Q&A – The Political Bend of Florida’s Proposed Constitutional Amendments

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Q&A – The Political Bend of Florida’s Proposed Constitutional Amendments 

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.       

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com      

Social: @brianmuddradio     

iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.        

Today’s Entry: Brian, Is it me or are most Florida Constitution Amendments that are put on the ballot, left leaning? Why are there no Florida Constitutional Amendments drafted to support the 6 week or 15 week law? It seems we are always playing defense when we should be playing offense. We are playing checkers and they are playing Chess.   

Bottom Line: I appreciate the question because it presents an opportunity to discuss the political dynamics that are in play within Florida in addition to addressing perception vs. reality. I’ll start by addressing your question as to whether most of Florida’s proposed constitutional amendments are “left leaning” or not. There’s a finite answer to that one. The answer is that most of the proposed amendments on your ballot most recently haven’t been “left leaning”, nor will they be this year either. In fact, elected Republicans are behind most of the proposed amendments Floridians will vote on this year and were behind all of the proposed amendments in the previous election cycle. However, often the highest profile proposed amendments are advanced by those with leftist associations – which likely contributes to your perception. I’ll break it down and address your question about political strategy as well.  

There are three types of proposed constitutional amendments in Florida: 

  • Legislatively referred 
  • Citizen Initiative 
  • Created via the Constitution Revision Commission 

The Constitution Revision Commission meets every twenty years for the purpose of proposing new constitutional amendments and is a topic unto itself. They last met in 2017 and referred proposed amendments in 2018 which means it’ll be 2038 before we will potentially have new proposed constitutional amendments introduced by the CRC (which is a nonpartisan commission). For this discussion, I’ll leave the CRC’s influence (which is politically neutral) every couple decades out of the conversation and focus on the two types of proposals we’re most often presented with starting with legislatively referred proposals. 

In Florida, if at least 60% of the of the state House and Senate votes in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment it’s referred to voters' ballots. With Republicans having held a super majority in the state legislature in recent cycles, Republicans are able to advance any proposed amendments they want along partisan lines if they’re united. This is something they’ve commonly been doing. The Florida legislature referred four proposed constitutional amendments that we’ll vote on in November. Of those, only one, the proposal that would establish hunting and fishing as a constitutional right, had the support of a majority of Democrats. Looking back to the previous election cycle... In 2022 all three of the proposed constitutional amendments on our ballots were legislatively referred. Of those, two were advanced on partisan lines with one having had bipartisan support. All three failed to pass with the minimum 60% support needed by voters. Now for a look at citizen led ballot proposals... 

The first of the two citizen led proposals is the recreational marijuana amendment. The lead backers of the proposal are the country duo The Bellamy Brothers. David Bellamy is the Chairman of the Smart & Safe Florida PAC which has been the organization behind the proposal. The primary corporate donor and funder of the initiative up to this point has been Trulieve. The Bellamy Brothers don’t have a partisan political history nor does Trulieve. A search of Trulieve’s political activity shows that the company hasn’t donated to any politicians but that they do lobby for marijuana legalization. This proposal isn’t inherently partisan in its backing though typically legalization of illicit drugs is associated with left leaning politics and Florida’s Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody stands opposed to the amendment. So, it’s not just your perception that this one perhaps is a left leaning issue. The other citizen led proposal is a highly partisan issue. 

The proposed abortion amendment advanced by Floridians Protecting Freedom has been exclusively backed by elected Democrat officials and a who’s who of left leaning organizations including Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and SEIU. The proposal, as written, would allow abortions well past the previous Roe standard of 20 weeks which is a hard left position on the issue.  

So, the partisan scorecard for Florida’s six proposed constitutional amendments this year look like this:  

  • Three right leaning proposals 
  • Two left leaning proposals 
  • One non-partisan proposal 

As for the political strategy that plays into all of this...there are a couple of dynamics that are in play. The Republican Party has had complete control of Florida’s government for 25 years. As a result, the party’s primary approach to enacting policy has been legislatively. Why, for example, wait for a future election cycle to bring a policy proposal to voters, which then requires a minimum of 60% support to pass – when legislatively you can effectively enact policy immediately? That’s one train of thought. The other train of thought that factors in is philosophical.  

Limited government conservatives are inclined towards enacting policy through legislation as opposed to amending the constitution (opting only to amend the constitution when it’s required to achieve policy). If you look at each of the four legislatively referred constitutional amendments, those policy proposals can only be achieved by amending the state’s constitution. Conversely, both citizen-led proposals could be achieved legislatively, yet they’re being attempted through amending the state’s constitution. This is at the crux of why most citizen led proposals have been left leaning for quite some time in Florida. Because Democrats have been out of power in Florida, only being able to achieve legislatively what there’s bipartisan support for, citizen led ballot proposals have regularly been attempted and at times have been successful in achieving Democrat policy positions. Additionally, Democrats like identifying issues they feel will drive voter turnout in their favor. It’s their belief that putting abortion on demand and recreational marijuana on the ballot will do it. While it’s hard for many of us to imagine that a presidential election wouldn’t be motivation enough to vote – they might be right. Especially this cycle in which many Democrats who don’t approve of Joe Biden’s performance might otherwise choose not to vote. 

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