Ever wonder why over the past decade Florida's elected officials seem to have become increasingly partisan? It might just be a general change in mood of politics across the nation. It might be gerrymandering that renders so many state legislative districts uncompetitive. Or it might be partly because, as former senators Bob Graham and George LeMieux point out today in a joint editorial in the Tampa Bay Times, Florida did away with its second primary system in 2001.
As the former senators point out, between 1899 and 2001, if a candidate failed to get 50 percent of the vote in the first primary, a second primary would be held between the top two vote-getters. The law was suspended in 2001 and abolished in 2005.
However, some of Florida's greatest politicians might never have taken office if it weren't for the second primary system.
Graham himself finished second in the Democratic primary in his 1978 bid for governor but prevailed in the runoff. He went on to become one of modern Florida's best-loved politicians.
"If not for the second primary, LeRoy Collins and Reubin Askew may never have been governor, Lawton Chiles a U.S. senator, or Bob Butterworth an attorney general," the former senators write. "They were all the runners-up in the first primary but prevailed in the second."
A second primary system could have also blocked the election of some of Florida's more controversial politicians. In the 2010 Republican primary for governor, Rick Scott received just 46.4 percent of the vote, only three points more than Bill McCollum. Mike McCalister got just more than 10 percent of the vote. Could it have been possible for McCollum to have prevailed in a two-way runoff?
The editorial posits that the single primary system favors "high name recognition or a strong appeal to a narrow constituency."
Think about it. A Tea Party candidate may find himself in a primary for state Senate against two or three more moderate, mainstream Republicans who might better represent the district as a whole. The more extreme Tea Party candidate could prevail in the primary, while the other Republicans split each others' bases. If the district is heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republicans (as many in Florida are), he or she would go on to easily win the general election even if the constituents aren't quite as conservative as the politician's platform.
"A broken election system contributes to a broken government," Graham and LeMieux conclude. "It's time to begin fixing things. A return of the second primary would be a good place to start."
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