Northeast Florida Power Drought?
As statewide races begin to shape up for United State Senate, Governor, Attorney General, and CFO … a disturbing trend seems to be forming. None of the candidates being prominently mentioned in the media is from Northeast Florida.
Early polling shows Governor Crist as the odds-on favorite to replace Mel Martinez in the U.S. Senate. Miami Republican Marco Rubio, fresh from his stint as the Speaker of the Florida House, will also seek the seat, and from a more conservative vantage than will Crist. Many more-conservative Republicans are furious that the state party seemed to be picking sides even before the campaign begins, and the party has backed down some from overt support of Crist. But Rubio, by all accounts, faces an uphill battle in name recognition, and Crist is riding a wave of very strong popularity for this point in his term as Governor. His time spent with John McCain, depending on your point of view, was either a brilliant move in building name recognition or an unabashed run to be McCain's running mate. Should Crist win the Senate seat, many observers say you shouldn’t be surprised to see him make a bid for the White House after one or two terms.
The principal candidates to replace Crist in the Governor’s Mansion are Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Bill McCollom. Both call the I-4 corridor home … Sink is from Thonotosassa, and McCollom is from Longwood. The I-4 corridor is in some ways Florida’s most purple region, and pivotal in any statewide election.
Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson initially considered a run for Governor, but announced this week that he would not seek the seat. He, too, is from Central Florida.
That leaves both the CFO and Attorney General seats open on the Cabinet. Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp (Tampa) has said he’d consider the AG’s office, though that race will likely take a while to shake out. Senate President Jeff Atwater (West Palm Beach) indicated his interest in the position of Chief Financial Officer … but there will likely be many names floated for that race as well.
But not one (so far) is from north of I-4. Technically Thonotosassa is north, but it’s pretty much right at the intersection of I-4 and I-75.
Then, too, our region is losing one of its strongest legislators.
Health problems not withstanding … there is just one more session for Senator Jim King before he would leave the Senate due to term limits. The region will lose one of its champions, and a strong voice in the legislature's upper chamber.
So where does that leave the leadership of the state in relation to the First Coast? We have a very capable legislative delegation, and there are some strong candidates running for the open seats in the region. And, too, as more and more of the long-time legislators are sent home by term limits, that playing field will level.
There will be fewer and fewer office holders with longevity in Tallahassee. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a debate for another day, but the days of someone serving seemingly for life in a single office are gone for good. Some will jump from office to office as their terms expire. With the way private sector workers now seem to shuffle from job to job, whether by their choice or forced by circumstance, maybe that won’t be seen as a negative.
At the end of the day, the way power in Tallahassee is perceived may change. But when two thirds of the state seems to be left out of consideration for state-wide races … it might be time to have a look at how political talent is developed north of I-4.
Jacksonville and Northeast Florida should not be considered the red-headed stepchild of state politics. We have the largest city in terms of land mass in the country, a port system that rivals any in the state for economic development and potential, and as viable and stable an economy as any other region. We’re not Miami, or Tampa, or Orlando in terms of sheer numbers of people, but then I’m fairly certain no one here really wants to be.
Still, it is critical that our voice is heard and our concerns represented in the debates that are coming in the next decades, particularly about water, education, transportation, taxes, the economy, and the environment.
I know, it’s easy for me to write such things from my perch at the continent's edge. And no, I’m not volunteering. But I do hope that somewhere among the delegation is a person who can become known well enough to make a run for a statewide office. Because otherwise, it takes money … lots of money, to mount a campaign where the first thing to be done is build name recognition south of I-4.
And that’s a difficult hill to climb.