Florida midterm recap: High hopes dashed
by H.B. Koplowitz
Florida potheads had their high hopes dashed election night when a ballot measure that would have legalized medical marijuana went up in smoke. Also dashed were the hopes of the former governor, Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, that pot power might get enough liberals to the polls for him to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
As one tweeter noted, the happiest people in Florida today are weed dealers. The cannabis measure, Amendment 2, got 58 percent of the votes cast, but needed 60 percent to pass. Jodi James of the Florida Cannabis Action Network tried to look on the bright side. “Although Amendment 2 lost, medical marijuana won,” she said. “Over 57 percent of voters said yes — that is a mandate.”
Earlier this year, lawmakers legalized a strain of cannabis that doesn’t get people high for patients with a rare form of epilepsy. “When lawmakers head back to Tallahassee, we are seeking to expand the 2014 law to include all strains of cannabis, increase the disorders covered under the existing law and assure Medicaid dollars cover cannabis treatments,” she said.
While the pot amendment failed in Florida, voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., approved legalizing marijuana for recreational as well as medicinal purposes. Attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled the Florida measure, was also upbeat about the results. “We may not have passed Amendment 2 tonight but make no mistake, tonight was a victory in the fight for medical marijuana in Florida,” he said. “The idea that marijuana is medicine and that those suffering and in pain should not be made criminals, received a larger share of the vote than the winner of the last six gubernatorial elections … and every presidential campaign in Florida for decades.”
He said the fight to legalize medical marijuana will move back to the Florida Legislature, and if lawmakers don’t pass a law in the 2015 session, the measure will be back on the 2016 ballot. “Compassion may have been delayed, but it is coming,” he said.
Crist, who is an attorney in Morgan’s law firm, lost to Scott by an even thinner margin than Amendment 2, 48 percent to 47 percent, about 80,000 votes out of 5.6 million cast. During his concession speech, Crist said he talked with Scott about accepting the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which would provide an estimated 700,000 Floridians with health insurance, but Scott made no mention of the issue during his victory speech.
Both men had high disapproval ratings among voters, and the campaign was ugly. Crist accused Scott of being “too shady for the Sunshine State” because the health care company he headed paid a $1.7 billion fine for overbilling Medicare, while Scott focused on Crist’s party-switching. Like other Democratic candidates who chose to shun President Barack Obama because of his low approval ratings, Crist did not ask the president to campaign on his behalf. Some commentators suggested that may have turned off some Democratic voters, especially in black and Hispanic communities, making the difference in the race.
Republican incumbents also won the three other statewide races for Florida’s cabinet — attorney general, chief financial officer and commissioner of agriculture — by a comfortable 60-40 margin, meaning ex-felons who have served their parole and probation won’t be getting back their right to vote anytime soon. Under Florida’s constitution, the governor and cabinet determine whether ex-felons, mostly minorities, are allowed to vote, and during their previous term, they undid a rule Crist enacted that made it easier for ex-felons to regain their voting rights.
In addition to medical marijuana, two other amendments were on the ballot. Three-quarters of voters approved a measure that is supposed to ensure that state money allocated to restore Florida conservation and recreation lands is actually spent on conservation. A constitutional amendment that would have allowed a lame-duck governor, rather than the newly elected one, to choose new Supreme Court justices due to retire, received only 48 percent approval, well short of the 60 percent it needed to pass.
The amendment was created by the Republican-led Legislature, which called it a needed clarification, while Democrats claimed it was an attempt to pack the court with conservative Scott appointees. Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Quince, who are considered the most liberal justices on the court, must retire in 2019 because of a state requirement for mandatory judicial retirement at age 70.
If there is a silver lining for Democrats, it’s that their candidate, Maria Sachs, narrowly eked out a victory against Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff in state Senate District 34, which runs along the Treasure Coast between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The bitterly contested race was a rematch of 2012, when redistricting forced the two state senators to face off against each other. Had Bogdanoff won this time, Republicans would have had enough state senators to override a governor’s veto, but since Crist lost and Sachs won by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, or 6,000 votes, that is largely problematical.
Altogether, the various campaigns raised nearly $111 million, making Florida’s midterm the most expensive in the nation, far exceeding the $86.6 million spent in Illinois. The Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who wants to build a resort casino in Florida, was the largest single out-of-state contributor, giving $1.5 million to the Republican Party of Florida and a whopping $5 million to oppose the medical marijuana amendment, canceling out the $6.5 million Morgan put into the Yes on 2 effort. Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature oppose legalizing medical pot and “also control the fate of Adelson’s casino initiative,” the Miami Herald noted.