Florida Senate seat 8: Keep the power on or turn It off?

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Republican House member Dorothy Hukill and Volusia County Council Chairman Frank Bruno are and have been engaged in a mighty battle to represent District 8 in the Florida Senate. When the dust settles, the individual standing will represent most of Volusia County, a large part of Marion County and a sliver of Lake County.

He or she will determine the strength of our voice in the State Senate.

Currently in the House, Dorothy Hukill has successfully represented us for eight years. She has risen to a position of power through strength of character, hard work, listening to the people back home, knowing the issues, intelligence, education and experience. She has a strong and indisputable record of supporting business, economic development and the housing industry.

She is also a member of the majority party, and she would not have achieved the Chairmanship of the House Economic Affairs Committee, the second most powerful committee next to Appropriations, if she were a Democrat.  

Of necessity, she’s worked with Senate leadership to get House bills through the Senate and vice-versa.  

Hukill knows the players, the system, the process and the behind-the-scenes reality. She’d hit the ground running. On the other hand, electing Democrat Frank Bruno to represent us in the Senate over Republican Dorothy Hukill would be a local act of political suicide in the state Capitol.

Hukill knows the players, the system, the process and the behind-the-scenes reality. She’d hit the ground running. On the other hand, electing Democrat Frank Bruno to represent us in the Senate over Republican Dorothy Hukill would be a local act of political suicide in the state Capitol.

It is no small thing that Hukill is a major player in the majority party and Bruno would be a freshman member of the minority party.

Republicans currently hold 28 of the 40 Senate seats with Democrats holding a mere 12. That’s a 70% to 30% advantage.

In the House of Representatives, 81 are now Republicans and 39 are Democrats. That’s a 2 to 1 advantage.

What people unfamiliar with the workings of the state legislature may not know is that the majority party in either of the chambers always has the privilege of electing its leader, speaker of the house or president of the Senate, from its ranks. These leaders in turn appoint committee chairs and committee members, and the most influential assignments go largely to the majority party.

In addition, committee chairs decide what legislative bills will or will not be taken up in their respective committees. Rarely does legislation make it to the floor for a vote without successfully passing through all relevant committees.

The Democratic Party in Florida’s Legislative and Executive branches is now the weakest it has been since the period of Reconstruction, following the 1865 end of the Civil War. After Reconstruction, Democrats dominated Florida government for more than 120 years.

That began changing in the late 1980’s with a gradual shift from Democrat to Republican dominance. In 1994, Republicans took over the Senate and the Florida Cabinet; in 1996, Republicans took over the House of Representatives.

Since 1998, our state has elected a Republican governor every four years, gaining more seats in the House and Senate with nearly each election.  

For a member of the minority party to get a bill he/she has sponsored heard in committee is difficult unless it clearly addresses universal concerns and has been signed on to by members of the majority Party with clout.

This takes advanced knowledge of “the system” and direct access to leadership, something not generally available to newly elected members of the minority party. Major bills are almost always sponsored and advanced by members of the majority party.

Furthermore, if optimistic partisans or Bruno supporters hold the belief that the current minority party is going to regain majority status in this election cycle, thus elevating Mr. Bruno to the majority party, they are naïve or delusional. Districts and demographics show no path to get there from where we are any time soon.

Furthermore, if optimistic partisans or Bruno supporters hold the belief that the current minority party is going to regain majority status in this election cycle, thus elevating Mr. Bruno to the majority party, they are naïve or delusional. Districts and demographics show no path to get there from where we are any time soon.

Here are realities to consider if thinking that electing Mr. Bruno to represent us in the Florida Senate is a benefit for our area:

First of all, “nice guys” don’t finish first, especially if they are in the minority party and even less so if they are newly-elected. It is a very competitive environment, and term limits make it more so.

Secondly, a weak minority party back-bencher’s effectiveness in local affairs or level of hometown good will has no impact whatsoever on the political process in the Florida Legislature.

How do I know this? I lived and worked in Tallahassee from 1979 through 1997.

I not only closely observed the legislative goings on, but spent a number of years working with the Legislature in committees and during sessions on various bills. I represented various organizations to the Legislature through the years. In addition, my husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law worked in the Capitol during the annual legislative sessions.

Not only did I begin my observations and efforts when the Republicans were a weak majority, but I was there witnessing and participating in history as the balance of power shifted to what we have today. In other words, the Republicans went from largely powerless back-benchers to controllers of the agenda and the process. I know how little was achieved during the former period.

Not understanding the realities of statehouse politics is no excuse for reducing the clout or silencing the voice of the citizens of a geographical area in the Senate. A state legislative seat should never be viewed as a retirement reward for years of loyal local service.

We live with and by a system of representative government. If we send ineffective representatives, we have ineffective representation.

Because Dorothy Hukill has proven she knows how to get things accomplished, because as House Leadership she has worked with the Senate Leadership and has their backing in this race, and because she is a member of the party currently in power and which will stay in power for a while, she is the clearly obvious, smart and pragmatic choice to replace the very effective but term-limited Senator Evelyn Lynn as our local senator.

Hukill will be positioned to make a swift ascent to a position of power and is the best choice for ensuring Volusia County’s place at the Capitol table.

To any reader who finds this column cruel or unfair rather than a candid assessment coming from experience, just remember what irascible former Democratic Speaker of the Unites States House of Representatives Tip O’Neal was known to say: "Politics ain’t bean bag."

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Short Bio

Ellen Darden, an active Realtor, is immediate past president of the New Smyrna Beach Board of Realtors. She and her husband, Frank, live in New Smyrna Beach. She is a former educator and a life-long student of and participant in public policy, governance and politics. The blog, "Politics and policies" (and its contents), is the sole copyright-protected intellectual property of NSB News LLC, and cannot be reproduced, copied or published in whole or in part elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the publisher. NSBNews.net, VolusiaNews.net and HeadlineSurfer.com are owned by NSB News LLC. All three domains fall under the umbrella of Headline Surfer, a registered trademark.