On Tuesday night, Florida progressive bloggers were invited to participate in a conference call with a new group called Fight For Florida. The group is dedicated to fighting against the state legislature and the governor on behalf of Floridians and is made up of activists from the labor movement and other groups. On the call was Rich Templin, the president of the Florida AFL-CIO. He gave an update on what the legislature is up to and what is being done to fight back against what's going on in Tallahassee and answered questions.
Templin characterized the actions of Rick Scott, Mike Haridopolos and Dean Cannon as an unprecedented attack on the working people of the state of Florida. He said that they were going after Florida's middle class because working Floridians don't have the high-priced lobbyists in Tallahassee to fight for them. He discussed a sampling of the long list of bills that are designed to further this agenda and that will hurt Floridians. The highlights:
-Republicans are attacking the state pension plan, despite it being one of the best-funded and best-managed programs of its kind in the country
-They are making radical changes to unemployment compensation, reducing benefits and increasing eligibility standards, making it harder for people to obtain benefits at all
-They are tinkering with the state's minimum wage law in order to roll it back to lower levels
-Republicans are pushing a law to ban the passage of wage theft ordinances at the local level, preventing workers from getting robbed by their employers
-They are pursuing the privatization of Medicaid, something that will make it more expensive and hurt the benefits that recipients get
-They have also snuck in a rewrite of election laws that would hurt the people's ability to hold Republicans accountable for their failed policies
-Republicans are pushing through a measure to further weaken the constitutional amendment process. They don't want to be forced to do the right thing by the voters, so they are seeking to limit the time period that petitions can be gathered to get laws on the ballot, cutting the current four-year span to 30 months
He explained that they are doing all of this under the guise of the "trickle-down" theory of economics promoted by the likes of Ronald Regan and George W. Bush at the national level — a theory that has been widely discredited as inaccurate. Florida Republicans continue to pursue endless tax cuts and the elimination of regulation, despite the fact that Florida is already one of the most conservative states in the country on these measures and despite the fact that more than a decade of pursuing these policies in the Sunshine State has left us with one of the most stagnant economies in the nation and one of the highest unemployment rates.
Templin also criticized the methods the legislature is using to pursue their agenda. He said that because they have a supermajority and don't have to worry too much about what the Democrats think, they have been making the rules up as they go, ignoring constitutional law and the will of the people.
Despite all this, Templin is hopeful that grassroots pressure has the ability to at least slow down the Republican agenda. He said that his organization and others are doing everything they can to get citizens into the Tallahassee and home district offices of legislators to pressure them to do what is right. He is hopeful that citizen pressure can stall some of the bad things before the legislature or, at least, hold the damage to a minimum. He said that the courts are a tactic of last resort, both because the voices of the citizens of Florida are a more powerful tool, but because lawsuits are expensive and the other side is better-funded. Templin says that Floridians need to talk to their legislators, particularly the newly-elected ones, and ask them if the legislators stand with the special interests and party leaders or if they stand with the people that actually got them into office — the voters of their district.
Templin said that he personally supports efforts to recall Rick Scott and that he would fully support an effort to pass recall provisions via constitutional amendment, something he called a worthy cause. He said the one positive of what's going on in Tallahassee is that the current legislative session and the governor are the best recruiting tools for activists that he has ever seen. More and more Floridians are waking up to the right-wing agenda and are ready to fight back now, not later. He said that May would bring what could possibly be the biggest mobilization of progressives in the state's history and that in addition to fighting bad legislation in Tallahassee, candidate recruitment would be a key part of the effort.