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The Florida Roundup
The Florida Roundup is a live, weekly call-in show with a distinct focus on the issues affecting Floridians. Each Friday at noon, listeners can engage in the conversation with journalists, newsmakers and other Floridians about change, policy and the future of our lives in the sunshine state.Join our host, WLRN’s Tom Hudson, broadcasting from Miami.

The Census Count of Florida, Politics And Policies As the State Legislative Session Ends

Florida keeps growing and Florida’s influence on national politics keeps growing, but could it have grown more? And as state lawmakers finish up their regular law-writing session — the politics of policies.

There will be one more seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for Florida. Florida’s population grew 15% in the past decade according to the U.S. Census Bureau – adding one more congressional district for the 2022 election. And one more Electoral College vote. But Florida may have missed out on gaining a second seat.

"It was a surprise," said Associated Press reporter Mike Schneider. "Florida had been predicted to gain two seats."

It was the first Census in several decades where Florida did not add two congressional seats.

The once-a-decade count began just as the pandemic was taking hold. Households could participate by filling out a Census form online or mailing it back. The agency suspended its field operations in the spring due to the virus and delayed visiting homes to ask about how many people lived at an address.

While Florida continued growing, that rate of growth slowed compared to previous decades. The population growth nationwide from 2011 through 2020 was the slowest of any 10-year period since the 1930s, during the Great Depression.

In addition to the pandemic, politics may have played a role in responses. President Donald Trump pushed for months to include a question about citizenship. It faced legal challenges and deadlines in order to get the questionnaire out to the public before the Trump Administration dropped its push.

"There is a belief that it might have had an impact," said Schneider. "It's very hard to quantify right now because we just have state level data and we really won't know the impact of the citizenship question in the failed effort to address this question until we get data in smaller geographies, which is coming later this year."

Census results are used to help distribute hundreds of billions of dollars of spending in federal government programs including Medicaid, education, and block grants.

State lawmakers are the ones who will decide where the newest congressional district will be located. It is expected to be in either central or South Florida.

"It usually ends up being a very partisan battle that usually ends up in court," Schneider said.

Politics of Policies

As Florida's regular legislative session comes to its scheduled end Friday, several of Gov. Ron DeSantis' priorities have been or are on their way to his desk for his signature including: new crimes for riots and a crackdown on large social media companies. Lawmakers also okayed new vote-by-mail and ballot drop box restrictions, banning so-called vaccine "passports," and a bipartisan bill on police training.

"The issues were really incredibly controversial and huge," said Susan MacManus, University of South Florida Distinguished Professor Emerita. "We started the session with the fear that there was going to be a real shortfall of funds and all of a sudden this huge amount of federal funding came in and we were able to do a lot more than anticipated."

The tough financial decisions lawmakers were worried about making months ago were not required. The state budget came in at $101 billion, a 10% increase despite the pandemic. State tax revenues rebounded as the economy reopened and federal COVID-19 aid brought in an additional $7 billion.

Unlike in years past, it wasn't the budget that was the center of debate. Instead, issues such as voting, protests, and social media speech garnered attention.

"This is the culmination effect of 20-plus years of ineptitude when it comes to the ability of Florida Democrats to actually do what their only mission is, and that is to win elections in the state and put officeholders in place to act as a counterweight to these overreaches by this Republican-controlled legislature," said Democratic strategist Fernand Amandi. "It's a bad faith legislature because many of these initiatives, the priorities that Gov. DeSantis name checked as the most important that he's now gotten passed, were by no means what the people of Florida said were the issues that plague the state."

The Florida Roundup contacted six Republican strategists in Florida and invited them on the program. They could not make it because of scheduling conflicts. They will be invited onto future programs.

Political party voter registration is evenly split between the Republican and Democratic parties. Democrats hold a slim margin of 100,000 margin — a less than 1% difference. One-in-four registered voters in Florida are No Party Affiliation (NPA) voters.

"There's generational replacement," said MacManus. "The older generations in Florida are passing on to glory, but the younger ones are rising. Even the NPAs [are] more liberal and more Democratic. It's just that they are not drawn to party approaches. They prefer candidates. They don't focus on party."

"We have seen a tendency by Florida voters on issues — some of the constitutional amendments, which are very much what you might call Democratic issues. Whether it's raising the minimum wage. Whether it's restoring voting rights [of felons]. Whether it's the constitutional amendments over the years on class size, on the redistricting policies. Those get overwhelming support, which suggests to me the voters are aligned with where Democratic priorities are," said Amandi.
Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.