What's Behind The Republican Clash In The Florida Legislature

Jun 10, 2015

Credit Wikimedia / Illustration by Maria Murriel

The regular session of the Florida Legislature came to an abrupt end in late April as the House disagreed with the Senate over Medicaid expansion. The Senate wants to use federal dollars for expansion, while the House and Gov. Rick Scott want no expansion.

Lawmakers returned to Tallahassee last week for a special session to finish work on their one required duty: creating a state budget that goes into effect July 1.

Things seemed to be going smoothly, until this happened:

“This is a backtracking unprecedented in my memory up here on any conference committee I’ve ever been involved in,” said an angry Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development.

Latvala was upset with his budget counterpart in the House, Rep. Clay Ingram (R-Pensacola), because the House had suddenly and without explanation proposed higher funding for business incentives than the chambers had been discussing.

“To get sideswiped like you’ve done this morning to me is not a good measure of respect,” Latvala said.

The hatchet was buried that night when the committee met again. Latvala said it was all a misunderstanding. But the chambers couldn’t find common ground on Medicaid expansion, and they’re still debating the budget.

Florida State University political scientist Dr. Carol Weissert sat down with WLRN to talk about the conflict between the chambers this year.

Republicans have been in control of the Florida Legislature for going on 20 years. Why are they clashing now?

In part because there’s so many of them. We know from political science that the more people you have in one party, the more likely that the people in that party are going to differentiate and form different groups and fight with each other. A lot of times the most productive legislatures are the ones that have a closer number of Democrats and Republicans, where they really have to work across the aisle and they really have to work together.

I think also an issue that we didn't have twenty years ago was term limits. I think term limits play a really important role in the relationship between the House and the Senate in Florida.

Political observers note that something similar happened about 20 years ago when the Democrats had been in charge for decades. So would you say this kind of thing is cyclical, and does this Republican bickering help the Democrats?

It’s not cyclical. It does relate to numbers. I mean, the Democrats had the same problem the Republicans did. There were just too many of them and they simply couldn’t agree, and then they formed into factions. If you had a more balanced House, I think you might see a little bit different kind of relationship than you do now.

Does it help the Democrats? I don’t know what could help the Democrats. The Democrats are so far behind at this point. I know there’s some effort to try to get the word out to people. I’m seeing some TV ads saying we send these guys to Tallahassee and then they can’t get it together. I think it’s a little complex, so I would be surprised if you saw any huge Democratic pick up because of this.

What does this mean for Floridians? What's ultimately at risk here?

They’ll come to an agreement over the budget and they’ll work it out. You know, I’m not sure Floridians really want an efficient government. I’m not particularly troubled by a legislature that’s really looking at these issues, taking their time in making these choices. Ultimately, they’ll come up with a lot of compromise, and I think that’s really OK.