In Washington, the Super Region’s ports push for expansion; back home, political consultants grapple with a changing electorate.
The leaders of two of the Super Region’s key ports arrived in Washington shortly after Labor Day, armed with a friendly – but firm – message for the Obama administration: help us expedite port expansion so we can help exports continue fueling the economic recovery.
John Walsh, Port Canaveral CEO, and Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay CEO, (along with Port Everglades’ Steve Cernak) were among a select group of port and business leaders invited to the White House Business Council International Trade and Export Briefing.
Immediately after the briefing ended, Walsh met in Washington with Forward Florida to discuss the conference. Describing the meeting as positive, Walsh said he and the other port leaders were able to get their key message across.
“I think they heard us,” Walsh said. “The (Army) Corps of Engineers needs to speed the process up.”
Administration officials, including Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, were touting their export enhancement efforts. Among these were the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) which, in a year filled with gridlock, Congress passed earlier this year with bipartisan support.
Walsh did not dismiss WRRDA’s importance but he said its funding is secondary to a streamlined regulatory process as Florida ports look to expand to accept the larger cargo vessels that will come with the widening of the Panama Canal.
“We have people already interested in investing. The problem is getting through the regulatory red tape to start the projects. Secretary Pritzker and Ambassador Froman were supportive,” he said.
Anderson also spoke highly of the meeting, saying, “Ports must continue to help companies create the best environment for exports and develop ties with companies around the world. I was honored to join my fellow port directors and business leaders to brief the Administration on ways they can support Florida and the country in export activities.”
Walsh was complimentary of the briefing and the officials’ effort to unite the participants behind a pro-export agenda. In addition to a discussion of ports, the White House team sought the participants’ support in lobbying Congress to reauthorize the Import-Export Bank, whose charter expires Sept. 30.
Remembering Sotloff. International terrorism came too close to home earlier this month when journalist Steven Sotloff, a UCF alumnus and native Floridian, was executed by Islamic State militants. Florida’s state and federal political leaders attended Sotloff’s memorial service in South Florida.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R) spoke at the service, saying “Steven was committed to truth and revealing it. He has revealed the true nature of evil in the world today.”
Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist also were in attendance while others found a variety of ways to memorialize Sotloff. Sen. Bill Nelson (D) has been on numerous news shows discussing the ISIS threat, and he has introduced a bill giving the president additional authority to strike at the group. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, also has been active on the media circuit and on social media condemning the ISIS execution.
Floridians will go to the polls in just a matter of weeks to vote in a gubernatorial race being watched closely around the country. Most observers will be focused on the “art” of politics – the campaign ads, the speeches, the robo-calling, etc. Those efforts, though, are driven by people who spend hours examining voter registration rolls, population shifts and emerging demographic trends. Call that the “science” of campaigning.
What do this year’s numbers show for Florida’s Super Region, and what might they mean in November?
When registration closed before the August primaries, there were almost 5.5 million voters registered in the 23-county region, and Democrats hold a very slight edge in registration: 37.2 percent to 36.1 percent. Of special significance to campaign managers across the state is the growing number of those listing “No Party Affiliation,” which now stands at 23.3 percent.
Compare to 2012, and the first thing that stands out is that there were slightly more than 5.2 million people registered to vote, almost 300,000 fewer voters than this year. Of those, 38.4 percent were Democrats, 36.6 were Republicans and 21.8 percent claimed no party affiliation.
Republicans outnumber Democrats in 15 of the Super Region’s 23 counties but among counties with 300,000 or more people, Republicans hold a lead in only two (Brevard and Pasco). Region-wide, both major parties added voters in the last two years, but the Republicans have done so at a faster clip. Still, “no party affiliation” has outpaced them both.
Nowhere is this more striking than Orange County – the Super Region’s second most populous – where no-party/third-party voters outnumbered Republicans on the day of the primary elections (209,774 to 204,555).
Looking at the region’s three most populous counties – Hillsborough, Orange and Pinellas – white voters remain the majority, making up 64.2 percent of the voters. That ranges from a low of 51 percent in Orange County to 82.1 percent in Pinellas. Hispanic and African-American voters are relatively evenly divided across the three counties at about 14 percent each.
The largest block of Hispanic voters is in Orange County, where they comprise 21.4 percent of the electorate and the lowest is Pinellas at 3.8 percent. The largest group of African-American voters is in Orange County, but Pinellas is where they have the largest lead over Hispanic voters.
One final notable trend: registration among women outpaces that among men. Among those identifying their gender, women account for 52.1 percent of voters.
Voter registration, though, is not a sure indication of who will vote, especially in non-presidential election years. That’s why campaigns are investing so much money in get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts and why the Super Region – home to roughly half the state’s voters, with a razor-thin margin between the parties and an increasing number of non-aligned voters – remains the richest prize in the state and among the most hotly contested in the nation.
Florida’s long-running congressional redistricting drama appears to be drawing to a close, though the final act will be almost as convoluted as all that preceded it. The same state judge who earlier threw out the redistricting plan originally prepared by the Legislature has approved the one drawn in an early August special legislative session.
But, with the primaries already past and the November general election looming, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis allowed the original map – which he determined favors Republicans – to stand for this year. Overall, seven of the state’s 27 districts were affected, but the two primarily in question were the 5th – running from Jacksonville to near Orlando – and the 10th, which is just west of Orlando. Democrat Corrine Brown represents the former and Republican Dennis Ross the latter.
Youth is Served.
Come January, the Florida state House district that covers portions of Orlando and Lake counties, will be represented by the youngest woman in the Legislature’s history. Last month, Jennifer Sullivan, 23, won the Republican primary
to represent District 31, and since the Democrats are not fielding a candidate, she is as good as in.
She used her mother’s Mount Dora home as her campaign headquarters and portrayed herself as a voice of change to defeat several older and more seasoned opponents.
The only younger legislator in Florida’s history is state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was 22 when he won a House seat in 1996.