With Tallahassee having proven itself too small to contain the political ambitions of Charlie Crist, the race for Florida’s next Chief Executive is wide open. Alex Sink, the state’s CFO, looks as if she will sail to the Democratic nomination without any opposition. Bill McCollum, the state’s Attorney General, has so far failed to draw a primary opponent, although State Senator Paula Dockery is said to be considering challenging him. Regardless of which candidates are put forth, there are serious questions that should be raised of the candidates on both sides of the ticket.
Jeb Bush was arguably Florida’s most powerful governor in recent history. During his tenure, the role of of the Governor was expanded like never before. Prior to 2003, Florida’s Governor was merely one of seven equal votes on the state cabinet. The cabinet voted on all executive level decisions, which meant an alliance of four votes could override the Governor on any executive level decisions. In 2002, with Jeb Bush’s backing, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that shrunk the cabinet to three positions, greatly expanding the power of the governor. At the same time, voters approved an amendment that eliminated the Board of Regents, which governed the state’s higher education and shifted that responsibility to the new Florida Board of Governors, which are appointed by the Governor.
Charlie Crist has continued to expand the role of the governor while in office, using his position to push through the deceptively named “Save Our Homes” Amendment. (Deceptive, in that it marginally cut property taxes while negatively impacting funding for local governments.)
With those those two most recent chief executives in mind, here are five questions Duval County voters might want to ask as they begin to think of how they will vote next November.
1. Where does the candidate stand on the expanded role of state power at the expense of local governments? The candidate’s position on this issue should begin to emerge rather quickly as they hit the campaign trail. Are the candidates pushing an agenda that includes cutting property taxes? If so, they are most likely masking an effort to further weaken the ability of local governments to provide essential services to their citizens. They are also removing the option to cut taxes from local governments and consolidating it in Tallahassee.
2. Does the candidate support the Crist practice of using non-recurring revenues and trust fund raids to balance the state budget? Sink was quick to announce her opposition to trust fund raids, but McCollum has remained ominously silent on the issue. The practice is dangerous for Florida and something that will have dire consequences in the long term.
3. Where does the candidate stand on water issues? This is one that will be quite difficult to pin any candidate running for statewide office down on, but it’s one that North Floridians should be very concerned about. The recent decision by the St. Johns River Water Management District to allow Seminole County to remove up to 5.5 million gallons of water from the St. Johns River each day will not bode well for the long-term health of the river. Central Florida has known for years that their growth is not sustainable, but will a gubernatorial candidate be willing to upset the vote-rich I-4 corridor to state the obvious?
4. Where does the candidate stand on the sales surtax that Gov. Crist vetoed? This is an issue of particular importance to Duval County residents. Duval is at a disadvantage when compared to every other county in the state because of the inability of our elected commission—the city council—to levy a sales tax surcharge to fund indigent care. Crist inexplicably vetoed a measure that passed the legislature unanimously that would have allowed Jacksonville to shift the burden for indigent care from the city’s operating budget to a half-cent sales surtax, freeing up much-needed funds for other services.
5. Where does the candidate stand on the Fair District Florida effort? Fair Districts Florida is an effort to put two amendments on the ballot that would fundamentally alter the redistricting process in Florida. Redistricting in Florida has grown increasingly partisan in the last several decades. Groups have been marginalized and districts throughout the state have been drawn in ways that make no geographic sense—it’s glaringly apparent that they exist for one of two reasons: To either protect an incumbent or minimize a specific segment of the population. It’s important to know where the next Governor of Florida would stand on this issue—after all, she (or he) would play a major role in drawing new districts after the 2010 census.
Of course, these are just five of the many issues facing the state, but they are a start. It will be interesting to hear both sides address them as the election nears.