The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

The Modern Republican Party in Florida

by Pete Dunbar and Mike Haridopolos Book Reviews

The Modern Republican Party in FloridaFlorida Bar member and former Representative Pete Dunbar partnered with political consultant and former president of the Florida Senate, Mike Haridopolos, to record the rise of the Republican Party in Florida during the last century in The Modern Republican Party in Florida, published by the University Press of Florida in 2019.

The book chronicles Florida’s transformation from a Deep South state ruled by a dominant state legislature represented by rural communities rooted in vestiges of segregation and preserving the status quo in Tallahassee, to representation from the state’s burgeoning cities downstate, which focused on tax-friendly policies, economic development, environmental protections, educational reform, and efforts to modernize state government.

The shift from Democratic to Republican dominance closely mirrored migration patterns and population growth in Florida after World War II. But this shift would not have been possible without the landmark reapportionment rulings requiring one-person, one-vote legislative districts. In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that legislative districts in Tennessee be based upon equal groupings of the state’s population in Baker v. Carr. Two years, later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Swann v. Adams that Florida’s legislature had not complied with Carr’s one-person, one-vote standard.

After the legislature attempted, unsuccessfully, to reapportion its chambers three times, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida determined that judicial apportionment was necessary and implemented a judicial apportionment plan in 1967. These new legislative districts forever changed Florida’s political landscape. Representatives from rural towns dubbed the “Pork Chop Gang” no longer controlled the legislative agenda while Florida’s population centers elected new, minority voices, including Republican minority voices. It was a new ball game in Tallahassee.

The authors recount how the Republican Party emerged from being a political outlier as Florida segued into a legitimate two-party system to its current governing majority; Florida is a Republican trifecta state. They highlight each first elected official, each major victory, each party achievement, as well as outlining setbacks and disappointments along the way. They tell the story of a committed network of people espousing a shared philosophy who worked to create local clubs and communities with the mutual goal of rebalancing Florida’s political spectrum.

Readers will learn about The ICY Machine, the Horseshoe, and the myriads of elected officials, staff members, fundraisers, party activists, and loyal supporters who contributed to building the modern Republican Party. They may be surprised to discover the Republican record on environmental protection and the significant numbers of women, African-American and Latin-American Republicans who have been elected or appointed to statewide offices or important leadership positions piercing the path for minorities in public service.

The Modern Republican Party in Florida is instructive for readers of any political persuasion who participate in the process, possess an interest in politics, political science, or merely seek to understand the Sunshine State’s current lay of the land.

Mary Bebout is a member of The Florida Bar who works in Dean Mead’s Tallahassee office.