With Florida potentially looking at weeks of recounts and legal disputes, the dust hasn’t quite settled on the 2018 elections.
But we do know (roughly) what the Florida Legislature will look like during the 2019 Legislative Session. Despite some Democratic gains in the House and Senate, both chambers will be controlled by Republicans.
Democrats picked up at least six seats in the Florida House, with the possibility of two additional net gains if potential recounts in state house districts 26 and 89 go their way. (The Democrats in those races currently trail by a few dozen votes each.) In all, the party will enter the next legislative session with anywhere from 47 to 49 state representatives — at least a dozen shy of an outright majority.
They also may have picked up one state senate seat in the high-profile clash between Democrat Janet Cruz and Dana Young for Senate District 18 — although that race is also headed for a recount. Should Cruz hold her 355-vote lead, Democrats would control 17 of the chamber’s 40 seats.
Despite those gains, both the incoming House and Senate leaders say the next session will likely be business as usual: Republicans setting the agenda.
“For all intents and purposes, we had 23 going into the cycle,” said Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. “We have come out with 23.”
Incoming House Speaker José Oliva said he is “encouraged” by the “strong majority” Republicans hold in the House.
Democrats say that although their gains in 2018 may not have amounted to the kind of sea change they’d hoped, the party will have a more powerful voice in the next legislative session.
In particular, Democrats will now have more of a say in what gets passed through state House committees, Democratic political strategist Reggie Cardozo said.
“It changes the composition of how we’re going to get good policy passed and how we’re going to kill bad bills,” Cardozo, who helped with the party’s House Victory effort, said.
Republicans aren’t so sure the Democrats’ gains will amount to much.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who won his re-election race against Democrat Lindsay Cross by nine points on Tuesday, has served in both the House and the Senate. He said the Democrats’ talk of a new day in the House was “spin.”
“They’re trying to spin any positive story they can after the shellacking up and down the ticket last night,” Brandes said Wednesday.
The Democrats’ gains in the House were at least somewhat in line with the party’s expectations going into November, when they hoped to flip between 10 and 12 seats. A couple of their victories were historic: Jennifer Webb will the first married lesbian to serve in the Legislature after her HD-69 victory; and Anna Eskamani will be the first Iranian-American to serve in Tallahassee after her victory in HD-47.
But the Senate was something of a disappointment for Democrats. The party hoped to flip at least two seats — and some even made noise about flipping the chamber itself. They came away with just one after Kayser Enneking lost a narrow bid to unseat Republican Sen. Keith Perry in Senate District 8.
That loss came with a side of controversy. Enneking lost by just 1.1 percent. A third-party candidate, former Democratic Gainesville City Commissioner Charles Goston, got 2.1 percent of the vote. For weeks, Democrats have been alleging that Goston was a straw man candidate funded by Republicans to siphon votes away from the Democrat. Campaign finance records showed Goston’s political committee got over $135,000 of in-kind contributions from a mysterious PAC, Broken Promises, Inc. — and his campaign account got thousands more from registered Republicans in Tallahassee.
Galvano, who led the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said he knew nothing about where Goston got his campaign money from.
“My efforts for the FRSCC were focused on Sen. Perry,” Galvano said.
Times/Herald Tallahassee reporter Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report