Thursday, November 1, 2007

We need more attention on state politics

I've been focused on all the turmoil in Tallahassee for the past several months, but, in the back of my mind (and, apparently until now, bottom of my priority list) I've been itching to write a post about progressive blogs in Florida. So here goes.

I'm disappointed in the so-called "Florida blogosphere." The reason why comes down to something Ken Quinnell admitted at the Netroots Conference at the Democratic State Convention: Few blogs focus on, or even cover, state politics. It's bizarre, I think, that so much has been going in Tallahassee this year, but that there has been little coverage or comment by "Florida" blogs. Republicans in the statehouse have been running this state to the ground with autocratic, partisan politics and pushing for billions and billions of dollars in tax cuts even while the state faces a budget shortfall. These are classic Republican issues, and you'd think the progressives and Democrats in this state who are interested and involved in politics enough to write blogs would rise to the challenge.

Let me start by describing what I mean by "state politics." You may remember from a high school civics class that our government comes in three tiers - local, state, and national. You may also remember that there's a lot of overlap between them, which doesn't make clearly defining state politics any easier. Local politics is, I think, better represented in Florida blogs than the state level. State politics involves the state legislature, cabinet, governor, and state bureaucracy. National politics is about the President, his administration, Congress, and the Supreme Court. A lot of Florida blogs, especially the "Candidate Watch Network," focus on local congresspeople - they, and their campaigns, are involved in national, not state, politics. Immigration, the war, S-CHIP - thats all national politics, despite whatever stance a "local" congressperson takes on it. The Florida primary dispute is also national politics: although it started off in the state legislature with Republicans pushing the primary date forward, once Florida Democrats started fighting with the DNC and other early primary states, that's national level politics.

Let me give you an example of what I mean when I say that Florida blogs avoid state politics. The two special sessions, one for cutting the budget and one for cutting taxes, pretty much took up the whole month of October. The blog Change in Tallahassee had 62 posts the whole month. TWO of them had to do with the special sessions, and only a couple more had anything to do with state politics. Like most "Florida" blogs, it focused on Congress, the President, and the presidential campaign. Bear in mind that these are rough numbers, and my intention isn't accurate statistics but to convey a trend. Florida Kossacks had five posts in October, none of them about the special session, and in fact, none of them about state level politics at all. Miami-Dade Dems had 36 posts, none about the special session, and none about state level politics. Smashed Frog had 25 posts, none about either the special session or state level politics. The FPC blog had 59 posts (not including radio shows or announcements for them, or "stories to read" posts), of which 13 dealt with state level politics - 5 of those about the Democratic convention, and 3 as part of Mark Weaver's series of posts. Three of those blogs (FPC, Smashed Frog, and Change in Tallahassee) were nominated as "best state blog" in the recent Florida Netroots awards. Again, those numbers are all rough counts, and whether or not a post counted as "state level politics" was based on whether it dealt with the governor, cabinet, legislature, or a state level campaign. I also want to mention that my intention is to critique these blogs in terms of how often they deal with actual state politics, not on quality, usefulness, etc.

To approach this from a different angle, the FPC set up three blogs specifically to track state level politics. Florida House Watch has 2 posts in total, none posted during October. Florida Senate Watch has 4 posts, none from October. Florida Cabinet Watch also only has 4 posts, but two of those are from the beginning of October, and are about the special session. Ken tells me that anyone can contribute to them, and to send him an email if you're interested (and you should! The House, Senate, and Cabinet need to be watched by critical bloggers!)

Can you see my point? The "big" Florida blogs aren't, or are hardly, covering state politics, and blogs set up for that purpose aren't getting attention or interest.

I want to point out that Florida Netroots has done a great job keeping track of the legislature through the special session, and Pushing Rope also posts about state politics pretty frequently. My blog, Praxis, is dedicated entirely to commentary on state politics.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of state politics. National politics has more mindshare, but less impact on people's daily lives. Most public policy that effects your life is enacted and enforced at the state level, even if it's a national issue or law. As an example, take S-CHIP. Most of the blogs I described above had a large number of posts about the ongoing S-CHIP debate between the parties in Congress and the President. In Florida, S-CHIP, the federal program, is run by the state and is called KidCare. Sound familiar? You may remember that Alex Sink, among others, pushed hard over the summer for KidCare reform to be included in the recent special sessions - because KidCare is underfunded in Florida! While expanding the federal rules for S-CHIP is good idea, the fact of the matter is that Florida doesn't take advantage of the program as it is. Even if all the effort and energy put out by Florida bloggers to convince/coerce Florida Republican Congresspeople to override Bush's veto had succeeded, little or nothing would have changed in Florida. Involvement in state politics, on the other hand, and pushing for the statehouse to fully fund KidCare (and therefore be eligible for more money from the federal government) could, on the other hand, actually result in more kids in Florida with health insurance.

Just as important as the role of state politics in our lives is the fact that state politics is more accessible than national politics. By that I mean, involvement in state politics is more likely to result in actual changes in state policy than similar involvement in national politics. You could look at it as a simple matter of numbers - you're one of 18 million Floridians, versus one of 300 million Americans. Successfully influencing one of 120 state representatives is going to have a bigger impact on policy than influencing one of 435 representatives in Congress.

So, again, state politics both has a bigger impact on your life than national politics and you can have a bigger impact on it.

Come on folks! Blog about state issues! Blog about state politics! Hold state representatives accountable for their votes just like you want to hold congresspeople accountable for theirs!

I'm not writing this just to lecture at you - I know a good way for you to start getting involved in state politics too. There's a rumor (*cough*straight out of Rubio's mouth*cough*) that there's going to be yet another special session before the next regular session in March. The purpose? to cut the budget, again. As this article points out, the state still has a $2.3 billion shortfall, even after last month's budget cuts. Remember what they cut then? Education and health care, mostly. Transportation and business incentives were kept safe. Well, what do you think they're going to cut next time?

The Democrats in the House are probably going to (or at least, should) offer up their own set of cuts, cuts which will hold services and education harmless. They need to have a list of the ridiculous budget items Republicans would rather not look at. The best example I can think of is the $491 million dollar CSX project in Orlando (check out the end of this article for details). Another one is the $80 million Rubio wants to give the the University of Miami. Those two alone add up to a quarter of the shortfall.

So, can you folks help me find more?

43 comments:

Jennifer said...

Right On! I've been emploring my fellow bloggers and activists to focus specifically on what's going on right here in Florida, the state legislature in particular, although I'm happy when they cover local issues too. My pet issue is redistricting, which will take place in 2012. The only way to ensure that process is fair is to either a) pass a constitutional amendment stating how districts are to be drawn or b) get more democrats elected in the state legislature so that both parties have a say in the process. So the time to focus on the state legislature and hold them accountable is now.

Jennifer said...

BTW, flapolitics.com does a great job of covering state government.

Those bloggers covering national or local issues are doing a good job too, we just need to bring in more people to cover things at the state level.

Larry Thorson said...

This corner of the state agrees, but is so far from Tallahassee that it's a moonshot. I was a big participant in the chatter a few days ago about having a blogger staff the legislature and report regularly. Get an independent viewpoint into the media mix there and you'd get a better picture of what's going on.

Vrej Esphanian said...

I agree, Jennifer, flapolitics covers state politics really well - I use their news roundups everyday to keep up to date. Also, ditto on redistricting. Democrats need to buckle down and get serious about winning the majority, or getting as close to it as possible, in one or both chambers of the statehouse. Influencing or controlling redistricting should definitely be one of the most fundamentally important political objectives for Democrats. I understand that Steve Schale, who's in charge of House Victory, is keenly aware of that.

Larry, I think more attention will equal more energy in state level politics for Democrats, and I think the Republicans are teaching us an important lesson right now: having a strong state party means having a strong congressional delegation. With a robust state party, Florida Democrats can have more influence nationally. Of course, thats also true of the relationship between local and state politics - having strong local DECs all over the state will translate directly into a strong state party.

gatordem said...

I've left my two cents worth at Florida Kossacks here:

http://fl-kossacks.blogspot.com/2007/11/blog-focus-on-florida.html

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