Florida’s “strong cabinet” structure of government is the political reincarnation of the bumblebee.
Long ago, scientists studied the bumblebee, and declared that it was aerodynamically impossible for it to fly. The only proof to the contrary was that the bumblebee pays no attention to scientists, and flies about at will.
By any rational assessment of political structure, Florida’s strong cabinet format of government, in which the governor shares power with three independently elected cabinet officers, makes little sense. The only thing that makes less sense is that until a few decades ago, there were six cabinet members sharing power with the governor.
This diffusion reduces the power of the governor, which can be either good or bad, depending on the abilities and intent of the governor.
Put another way, the structure has protected Floridians from bad governors while limiting the effectiveness of good ones.
A little over a half-century ago, one longtime cabinet member showed his contempt for the governor by conspicuously removing his hearing aid whenever the governor spoke at cabinet meetings.
Florida’s Republican Party is in firm control of state government. The governor and all three cabinet members are Republicans, and the GOP holds a majority of both houses of the Legislature.
Thanks to Florida’s “Eight Is Enough” term limits, all those public officials are limited to eight years in office: two four-year terms for the governor, cabinet, and Senate, four two-year terms for members of the House.
We believe term limits work to the public good. Public servants get elected, make their contributions for eight years, then move aside to let new players onto the field. Terms like “the Pork Chop Gang,” a group of legislators which once held disproportionate power in Tallahassee, have faded into history.
Against these realities, the Florida GOP appears to be facing a tough decision a year or two down the road.
While conventional wisdom holds that an incumbent governor or president is highly unlikely to face opposition from within his own party for a second term, and is likely to win re-election, Florida Republicans cannot depend on that paradigm two years hence.
Republican Rick Scott, a candidate without political experience, won the governorship in a campaign paid for almost entirely with his own money.
His performance has been inconsistent. He angered teachers by requiring them to start contributing to their retirement fund, and is attempting to win them back with the promise of a pay raise.
His regulations for conduct of elections were held to be a major factor in Florida’s tortuous 2012 election; he has reversed field to correct many of the problems.
Poll after poll indicates that Scott would have trouble winning re-election against an expected challenge from Charlie Crist, who held the governorship as a Republican, lost a bid for the U.S. Senate as an Independent, and is expected to run for governor in two years as a Democrat.
So this is the quandary for Florida’s GOP: Remain faithful to their incumbent captain, possibly watching him go down with the ship, or relieve him of his command and nominate a stronger candidate.
The Florida GOP has not asked for our counsel, and probably does not intend to do so, but we have a solution: Ask Polk County native Adam Putnam to give up his post as commissioner of agriculture after only one term, and seek the governorship.
Putnam is a remarkable figure in politics, taking office in the Florida Legislature when he was barely old enough to pass constitutional muster, then becoming the youngest member of the United States Congress.
He worked his way up to the No. 3 position in the GOP in the House of Representatives, just two posts short of speaker of the house, then stepped down so he could be less confrontational and employ his skills at compromise and reconciliation.
An outstanding commissioner of agriculture, he is widely viewed as the likely GOP candidate to succeed Scott as governor.
But if, as today’s political course indicates, Scott is headed toward being a one-term governor, Putnam would face a campaign against a Democratic incumbent in 2018.
In its own best interest, the Florida GOP should take a close look at asking Scott to step aside after one term, allowing the popular and capable Adam Putnam to keep the Republican grasp on the governor’s office. We believe he would have little difficulty winning election.
We would rather see Putnam spend 16 years in Tallahassee — six more as commissioner of agriculture and eight as governor — but if Scott cannot hold onto the governorship, that could become more difficult.
Political considerations aside, we believe Putnam would be a great governor.
If problematical timing disrupts Putnam’s journey to the governorship, the people of Florida would be the losers.