In the middle of the 1990s the Florida Republican Party took control of the Senate through democratic means—this was not a repeat of Natural Bridge in 1865—and in the next election took control of the House for the first time since Reconstruction, close to 120 years.
The recommendations of the 1998 Constitutional Revision Commission that later became law included “reforms” such as shrinking the size of the elected cabinet from six to three members, two consecutive term limits for cabinet members, and the game changer: an 8-year consecutive limit in a particular chamber of the State Legislature; two 4-year terms in the Senate and four 2-year terms in the House.
On the surface this seems like a swell idea, the bums have a fixed amount of time in office. However, this has led to some unintended consequences: the bums have a fixed amount of time in office. By the time a legislator has figured out where to park, which elevator to use, or where the closest restrooms are, it is time to move on to the chamber across the lobby or take a cozy job “doing the lord’s work,” Tallahassee code for being a lobbyist.
Instead of having stalwart members who become experts on vital topics such as citrus, education and transportation, those in the state legislature have shortsighted policies that leave the tough decisions to those who are in power later. Lobbyists are happy to make up for legislators’ lack of having a staff that can adequately research all the legislation that comes forward by providing research or reasons why one should vote yay or nay.
The method on how the presiding officers, speaker of the House and president of the Senate are selected has also changed due to term limits. Once upon a time, when a class came into a chamber they would draw straws amongst themselves to determine whom they would nominate each year for the position and then work (cut deals) with coalitions of other classes doing the same to select the P.O.
Now when a class arrives into a chamber everybody knows that they have six years maximum to shore up a powerful P.O. post, and thus undercut their fellow classmates at every possible chance to attain the most powerful position in their respective chambers.
Elections have become uncompetitive. Possible opponents now wait for an open seat rather than go against an incumbent that can bring the pork home from Tallahassee. Some incumbents do not even face a legitimate challenger for most of their careers.
The noble experiment that is term limits has failed. If anything, it has increased the power of lobbyists in Tallahassee. The time has come to scrap the project. Yes, this will inevitably lead to some members from rural areas serving for long periods of time, earning seniority, but perhaps Tallahassee would recapture some of that classic Florida charm that it has been lacking in recent years.