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Building a Bi-Partisan Legislative Coalition

Post # 166, Bob McKnight's Florida Commentary

GOP Representative Curt Kiser came to me with the idea of forming the very first Bi-Partisan Coalition on Water Management in the '70's---and it worked.

In my book, The Golden Years...The Florida Legislature, '70's and '80's, I talk about being part of forming a bi-partisan coalition in the Florida House of Representatives on Water Management. I was a Democrat on the House Select Committee on Water Management Districts. I was approached by one of my favorite Republicans, Representative Curt Kiser of Clearwater. He explained the water problems of his district as a part of the Southwest Water Management District, largely controlled by the Democrats in Hillsborough and Pasco Counties.

Because I was the only Miami-Dade County member of the Select Committee, and we were the largest delegation in the House by far, Curt sought me out to create this first ever Bi-Partisan Coalition for reforming the administration of water management. We sought out the Governor on our plans as well as key Cabinet members like the Agriculture and the Environmental Departments. We then recruited the key lobbyists on all sides of the issues. That inclusiveness and firm bi-partisan leadership by Curt and me really worked. It worked so well that it became the model for Senator Dempsey Barron to build his coalition among Conservative Democrats and the Republicans to wrest control of the Senate from W. D. Childers and the progressive Democrats in the early '80's.

As I look at today's legislature, the Democrats in the House are so few they are really unable to cobble together a bi-partisan coalition, but there is a chance in the Senate. The starting point is to leverage your Party voting power. In the legislature, voting power rests with the Committee Chairs. There are 2 Democrats chairing Committees, and one rotates as Chair of a Joint Committee with the House:

  • Democratic Sen. Darrell Rousen, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

  • Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo, Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

  • Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell, Chairman of the Joint Public Counsel Oversight Committee.

These Chairs need to carefully identify issues of interest to key Republican members and isolate the issues for control. It is important this work be done fairly and with the knowledge of the Senate President and the two Party Leaders. If done with a heavy hand, it can backfire because the Chairpersons serve as the pleasure of the President. They can be replaced without cause.

If done correctly and adroitly, Bi-Partisan Coalitions can be the start of working across the aisle for the benefit of the public.



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