With a focus on jobs and the economy, Republicans swept away every vulnerable Democrat Tuesday.
Florida's Legislature now has a veto-proof Republican majority in the House and Senate — thanks in large part to several important victories on the Gulf Coast. But even that may be moot with the victory new Republican Gov.-elect Rick Scott of Naples.
Marco Rubio made sure the U.S. Senate seat, kept warm by Sen. George LeMieux, stays in Republican hands. Rubio got 49% of the vote in the three-way race with Independent Gov. Charlie Crist and Democratic Kendrick Meek. LeMieux was appointed to the seat by Crist last year when Sen. Mel Martinez resigned in mid-term.
Scott, who narrowly defeated Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, will also have three fellow Republicans in his cabinet including Tampa's Pam Bondi who defeated Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, for the attorney general post.
Outgoing Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, beat attorney Loranne Ausley for chief financial officer, and U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, took the agriculture commissioner seat defeating former Tallahassee mayor Scott Maddox.
Losses by Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, Rep. Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, to Republican challengers, and Republican wins in two open Senate races at opposite ends of the region contributed in a big way to the Florida House picking up five seats and the Senate gaining two more. Now the House has 81 Republicans of its 120 members, and 28 of the Senate's 40 members are Republicans.
Republican Lizbeth Benaquisto captured Senate District 27, formerly held by Democratic Sen. Dave Aronberg, who gave up the seat in a failed attempt to secure his party's nomination for attorney general. She defeated Democrat and former House member Kevin Rader. And in Pinellas County, Jack Latvala defeated Democrat Nina Hayden for the seat previously held by state Sen. Charlie Justice who opted to run for Congress, but lost to Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young.
In a key Hillsborough County Commission race, Republican Sandra Murman defeated a former Tampa city councilman, Democrat John Dingfelder, for the District 1 seat. Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, won the District 2 seat easily, and Ken Hagan who gave up the District 2 seat won the at-large District 5 seat over Democrat Linda Saul-Sena, a former Tampa city councilwoman.
The only Democrat to win a local election on the Gulf Coast was former state Sen. Lesley Miller, Jr., who won the Hillsborough County District 3 seat over a write-in candidate.
The biggest news in Hillsborough County may be the defeat of the 1% transportation sales tax. That defeat came despite heavy spending by the Moving Hillsborough Forward political committee and relatively little spending by opponents.
The sales tax or some other funding scheme could well come back in 2012 according to Robert Abberger, senior managing director of commercial real estate firm Trammell Crow. “We need to listen to the public and bring it back in 2012 and make sure it passes,” says Abberger, who wasn't surprised by voters' rejection. “I didn't believe it would pass,” he says. “This is the year of no.”
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio was also disappointed by the sales tax's failure at the polls, but also expects voters to get another shot at it. “It's too important for job creation and quality of life,” she says. Iorio will be term limited out of office in April.
The two redistricting amendments, 5 and 6, barely passed by the 60% required for the amendments setting up what opponents predict will be a long chain of lawsuits ultimately leaving it to courts to decide how to draw district lines for legislative and congressional seats.
And despite an anti-tax sentiment also evident in the defeat of school taxes in Manatee and Pasco counties, Florida voters nonetheless chose to spend more on schools by not passing Amendment 8, an amendment to an amendment that aimed to give school districts more flexibility in setting class sizes at the classroom level. The Legislature is required to fund class-size requirements estimated at another $350 million this year on top of $19 billion already spent.
In Sarasota County, two Republicans retained their county commission seats. District 4 Commissioner Nora Patterson defeated Democrat Mark Hawkins, a homebuilder, and Commissioner Joe Barbetta defeated Independent Cathy Antunes who had unsuccessfully crusaded against a deal with the Baltimore Orioles.
Lee County incumbent Republicans Brian Bigelow, John Manning and Tammy Hall all won victories as did incumbent Republican Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore. Manatee County also gets a new face with the election of real estate agent Robin DiSabatino.
But in Pasco County, incumbent Democrat Michael Cox lost to Republican Henry Wilson, Jr., and Republican Norm Roche edged out Democratic incumbent Calvin Harris in Pinellas County. Republican incumbent Susan Latvala retained her seat on the Pinellas County Commission.
Charlotte and Collier counties each get a new voice. Republican Christopher Constance won the Charlotte County District 2 seat defeating Democrat Jason Green, and Georgia Hiller took Collier's District 2 seat over a write-in candidate.