Elected to Congress in 2008
Mast, Brian (R)
Retired U.S. Army, Joint Special Operations Command; Explosive Specialist at Department of Homeland Security
Rooney, Francis (R)
Chair of Family Building and Construction Management Business
Hastings, Alcee (D)
Former Circuit Judge and U.S. District Judge; Civil Rights Activist; Elected to Congress in 1992
Frankel, Lois (D)
Mayor of West Palm Beach; Former State Representative; Elected to Congress in 2012
Deutch, Ted (D)
Attorney; Former State Senator; Elected to Congress in 2010
Wasserman-Schultz, Debbie (D)
Former State Representative and Senator; Former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman; Elected to Congress in 2005
Wilson, Frederica (D)
Former State Representative and Senator; Former School Board Member; Elected to Congress in 2010
Diaz-Balart, Mario (R)
Former State Representative and Senator; Elected to Congress in 2002
Curbelo, Carlos (R)
Business and Political Consulting Firm Owner; Former Miami-Dade School Board Member; Elected to Congress in 2014
Ros-Lehtinen, Illeana (R)
Former Teacher; Founder of Eastern Academy; Former State Representative and Senator; Elected to Congress in 1989
Changes to the Florida Constitution may be proposed by a number of methods, the most common of which are by a joint resolution of the Florida Legislature or by a citizen-initiated process. Further, Constitutional Amendments may be proposed by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission or by the Constitution Revision Commission.
Amendments proposed by legislative joint resolution must be approved by 60 percent or more of the legislators in each chamber to be put on the next General Election ballot. For a citizen-initiated effort to appear on the ballot, signatures must be gathered from registered voters totaling at least eight percent of the total votes cast in the previous Presidential Election. The signatures must be from at least 13 of the state’s 25 Congressional districts and 10 percent of the total signatures must be gathered from at least seven Congressional districts.
The Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, created in 1988 and last convened in 2007, meets every 20 years to examine the state’s budget and tax-related issues and propose related statutory changes or Constitutional Amendments. The commission may place amendments on the ballot if 18 of its 25 members approve.
Also meeting every 20 years, and scheduled to convene in 2017, is the Constitution Revision Commission whose chief aim is to review possible issues for direct placement on the ballot. A full review of the Commission’s makeup and scope is included under a separate heading at the end of this report.
All Constitutional Amendments must garner at least 60 percent approval by the voters in order to pass. Unless otherwise specified in the ballot language, Constitutional Amendments take effect in January following the November election.
The following four proposed Constitutional Amendments – two by the Legislature and two through citizen initiative – appeared on the November 2016 ballot.
Amendment 1: Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice
Rejected: 50.77% for approval; 49.23% for rejection (Failed to reach the 60% threshold for approval)
Citizen-Initiated Constitutional Amendment
This amendment would have established a right under Florida’s Constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments would have retained the ability to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare. Further, it would have ensured that consumers who do not choose to install solar equipment are not required to subsidize the cost of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.
The Consumers for Smart Solar, comprised mainly of utility companies, spearheaded this initiative. By the end of the campaign, the group raised over $26 million. Floridians for Solar Choice, the group opposing this initiative, received approximately 10 times less that amount in contributions. In the end, the amendment did not meet the necessary 60 percent threshold to be added to the Constitution.
Amendment 2: Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions
Approved: 71.29% for approval; 28.71% for rejection (Exceeded the 60% threshold for approval)
Citizen-Initiated Constitutional Amendment
Similar to the medical marijuana ballot initiative in 2014 which ultimately was not approved, this amendment allows the use of medical marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Additionally, it allows caregivers to assist patients with the medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health (DOH) will have the responsibility for registering and regulating centers that produce and distribute medical marijuana. The DOH will also issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. The proposed amendment applies only to Florida residents and does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.
Specifically, the measure provides parental consent requirements for the use of medical marijuana by a minor and clearly defines “debilitating illness.” It also limits the number of patients a caregiver can oversee at a time. Lastly, the language addresses concerns raised with the 2014 initiative by providing that doctors prescribing medical marijuana are not immune from negligence and malpractice in recommending medical marijuana.
John Morgan, Democratic fundraiser and prominent Florida trial attorney, spearheaded the 2014 and 2016 effort alongside People United for Medical Marijuana. Morgan contributed approximately $2.6 million of his money to support the initiative. Drug Free Florida opposed the amendment and received funding from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, supermarket owner Carol Jenkins, and Florida developer Mel Sembler. Adelson alone contributed $1.5 million in an attempt to defeat the initiative.
Over the past two years, the DOH has faced a myriad of legal challenges while implementing the Medical Use of Cannabis Act of 2014. During the 2016 Session, the Legislature attempted to address those challenges through passage of HB 307. They allowed the five dispensing organizations chosen by the DOH to continue with the cultivation and dispensing of medical cannabis in an attempt to get the oils to patients while allowing the challenges to continue to play out through the legal process. Additionally, they expanded the use of medical cannabis to patients who are deemed terminally ill. The approval of this constitutional amendment will further expand the list of qualifying patients.
Amendment 3: Tax Exemption for Totally and Permanently Disabled First Responders
Approved: 83.77% for approval; 16.23% for rejection (Exceeded the 60% threshold for approval)
Florida Legislature-Initiated Constitutional Amendment
This amendment will relieve first responders who were totally and permanently disabled as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty from paying ad valorem taxes assessed on homestead property. Having garnered the 60 percent approval threshold, the language will take effect on January 1, 2017.
No political group formerly announced support or opposition to the measure. However, several newspapers endorsed the proposed amendment publicly. One central Florida newspaper wrote in opposition to the measure, not on the policy, but instead saying that every new exemption places a new burden on taxpayers to provide revenue for local governments and public schools.
Amendment 4: Solar or Renewable Energy Source Devices; Exemption From Certain Taxation and Assessment
Approved: 72.62% for approval; 27.38% for rejection (Exceeded the 60% threshold for approval)
Florida Legislature-Initiated Constitutional Amendment
This amendment was approved by Florida voters during the Primary Election held on August 30th. It authorized the Legislature to exempt the assessed value of solar or renewable energy source devices that are subject to tangible personal property tax from ad valorem taxation. Basically, the increased value afforded a residential, commercial or industrial property for installing solar panels or other renewable energy devices will not be considered in the assessed value of the property for property tax purposes. The Legislature will need to approve legislation during the 2017 Legislative Session to implement the amendment. It will take effect January 1, 2018, and expires on December 31, 2037. Upon expiration, the constitution will revert back to the language in existence on December 31, 2017. In order to extend the exemption beyond 2037, a new ballot initiative will need to be approved by Florida voters.
Amendment 5: Homestead Tax Exemption for Certain Senior, Low‐Income, Long‐Term Residents; Determination of Just Value
Approved: 78.29% for approval; 21.71% for rejection (Exceeded the 60% threshold for approval)
Florida Legislature-Initiated Constitutional Amendment
The amendment revises the homestead exemption that may be granted by counties or municipalities for property with a just value less than $250,000 owned by certain senior, low-income, long-term residents. The language specifies that just value is determined in the first tax year the owner applies for and is eligible for the exemption. The amendment takes effect January 1, 2017, and will apply retroactively to exemptions granted before January 1, 2017.
Forecast for 2017 legislative Session
On November 22nd, newly-elected lawmakers will arrive in Tallahassee to convene the Organizational Session. At that time, Senate President-Designate Joe Negron (R-Palm City) and House Speaker-Designate Richard Corcoran (R-Land O’Lakes) will officially assume their leadership positions, including appointing leadership teams and naming committee chairs and members.
Interim legislative committee meetings will be held in preparation for the start of the 2017 Regular Session on Tuesday, March 7th. During these meetings, filed bills will be discussed and voted on, and presentations will be heard on key policy issues. Below is the current listing of upcoming interim committee meetings:
- Monday, December 12th – Friday, December, 16th (Senate)
- Monday, January 9th – Friday, January 13th
- Monday, January 23rd – Friday, January 27th
- Monday, February 6th – Friday, February 10th
- Monday, February 13th – Friday, February 17th
- Monday, February 20th – Friday, February 24th
2017-18 Budget Forecast
Although Florida is experiencing a degree of economic recovery, in August state economists reduced their estimate of what lawmakers would have available to build next year’s budget. Predicted was only a $7 million surplus for the coming fiscal year – lower than the surplus used to develop the current year spending plan of $82.3 billion. It is predicted that, if no cuts are made, the state could face a $1.3 billion budget gap in 2018-19 – Governor Rick Scott’s final year in office. It remains to be seen if the general revenue projection issued before the start of the 2017 Regular Session will be revised.
The negative prediction, in part, is the result of using recurring revenue – spending built into the budget as a permanent line item expense and automatically re-appearing each year unless specific action is taken by the Legislature to remove it. Also, still to be determined are implications that the Zika outbreak and Brexit – Great Britain’s decision to leave the European Union – will have on Florida’s tourism industry.
Even before he took the helm of the House, Speaker-Designate Richard Corcoran warned that the current practice of “wasteful spending” must end. Funding prioritization will warrant tough decisions by Republican leadership and lawmakers across the aisle – challenges that could lead to another budget face-off reflective of past years. Crafting the budget bills for the House and Senate are Appropriations Chairs Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo and Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater. Significant negotiations are expected for the two chambers to craft a final budget bill prior to the legislature’s scheduled adjournment on May 5th.
Governor’s Emerging Agenda
Governor Rick Scott has again called for tax cuts during the upcoming session – a top priority over the span of his two terms in office. Specifics of the tax-cut and spending plan will not be released until early February. Scott campaigned to reduce taxes by $1 billion during his 2014 re-election bid. Both President Negron and Speaker Corcoran have voiced their hope that a degree of tax cuts, along with the funding of some spending priorities, will be possible this year – if budget cuts are made.
In September, the Governor announced he will recommend $85 million to fund economic incentives in his forthcoming budget proposal. Last session, he pushed for $250 million in incentives for Enterprise Florida – a public-private partnership that seeks to attract and retain companies in Florida. The proposal gained Senate support but died in the House.
Recently, Speaker-Designate Corcoran commented that the current expected line up of conservative House leadership casts serious doubt on the Governor’s incentive plans for the next four to six years. Speaker-Designate Corcoran has called incentives “corporate welfare”. Yet, newly-tapped Senate Appropriations Chair, Jack Latvala has indicated possible support for incentives if funding is available.
Senate Leadership Agenda
Senate President-Designate Joe Negron (R-Palm City) will focus much of his agenda on education and the environment. Over his two-year tenure, he has announced plans to increase funding for the State University System by $1 billion – encouraging universities to attain National Elite Status and Preeminent Research. He also hopes to encourage more graduations to occur within four years through the implementation of a Block Tuition Model.
His environmental initiatives will direct more funding to water policy and protection of the Everglades and address discharge water from Lake Okeechobee by the Army Corps of Engineers. Additionally, President Negron will seek to obtain land south of Lake Okeechobee aimed at curtailing recent toxic algae blooms.
President Negron also has made the means of punishment in the juvenile justice system a priority, suggesting that the state tends to criminalize “adolescent behavior.” Moreover, the restoration of civil rights after the completion of a person’s sentence is expected to be addressed.
House Leadership Agenda
In late September, incoming House Speaker-Designate Richard Corcoran (R-Land O’Lakes) released a restructuring of the House committee and subcommittee framework for his two-year term that, in itself, reflects some of his priorities for this session.
Among them was the creation of a Public Integrity and Ethics Committee that will undoubtedly address one of his major priorities – ethics reform. Specifically, Corcoran will seek to increase the ban on elected state officials to lobby the legislative and executive branches from two to six years; prohibit elected officials from taking certain government jobs for six years after leaving office and stop legislators from taking jobs with companies that receive state funding. He has also suggested plans to require lobbyists to report on the bills, amendments, and appropriations they are seeking to impact and will seek to institute a 12-year term limit for all judges.
Other significant committee changes include the creation of a broad House Commerce Committee that will oversee a variety of policy areas related to private enterprise (such as insurance, gaming, etc.), previously covered by two committees. The Government Accountability Committee will oversee policy subcommittees addressing public enterprises, such as infrastructure, natural resources, etc.
Speaker Corcoran is expected to champion healthcare reform with the goal of “a real free-market, patient-driven system that is affordable, accessible and accountable.” With the recent loss of funding for the Low Income Pool (LIP) that compensates hospitals for uncompensated care for the state’s poorest, and a continued push for Medicaid expansion, healthcare policy and funding will remain a primary focus for the upcoming session.
Other priorities that will top the Speaker’s agenda will be safeguards in the justice system that ensure actions are not based on race or financial status, and funding for charter and other school choice.
Important Emerging Issues
Additional issues expected to arise in the 2017 Regular Session, include gun control measures in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shootings, Zika outbreak prevention, workers’ compensation reform due to the recent Florida Supreme Court decisions, medical marijuana usage, gaming, LGBTQ rights, and the processes used to respond to natural disasters in the wake of Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew.
On the Horizon: The Constitution Revision Commission
Florida is the only state in the union that allows proposed Constitutional Amendments to be placed directly on the ballot by a referral of a Commission. The Florida Constitution mandates the Constitution Revision Commission to convene every 20 years. 2017 will be the third commission deliberation since it was first established in 1977. This appointed Commission will review the state Constitution and propose changes for voters to consider on the November 2018 ballot.
The Commission is comprised of 37 members, 15 appointed by the Governor, nine each appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President, and three appointed by the Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice. The Florida Attorney General serves on the Commission as the only non-appointed member. The Governor designates who will serve as Chair.
The panel must convene within 30 days of the March 7th opening of the 2017 Legislative Session. They will meet for approximately a year and will hold public hearings across the state. Some high-profile topics that could be debated include redistricting, the state’s penal system, and the lottery process. Other issues could include pari-mutuels and gaming, term limits, and firearm restrictions. However, the field will be “wide-open” for suggestions and review.
The last commission review in 1997-98 examined approximately 200 proposals, but put forward only nine for voter consideration. Eight were approved including creation of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; a declaration of the state’s duty to educate children; allowing a local option for electing circuit and county judges; restructuring the Florida Cabinet; a statement on the equality of men and women; provisions relating to ballot access and public campaign financing; a local option for criminal background checks and firearm sales waiting periods; and other technical revisions.
The issues recommended for revision by the Commission will be forwarded to the Secretary of State by May 2018 for inclusion on the November General Election ballot. In Florida, all Constitutional Amendments must be adopted by 60 percent of the electorate. The application process for this coveted panel position is open and appointments will most likely be named in early- to mid-2017.