“This election will be historical for many reasons,” said Laura Weir, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Center for Informational Education, Florida SouthWestern State College, at the Feb. 15 Press Club of Southwest Florida luncheon at the Hilton, Naples. “People feel the system is broken, Washington is broken, and Tallahassee is broken.” She stressed that the Florida Primary on March 15 and Super Tuesday will be very important this year. She also talked about a huge growth in independents. “In Florida, there are conservative pockets and liberal pockets; but the growth is in the independent pockets,” she said. “The Republicans have the smallest percentage registered to vote, just 29 percent, but the Democrats have only slightly more, at 30 percent.”
“Who is running for Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat?” she asked. “Democrat Alan Grayson, who is currently a congressman, but has been up before the Congressional Ethics Committee about his business activities. His opponent is Pat Murphy, a 32-year-old Democrat, also currently a congressman, and a graduate of the University of Miami. He seems to be leading in the census right now.”
Weir spoke about redistricting in Florida, where the state legislature is now Republican controlled, and she pointed out that a lot of gerrymandering, a long political practice, is involved. “The state of Florida is one of the worst states in trying to suppress the vote,” Weir said. “Practices such as voter caging are used, which is sending out cards to various addresses and if the mail is returned, parties go to court asking to have them purged, and a similar practice is involved foreclosures.” She pointed out that Gov. Scott has asked that those with felony convictions who have served their sentences also be purged from the voter rolls. Weir said that since 2008, restrictive voter registration and voter rights laws have passed in 82 percent of the states.
“Currently, 60 percent of the voters in America are white, and many in that group are the core of the Republican party,” Weir said, “but the population is changing. There are more Hispanics and more blacks, and many first-time voters and young voters. Because of that, both the Republican and Democratic parties have struggled to be more inclusive.” Weir gave a surprising prediction: “In 20 years, it will be a different voting public.”
“Voting is one of our biggest privileges,” she said. “And too many Americans take it too lightly. How many of you in the room have gone onto the candidates’ websites to see how they stand on issues?” Weir continued, “As broken and imperfect as our system is, it’s better than anywhere else. It’s not until you visit other countries that you realize what we have in the USA.”
Questions from the floor:
1. What does the Iowa and New Hampshire turnout mean for Florida? Weir said she predicts a larger turn-out in Florida.
2. Who do you think will win in the Florida primary? “My job is to give you information; you have to choose,” she said.
3. If Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz end up not being the Republican delegate, can they get back into the Senate race? “There is a deadline for getting back into the Senate race, but Rubio has said that he is not running for the Senate again. Both of them could run again in the next election, when a U.S. Senate seat becomes available. Rubio is at the end of his term of office; Cruz is in the middle of his,” she said.
4. This is a serious situation; why are so many people becoming independent? What does the research say? Weir answered, “Disenchantment.”
5. What about “no party affiliation?” Weir answered that there are independents who think that the Republican party isn’t “right” enough or that the Democratic party isn’t “left” enough. But, as voting day gets closer, they may choose a candidate.
6. What are the issues for women in college? Weir said that they want equality in pay, and many say that they would like a woman president, but only if she’s the best candidate.
7. What about restrictive voting laws? “The Supreme Court can overturn them,” Weir said. “But cases would have to work through the courts.”