The situation is at its worst if the majority is so secure it is not threatened by elections, which is more likely in state legislatures than in the national theater.
If that’s the case, as it is in Florida, watch out.
First off, since opinions of constituents need not be considered, the legislators can do what they do best: Cozy up to moneyed interests and act like the good puppies they are.
Florida is a state split almost equally between left and right. However, gerrymandering gives Republicans almost a two to one majority in the House and a comfortable lead in the Senate. This means that the views of half the population can be squashed without fear of reprisal.
That ignored half tries hard. They communicate with legislators, they attend legislative committee meetings in vast numbers, they hold press conferences, and they participate in organized protests.
How does this play out?
The legislators might take notice of the opposing voices. And then they ignore them. And what motivation do they have not to? They are firmly in charge and know whatever they do will most likely be backed by their buddy, the governor.
Consider a controversial bill proposed by the majority party. There’s a good chance it will be a flagrant attack on principles held dear by at least half the population. There will be a demand by the opposition to be heard as the appropriate committees discuss and vote on it. One still is allowed to testify at these hearings.
But the legislators don’t like it, especially as some of these bills receive significant media attention. While they really don’t care how people feel, they still don’t wish for negative publicity. Hence, they do what they do so well: They limit opposing testimony—or make it go away.
How? Well, there are a couple of tricks that involve scheduling shenanigans for the hearing considering the controversial measure. The idea behind both is to include discussion of a number of other bills, most not nearly as important as the one that has riled the populace and motivated many to testify.
The session might be scheduled from one to six. The hearing room is packed, people arriving on the dot so they can be heard. The lesser bills are discussed first, seemingly without end. Then someone announces it’s six o’clock. What? But the bill the people are concerned about never came up. They drove four hours to give testimony. Too bad! Many can’t afford to return to the next hearing of the committee, whenever that might be.
Or the bill of interest might be scheduled earlier, but suddenly for some reason it’s tabled. Not going to be heard today. Disappointment reigns and the thwarted opponents leave the hearing room. Then, what do you know, a little later the bill is untabled but, of course, those wishing to speak against it have long gone.
Think these are unreasonable scenarios? Both have occurred during the latest legislative session in Florida.
These are not the only outrageous actions taken by party members when they rule supreme. They will:
- Take money from a mandated fund to use for other purposes.
- Slip bills into others late in the day (like around 11:00 p.m. of the last day of the session).
- Not allow even a discussion of bills proposed by the opposition.
- Make it more and more difficult for citizens to develop constitutional amendments to appear on the ballot (although amendments proposed by the legislators can sail through).
- Extend the session to finish the only job they are required to complete, passing a budget, because they spent too much time on the other nonsense.
Most of these antics would be much more difficult if the executive and legislative branches weren’t all held by the same political party. I would feel exactly the same if they were all in Democratic hands.
With split control, there is at least hope for compromise to advance reasonable legislation. Although, I have to admit, the current division at the national level seems to be bringing out the worst in everybody.
But the split does make it harder to pass some awful bills. Maybe that’s all we can hope for.