As the Republican legislative hegemony has solidified over the past decade they have been aided by three factors. The first two have been much spoken about: legislative reapportionment (corrected at least at the House level by the implementation of Fair Districts for the 2012 map) and the remarkable level of ineptitude demonstrated by the Florida Democratic Party. The third, the decline of the print media, has received less attention.
The continued ability of Republican House members to vote against the interests of constituencies in urban/suburban areas without serious press scrutiny is a bi-product of the age we live in. Newspapers are in decline, local TV news is more interested in county politics and soft news, such as sports and entertainment gossip, than the goings on in the legislature. Additionally, most political bloggers in the state who are not journalists or political consultants focus on the local or national scene, not Tallahassee. The best blogs are either run by newspapers themselves or by former newspaper writers. A problem is that these blogs are not in the face of citizens the way newspapers once were.
Covering Tallahassee has never been particularly easy. The center of Florida Government is far away from the population centers of the state making casual media coverage difficult and citizen participation and organization nearly impossible on a macro scale. Moreover, Tallahassee still has not developed the critical mass of activist organizations and citizen groups that the other capital cities of large states have had for some time; Sacramento, Austin and Albany all have a culture of activists and citizens lurking around the legislature in those other mega-states. In Tallahassee, we have a few dozen very well meaning activists who carry the fight for the citizens of the entire state.
Newspapers always covered the Legislature as well as they could. The St. Petersburg Times in particular did it exceptionally well, with a full bureau of seasoned reporters and an editorial board second to none in the nation. In the early days of the GOP majority, when newspapers still mattered, the Times held Jeb Bush and the legislative majority accountable for the misdeeds they regularly committed. The Times still does this good work, albeit with less reporters, but fewer and fewer Floridians are getting news from the Times and other daily papers. As newspaper readership declines and more and more readers get news online, less and less scrutiny is placed on the legislature by citizens.
News bureaus have been slashed, and less resources both for the print edition and online editions of the top newspapers are devoted to chasing stories related to the legislature. Additionally, many of the most senior and seasoned journalists covering the legislature have moved onto to the national scene, leaving an irreplaceable void. Both institutional knowledge and tried and tested reporting techniques have left with these reporters departure and have proven nearly impossible to replace. Thus, proper scrutiny and oversight that was previously provided by the media over the legislature has waned.
While the Times, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and Orlando Sentinel still cover the legislature as well as they can with more limited resources, these articles even online are read and acted on by fewer and fewer citizens. The void could be filled by the TV media but that is not happening. In the Orlando and Tampa/St. Pete markets the local television stations do not cover the legislature as consistently as they once did. Much of the TV media in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale market act as if Tallahassee is some far flung destination in a foreign country. (This furthers the disconnect between southeast Floridians and the rest of the state and the misunderstanding many southeast Floridians have about the legislative process. If they read the Miami Herald or Palm Beach Post they would be fine, but many don’t.)
All of these factors have led to a more arrogant and entitled GOP majority. As the press is squarely in decline, and the voices of accountability and reason are fewer and farther between, the Republicans become more and more comfortable.