Florida has become much more politically doctrinaire in the past decade.
So has the entire country in those intervening years. Our elected bodies have become astute at ignoring the will of the majority. That can be seen going back to 2018 when the voters of Florida passed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for any convicted person who has served their time. However, it did have exceptions for those convicted of murder and serious sexual crimes.
Once an inmate is released, the state has an overwhelming interest in seeing that they do not re-offend. By allowing voting and other civic rights along with gainful employment, it would go a long way in that person becoming a productive member of society.
The Florida legislature, with Governor DeSantis’ signature, thwarted the essence of the amendment. Any successful ballot initiative needs legislation to implement the will of the voters. In response to that successful ballot initiative, the legislature required that felons pay all outstanding fees or fines that were on the books before their rights would be restored. The problem was there was no central place where those debts were recorded. Interestingly the state didn’t have to give out any information about those outstanding fees.
The purpose of this was political. The legislative majority and the governor being Republican believed that a vast majority of the 1.6 million disenfranchised would vote Democrat. That is more than 10% of the voting age citizens in the state. 775,000 of that number could not vote simply because of outstanding financial obligations. That is enough to swing an election.
For years, Florida had expansive sunshine and open records laws. In the past few years, the legislature has placed curbs on the public’s right to know more and more. Under the cloud of protecting the safety of the governor and his family, a new exception places a blackout on the public’s right to know the governor and his family’s travel and what it costs.
This became law as DeSantis’ run for the presidency became more active. Are the taxpayers in Florida paying for the cost of legitimate travel for the betterment of the state or a perk for the governor as he travels the country? Was there any doubt that DeSantis would sign this legislation?
James Schlessinger, the author of a book titled The Imperial Presidency, traces the tendency of presidents to act without restraints going back to James Polk. The book, written in 1973, excoriated Richard Nixon for being an absolute monarch. Since then, the presidency has taken on more and more power as the Congress has been eager to shed their Article One authority.
Modern-day presidents, except for the once and possible future president, Donald J. Trump, have at least tried to respect democratic norms and the Constitution. When we had two political parties who also adhered to a separation of powers as enumerated in the Constitution, our political and governing system could function. Republican lawmakers are no longer adherents to the Constitution as much as they are members of the Trump cult, and with that our two-party system has broken down.
The will of the people can be ignored as we have seen in voting rights, abortion, and thoughtful gun regulation. The voters of Ohio overwhelmingly vote to support abortion rights and the Republican lawmakers thwart their desires by ignoring the outcome. In Wisconsin, the voters elect a Democrat to the state supreme court and the legislature wants to impeach the justice before she rules on a single case. And the denial of the restoration of voting right in Florida after an overwhelming voter-instituted constitutional amendment add up to the Republican legislators no longer wanting to operate as members of a democratic society.
My party has given up on the people making decisions and has instituted a sort of continuous rule through the art of gerrymandering and voter suppression. They no longer attempt to even pretend to accept the vote as final but cling to fantastical conspiracies of why they didn’t clearly lose an election. Their sole goal is to remain in power no matter how.
I do believe our democracy is in peril.