TAMPA, Fla. — Florida Republicans are making a strong push to not only retain seats at the state level but gain sway in Washington. A bevvy of Republican-led legislation was signed into Florida law in recent weeks, and the Democratic Party is clawing to stay in contention.
“During the Trump Administration, it was waking up every day to a new horror, every hour to a new tweet, and it’s starting to feel like that once again,” president of the Hillsborough County Young Democrats Michael Womack said. “It’s like déjà vu.”
Four controversial state bills were signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in just a month’s time. DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education Law, alternatively coined the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” which prohibits educators from addressing gender or sexuality in elementary schools March 28.
Two weeks later, the governor issued a 15-week abortion ban with no exemptions for victims of rape, incest, or human trafficking. DeSantis also signed two bills, the first of which redrew Florida’s congressional voting districts in his own image. The other bill outlaws critical race theory in education, titled the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.”
“The Florida Democratic Party is just having so much trouble trying to run from each issue to each issue and we don’t have a lot of cohesion,” Sam Ronen said. “It’s making it very, very easy I think to splinter us apart.”
Ronen is a political activist and political consultant for progressive candidates across Florida. He says the state’s Republican Party is dancing circles around its democratic counterpart.
“Keeping enthusiasm is going to be a challenge, because let’s face it, Republicans have controlled the state for, gosh, two decades,” he said.
That gap only appears to be widening.
The latest Florida voter registration numbers, as of March 31, reveal a margin of almost 112,000 votes in favor of republicans. It is a split that has grown by more than 43,000 voters since 2021.
In Tampa Bay, a voting stronghold for democrats, the party has lost thousands of registered voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties since the start of 2022.
“If things keep on going the way they’re going, I don’t think we have a chance,” Ronen said.
A bleak but honest outlook from Ronen, who senses democratic foot soldiers are losing motivation to stay in the fight in the run-up to November’s midterm election.
“The people actually doing the muscle work of the Democratic Party of Florida, it’s really hard to keep just doing that,” he said. “It’s really hard to just keep doing that.”
“We hear that a lot. I say that a lot,” local political activist Trevor James said. “I’ve said, ‘Why the heck am I not moving to New York? What am I down here fighting for when I can go up to New York and walk around in the free street and say, ‘gay.’’”
A fleeting thought for James, who has contemplated fleeing the state at a time when more people than ever are moving to Florida.
“When you take away rights from women, you take away rights from LGBTQ+ folks, you take away rights from Black and brown folks, you’re ultimately going to create an environment where they just can’t sustain life and they leave,” he said.
But when it comes down to it, James said he is digging his heels in and he is calling on fellow democratic voters to do the same. In his eyes, the onslaught of republican-led legislation is galvanizing a downtrodden democratic community, one ready to stay in the foxhole and fight for the change they want to see in Florida.
“It is not easy work but it comes down to being an educated voter at the polls and also holding your friends and loved ones accountable as well and getting them to the polls. Whatever it takes,” James said. “To the folks that are saying, ‘I’m getting the hell out of here’s I respect that decision, but if you feel like you’ve got it in you to stick around, I think the fight is just ahead of us and we’re going to make some great progress here.”
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