Here are 12 lessons from this week’s elections. Some inspiring. Some depressing. Some funny.
1. You people lie. I know it’s harsh for me to start off with such an ugly statement. But it’s true. You folks lie. You claim you’re sick of the status quo. You claim you’re sick of incumbents. You claim you’re going to send a message. But you don’t — at least not when the incumbents are members of your own party. Congress and the Legislature both have approval ratings rivaling herpes. Yet all but one local legislative and congressional incumbents won Tuesday.
2. Democrats have big problems. Some Republicans are screaming: “I told you so!” Specifically, though, I’m referring to enthusiasm problems. Significantly fewer Democrats went to the polls Tuesday — even though there are more Democrats in the state and the party had a real gubernatorial primary. If this happens again in November, Democrats will lose, plain and simple.
3. Working hard matters. So does connecting with voters.John Mica and Jennifer Thompson are great examples. Mica is a member of a wildly unpopular Congress. Thompson was a Textgate mess. And both had respectable challengers. Yet both cruised back into office because they pounded the pavement and stayed involved in local issues that voters care about (like the V.A. for Mica and opposing unpopular neighborhood projects for Thompson).
4. Don’t underestimate youth. Central Florida is now home to one of the youngest legislators in state history — 23-year-old Republican Jennifer Sullivan of Lake County. Sullivan’s win was not only a victory for youth but also for the Tea Party, which showed it can still be effective in a GOP primaries. One of Sullivan’s opponents knocked her for still living with her mom. I imagine that, many voters thought: If that’s the worst thing they can say about her, I’ll take it.
5. People like schools. They may dislike taxes. But they like schools enough to pay more for them. Voters hiked sales taxes in Seminole in May and now in Orange and Volusia. Why? Because the results are visible: One day, your kid went to class in a dump. They next, there’s a new school that boosts community spirit and even property values. People will pay for benefits they can see and touch.
6. Loyalty doesn’t pay. Former State Sen. Nan Richworked her whole political life for the Democrats, even when it was unpopular. But the party abandoned her for their shiny new play toy, former Republican Charlie Crist, because they thought he had a better chance to beat Rick Scott.
7. Cowardice does. Crist dodged every possible debate with Rich — and still won. This tells future candidates they, too, can avoid the tough questions and still emerge victorious.
8. Rigging the system pays off. Legislators violated the state Constitution when they gerrymandered the new districts you voted in Tuesday. So what? None of them were punished. And since they paid no personal price for breaking the rules, it will happen again.
9. Voters want sick time. Orange County commissioners may have broken the rules by improperly delaying a vote on mandatory sick-time until the Legislature could make sure the vote wouldn’t count. (Rigging the system, part 2.) But the bipartisan support for the idea of forcing employers to give workers paid time off for illness was so strong in Orange County (64 percent) that activists may be inspired to try again at the statewide level and override the Legislature.
10. Sentinel endorsements matter. Especially in judicial races where voters are confused. In the Ninth Circuit, seven of the eight Sentinel endorsees won. And the one who won without a plug from the newspaper campaigned on a Sentinel endorsement she received 20 years earlier.
11. Tough races can get you what you want. Fearing a re-election loss, Rick Scott has suddenly become the best friend of parents, teachers and students. Once a school-budget buster, Scott is now proposing record spending — and is even questioning standardized testing. Sure, his sincerity has the authenticity of a cubic zirconia. But it shows that close races can force politicians to give voters what they want, even when the politicians don’t want to.
12. Your vote matters. Need proof? Orange School Board incumbent Joie Cadle is barely hanging on to her seat by 66 votes in an ongoing recount over Joshua Katz — who, by the way, mounted an impressive campaign and has some folks hoping he’ll try again for either School Board or the Legislature if he does not prevail.