News Sunshine State

Republican super-majority makes fight

Photo: Alex Sink, Dan Gelber, Lorane Ausley, Scott Maddox



Democrats lost bids for Florida’s Governor’s office, State Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Agriculture Commissioner. In addition, when Florida’s legislature reconvenes next year, only 12 politicians in the 40-member Senate and 39 politicians in the 120-member House will be affiliated with the Democratic Party. A Republican supermajority is born.

What this means is that Democrats will not be able to stop any legislation that Republican Senate and House members put on the table.

“At this moment, we don’t have one voice,” said Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, who will be the Democrat’s Senate leader for the next two years. “There is no question we have to sit down and figure out a strategy.”

Rich is a champion of LGBT rights and had previously filed bills to abolish the ban on gay and lesbian couples adopting children. The ban is no longer in place after a recent court ruling overturned it and the state refused to appeal.

Palm Beach County Human Rights Council President Rand Hoch said the new makeup of Florida’s legislative bodies will resonate the same message towards the gay community as the previous legislative bodies had.

“Neither the Florida Senate nor the Florida House of Representatives has been supportive of LGBT legislation for many, many years,” Hoch said. “The last pro-gay law – the Hate Crimes law – was passed in 1991. Not a single pro-gay law has been passed by the legislature in almost 20 years. While there may be fewer legislators willing to voice their support for pro-LGBT legislation, it makes no difference if legislation can not get passed. So I do not think that the outcome of the legislative races means very much at all.”

One extremely tough loss as a voice for the LGBT community was Florida Rep. Kelly Skidmore (D-90) who ran for the State Senate seat in District 25. Skidmore had also sponsored

a bill to overturn the ban on gay adoptions, and she was the politician that led the fight for inclusion of LGBT youth in a safe schools bill that passed last year.

“Kelly Skidmore never had a chance to win the Senate race,” Hoch said. “While it is a shame to lose an advocate, she did little to change the hearts and minds in Tallahassee. In fact, during her entire tenure in the legislature, she was never able to get a hearing on the LGBT civil rights bill she sponsored. The seat she ran for went to Sen.-elect Ellyn Bogdanoff, who has worked behind the scenes with the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council for the past several years. Her insight proved to be invaluable. While I do not see her as being a champion of our issues, clearly she will be able to help us determine what is – and what is not – possible to accomplish in the years to come.”

According to Equality Florida, a statewide LGBT civil rights organization, the election results were disappointing, but the state is moving toward equality, at a ginger pace.

“Record majorities of Floridians now stand with us on nearly every issue we fight for,” wrote Equality Florida’s Tobias Parker in a post. “But the reason this support has not always translated into victories at the ballot box is that Florida’s voting districts are drawn to dramatically favor the party in power, which leads to extremism.”

With the passage of Amendments 5 and 6, Florida’s districts will all be redrawn to look more fair and equal and be less about the number of Republicans and Democrats that live in each area.

“Our elected leaders may propel us or stymie our progress, but they cannot stop our forward march,” wrote Tobias. “Full equality is inevitable as long as we continue to stay in the fight.”

Hoch believes the frontier for gay equality needs to be taken down to the hyper-local level.

“It is too bad that all of the money raised for lobbying and candidates did not go toward setting up LGBT community centers in as many places across Florida as possible,” Hoch said. “Think of the progress that could have been made if that had been the focus of our attention over the past 10 years.”