Florida’s Election 2018: Our endorsements for governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the amendments

The Orlando Sentinel makes its recommendations and endorsements for Florida’s Nov. 6 election. (Scott McIntyre / Bloomberg)

Here are the Orlando Sentinel’s endorsements for Florida’s governor’s race, U.S. Senate race, local U.S. House of Representative seats for Districts 6, 7 and 11, and the state constitutional amendments.

Election Day in Florida is Nov. 6, but early voting starts as soon as Monday in some Florida counties.

It’s time to elect Andrew Gillum, an exciting young candidate poised to disrupt the GOP stranglehold on state policy and become an agent of compromise

Andrew Gillum Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Political races often serve as a referendum on something or someone.

The race for governor in Florida could be viewed as a referendum on one-party rule. Republicans have controlled state government for nearly 20 years.

It’s time for a change. Time for some new ideas.

Time for Andrew Gillum, an exciting young candidate poised to disrupt the GOP stranglehold on state policy and become an agent of compromise.

Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, comes from a modest background. Mom was a bus driver. Dad was a construction worker.

Not surprising, then, that his platform is geared toward the middle class instead of catering to the wealthy. Increasing the minimum wage. Paying teachers a salary that better reflects their contributions to society. Ensuring that people aren’t denied health insurance because they have a pre-existing condition, like cancer.

He wants to expand Medicaid so more people can get access to health care. And he understands that immigrants are important contributors to Florida’s economy, not an invading force.

We’re not on board with all of Gillum’s positions, but the fear campaign to discredit him as a radical is laughable. Besides, none of his legislative initiatives is going anywhere without the support of Florida’s House and Senate, and you can bet the GOP is going to retain control of those bodies in this election.

What does that mean? It means that Tallahassee’s going to have to get better at compromise, which generally leads to better results (see the U.S. Constitution for an example).

The GOP’s “too radical” campaign against Gillum would more accurately apply to his Republican opponent, Ron DeSantis.

The most distinguishable feature of DeSantis’ five years in Congress was his servile devotion to the GOP’s far-right impulses.

He’s a reliable Trump vote, going along with the president 94 percent of the time, according to tracking by the website FiveThirtyEight.com. The website Govtrack.us, lists DeSantis as one of the most partisan members of the Florida delegation, keeping company with the fringy likes of Matt Gaetz.

Florida voters have another reason to vote for Gillum. A recent Florida Supreme Court ruling makes it increasingly likely that the next governor, not current Gov. Rick Scott, will appoint three justices to the court when their terms end. Gillum is the better choice for that task, especially considering he’ll choose from a list of names submitted by a nominating committee packed with conservative Scott appointees.

Given those circumstances, Florida is far more likely to end up with centrist judges under a Gillum administration.

Our state has operated under the GOP’s singular rule long enough. We’ve watched governors and legislators gut environmental and growth-management laws, turn the state into a petri dish for loopy gun laws, ignore the affordable-housing crisis and let the middle class struggle.

Time’s up. We recommend voting for Andrew Gillum, for a change.

Bill Nelson’s been a steady, reliable representative for Florida since he began representing Brevard County in Congress in the 1970s.

Bill Nelson Jacob Langston / Orlando Sentinel

Behold, Floridians! Step right up and see the Sunshine State’s amazing, shape-shifting governor.

One moment Rick Scott is the mortal enemy of environmental regulation. Eight years later, he’s a champion of the environment.

One moment he’s the epitome of fiscal conservatism. Eight years later, the state’s budget is $89 billion, an increase of nearly 30 percent from when he took office.

One moment he’s signing bills making it illegal for pediatricians to ask patients if guns at home were locked safely away. The next he’s signing a sensible gun-safety law he could have backed — but didn’t — years before so many kids were massacred in Parkland.

One moment he’s besties with Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, choosing a New York real-estate tycoon over Florida sons — and better candidates — Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. The next he’s edging away from the mercurial president to help his chances at getting elected to the Senate.

This isn’t principle at work; it’s political calculation. Scott did what he needed to do to get elected as a Republican in the 2010 tea party wave. It worked. Now he’s creeping toward the center. Not because he’s a centrist, but because that’s his best bet against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

It might work, but it shouldn’t. Nelson’s been a steady, reliable representative for Florida since he began representing Brevard County in Congress in the 1970s.

Nelson has long been a bulwark against oil drilling off Florida’s coast, a bipartisan position that protects Florida’s shoreline, and the state’s important tourism industry, from the petroleum industry’s greed. The onetime space shuttle astronaut has a long record as an advocate for Florida’s space program.

And he’s a centrist, voting with Trump’s positions more than 40 percent of the time. Govtrack.us lists him as the third-most-conservative Democrat in the U.S. Senate, with only two of his Democratic colleagues joining with Republicans more often to introduce legislation.

Floridians are not going to get that kind of centrist, bipartisan behavior from Rick Scott. If anything, Scott will further the political tribalism that’s dividing this country, to the peril of us all. He’s the type who’ll do Trump’s bidding and protect the president from accountability, regardless of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller or anyone else finds.

No, Nelson doesn’t make headlines. He’s not the go-to senator for the Sunday morning news shows.

Neither is he shady. Nor unethical. Nor opportunistic. Nor tribal.

He’s a decent person who has served Florida and his country well, both in the military and in politics.

Bill Nelson has earned another term in the U.S. Senate.

Michael Waltz is a former Green Beret who also has a quality resume when it comes to foreign affairs experience.

Michael Waltz, candidate for Congress in District 6

(Volusia and Flagler counties and portions of Lake and St. Johns counties)

Voters in District 6 are lucky to have two candidates with impressive qualifications.

Democrat Nancy Soderberg’s resume is packed with experience in the White House, the United Nations and the private sector. She exudes competency, and lays out thoughtful positions on health care, the economy, the environment and foreign affairs.

We expect she would quickly become a major player on foreign policy, especially if Democrats retake the U.S. House.

Republican Michael Waltz is a former Green Beret who also has a quality resume when it comes to foreign affairs experience. Anecdotes from his time in Afghanistan and Africa, and as a successful entrepreneur, lend a note of credibility to his policy proposals.

Both candidates made compelling cases for themselves in interviews with the Sentinel. Both presented specific, pragmatic policy approaches to addressing health care, immigration and education issues. Both spoke to a willingness to work in a bipartisan fashion to advance constructive legislation.

We came away confident either would be a strong and constructive voice on behalf of the district’s residents.

That said, Waltz’s conservative yet pragmatic outlook seems more in line with the majority of the electorate in the district than Soderberg’s more progressive posture.

Stephanie Murphy inhabits a lonely place at the ideological center, and she’s the most conservative Democrat in Florida’s congressional delegation.

Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda / Orlando Sentinel

(District 7 includes Seminole County and portions of Orange County)

In an age of hyperpartisan politics, Stephanie Murphy gives voters hope for something better. The incumbent Democrat showed her congressional colleagues it’s possible to disagree on policy without Americans pounding each other senseless before retreating to their corners.

We recommended Murphy in the primary and some of the reasons are worth repeating:

She inhabits a lonely place at the ideological center, and she’s the most conservative Democrat in Florida’s congressional delegation.

The bills she introduced received bipartisan support more often than those by any other member of the Florida delegation, except one.

She votes with President Trump 50 percent of the time, demonstrating her capacity for bucking the party when necessary. Only six other Democrats in the House have voted with the president more often.

Some of these statistics may not sit well with constituents who lean left. What those voters need to keep in mind are Murphy’s overarching ideas: that access to health care is a right, that securing the border and welcoming immigrants are not mutually exclusive; and that the benefits of tax reform should focus on families rather than corporations and the super-rich.

Murphy’s Republican opponent is state House Rep. Mike Miller, whose campaign is like a cheese-ball snack — there’s a little flavor, but when you bite down all you get is air.

Go to Miller’s website, Facebook page or Twitter account and just try to find any in-depth thought about where he stands on issues. You can’t, because he’s too busy trying to conflate Murphy with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the GOP’s favorite bogeyman.

Miller likes to talk about a balanced-budget amendment. Great. The budget deficit for the latest fiscal year is projected at nearly $800 billion. Where in the budget does he plan to get that money? Medicare? Education? National defense? Miller isn’t saying.

It’s lazy politics, and District 7 voters deserve better.

What Miller would be is a reliable vote for Donald Trump and whomever replaces Paul Ryan as House speaker. Congress will not only face difficult issues over the next two years; it might face a constitutional crisis that could test each representative’s ability to think independently and place country over party.

We have little faith that Miller, who has called for an end to the Russia investigation and referred to it as a “witch hunt,” is that person.

In contrast, Murphy is made of the stuff that made this country great. And we think that will serve her constituents well in these troubled times. We recommend sending Stephanie Murphy back to the U.S. House.

We see no reason to make a recommendation in this race.

(District 11 includes the northwest portion of Lake County)

We had high hopes for Daniel Webster when he first ran for Congress in 2010. He had been a leader in the Florida Legislature and seemed to possess the kind of statesmanship that Congress, which was becoming more partisan, seemed to need.

Eight years after Webster first ran, we’ve given up. Webster is ranked as one of the most partisan members of Florida’s congressional delegation. In 2017 he introduced just one bill, putting him at rock-bottom among his peers in Florida. He co-sponsored just one bill in 2017. And he missed more than 10 percent of the House votes that year, again placing him near the bottom in Florida.

As with too many other election websites, his is short of views and long on blather.

In other words, Webster appears to be skating. And that’s a shame, because he’s a decent man who seems like he has good intentions. He’s just never made good on his statesmanship promise.

Webster’s opponent, Democrat Dana Cottrell, at least bothered to write down her positions on issues. But those positions are out of step with her would-be constituents. We think Cottrell is fighting a losing battle in this district and should spend more time figuring out how to meet her constituents’ expectations.

We see no reason to make a recommendation in this race.

Voters will confront a ballot packed with a dizzying list — a dozen altogether — of proposed constitutional amendments, all of which must get 60 percent of the vote to pass. Seven of the amendments came out of the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years. Three were placed on the ballot by the Legislature and two others were the product of citizen petition drives.

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Florida’s current practice is un-American. It denies our fellow citizens a second chance. It denies redemption.

Few times in recent memory have Florida voters had the chance to right such a fundamental wrong.

Here’s what’s wrong: Florida denies ex-felons the ability to vote after they’ve served their time. After they’ve completed probation. After they’ve made restitution.

These men and women cannot walk into a voting precinct and select a city council member, a state representative, a governor, a senator or a president.

Oh, a few get that chance. But not many. Since Gov. Rick Scott changed the rules after his 2010 election, an estimated 30,000 ex-felons have tried to get their voting rights restored. They have to wait five years, then go to the governor and Cabinet, hat in hand, and make their plea. In that time, about 3,200 have been successful. Others were denied, sometimes, it seemed, on little more than a whim.

They are a small fraction of the 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida who can’t participate in our democracy, accounting for nearly 25 percent of the nation’s 6.1 million ex-felons who are denied the right to vote.

It wasn’t always like this. Rights restoration was automatic from about 1975 until 1991, according to a study of Florida’s disenfranchisement practices by St. Johns University School of Law. Barriers were created after that, but former Gov. Charlie Crist streamlined the process and restored voting rights to roughly 150,000 ex-felons during his four years in office. Think about that: 150,000 in four years versus 3,200 in the past eight under Scott.

Amendment 4 would not automatically grant voting rights to all ex-felons. Murderers and sex offenders are excluded. Nor would the amendment automatically grant other rights, like owning a gun or running for public office.

It just gives fellow Americans who have paid their debt the right to cast a ballot.

The reasons to vote yes are both practical and fundamental.

Practical because studies have shown that integrating ex-felons into society reduces the likelihood they’ll commit more crimes in the first few years.

Fundamental because Florida’s current practice is un-American. It denies our fellow citizens a second chance. It denies redemption.

There is no good argument against this amendment, except the cynical position that it’s OK to use voting rights as a political cudgel.

The Sentinel urges our readers to vote yes on Amendment 4.

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If this amendment passes, it’ll cost local governments across the state an estimated $725 million right away.

Amendment 1 is another attempt to expand the scope of Florida’s popular homestead exemption. That’s where property owners get to reduce the taxable value of their primary residence, which in turn reduces the tax bill. Right now, homestead exemption is $50,000. If this amendment passes, that would increase by another $25,000 for homes valued at $125,000 or more. (The amendment would not apply the exemption to school taxes.)

It’s mighty tempting, but little in life is free. If this amendment passes, it’ll cost local governments across the state an estimated $725 million right away. That means one of two things will happen: Local taxes will increase or local services in your town, whether it’s road repairs or playground upkeep, will get cut.

Resist the temptation and vote no on Amendment 1.

The Sentinel recommended a yes vote 10 years ago.

Amendment 2 also would limit property taxes. But this one is different. It would make permanent an existing limit on the value of nonhomestead property. Put simply, if you own a vacation home or business property, your annual property value increase for tax purposes is limited to 10 percent, which in turn limits how much your tax bill can go up. (As with Amendment 1, the limits do not apply to school taxes.)

Florida voters approved that limit back in 2008, but it was good for just 10 years. This amendment would make those limitations permanent. The Sentinel recommended a yes vote 10 years ago because it seemed unfair to subject property owners to unlimited tax increases based on property values.

Ten years later, we’re recommending a yes vote on Amendment 2.

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The Legislature has made a complete, confusing hash of gambling policy in Florida.

Amendment 3 proposes holding a statewide vote on any new proposal for casino-type gambling. Someone who wanted to open a new casino would have to get many thousands of signatures and put it on the ballot for a referendum to alter the state constitution.

At first blush, it might seem like overkill. And in the past, the Sentinel has been squeamish about larding up the constitution with what should be the Legislature’s responsibility. But the Legislature has made a complete, confusing hash of gambling policy in Florida. And gambling interests have vast sums of money to influence individual legislators. This at least would place such a consequential decision in the hands of voters, which is why we recommend voting yes on Amendment 3.

Tying the hands of legislators in this way is irresponsible.

Amendment 5 would make the already difficult task of increasing taxes or fees nearly impossible. Right now, it takes a simple majority of the state House and Senate, plus the governor’s signature, to raise taxes or fees. That’s already a high bar, considering the Legislature’s aversion to taxes.

This amendment would raise that bar to require a two-thirds vote — which means 80 of the House’s 120 members and 27 of the Senate’s 40 members, making it all but impossible to increase anything from the gas tax to the fee for a fishing license. It’s basically another attempt to starve government, to which some would say, “Great!” It’s not great. We cannot foresee circumstances that might justify increasing taxes or fees, whether it’s a catastrophic weather event or a human-caused disaster. Tying the hands of legislators in this way is irresponsible.

Floridians should vote no on Amendment 5.

Even if these changes have merit, they don’t belong in Florida’s constitution.

Amendment 6 has three separate parts. One would raise the retirement age for justices. The other is a seemingly arcane change in how courts interpret state law.

We’ll dispense with those because it’s the third part that matters most. It would memorialize a detailed and lengthy list of victims’ rights in the state constitution, which, by the way, already has provisions guaranteeing the rights of victims. If you think the legal process already is complicated and expensive, just wait until the state starts enforcing these requirements.

Even if these changes have merit, they don’t belong in Florida’s constitution. They need to be introduced as bills in the Legislature, which would then be obliged to analyze the bureaucratic and financial implications. It’s also galling that one of the proposed changes involves striking a provision from the Constitution that victims’ rights should not interfere with the rights of the accused. Florida shouldn’t be so quick to abandon a principle that this nation’s Founders saw fit to enshrine in the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the amendment is a Trojan horse for setting limits on the time for appeals of convictions, another attempt to enhance victims’ rights at the expense of those whose liberty is at stake.

This thing is a mess, which is why Amendment 6 deserves a no vote.

On the whole, however, we think this deserves a yes vote.

Amendment 7 is another grab bag of questions. But taken individually, they make sense. One part would require a supermajority for boards of trustees of universities to raise student fees or create new ones. In this case, the supermajority requirement is less burdensome than the one found in Amendment 5 because boards of trustees often are on the same page and have fewer political motivations than legislators.

The proposals to expand death benefits to families of all first responders bring more fairness to the system, while enshrining the State College System in the constitution strikes us as a good housekeeping measure.

We’re not crazy about the Constitution Revision Commission’s fondness for packing seemingly unrelated questions into one amendment.

On the whole, however, we think Amendment 7 deserves a yes vote.

Banning nearshore oil drilling and e-cigarettes in restaurants and other workplaces makes sense.

Amendment 9 may be the silliest combination of all, combining a ban on nearshore oil drilling with a ban on using e-cigarettes in workplaces. Fortunately, both have merit. The proposal would ban drilling and exploration about nine miles off the western and southern coastlines and at least three miles off the eastern coastline. It includes bays, estuaries and other waterways. Good. Florida’s been fighting this battle for too long. Make it part of the constitution and be done with it. The ban on e-cigarettes inside restaurants and other workplaces just updates an existing ban on smoking that was passed before vaping came along.

Both make sense, which is why Amendment 9 deserves a yes vote.

This amendment has four provisions, including one that directly attacks the home-rule rights of counties in Florida.

Amendment 10 has four — count ’em, four — separate provisions. We’ll dispense with the three that don’t matter much and go straight to the one that does. This is the one that directly attacks the home-rule rights of counties in Florida. Twenty of Florida’s 67 counties operate under a charter, which is like a mini-constitution for the county. Those charters are approved directly by voters in that county, not by county commissioners.

Voters in several counties decided they didn’t need all of the elected officers found in the state constitution: sheriff, tax collector, clerk of circuit court, supervisor of elections and property appraiser. Or, they changed the duties of those officers. For example, Volusia County did away with the office of tax collector and folded those duties into the finance department. It makes good sense. This amendment would usurp that home-rule right to let each county’s voters decide what they want, forcing them to elect all five officers.

It’s a bad idea and an insult to voters, which is why they should vote no on Amendment 10.

The constitution is no place for xenophobia

Amendment 11 basically cleans up some outdated parts of the constitution, including a particularly ugly, century-old provision that allows that Legislature to prevent noncitizens from owning property. The constitution is no place for xenophobia, which is reason enough to vote yes on Amendment 11.

It’s hard to imagine what the downside to this amendment is.

Amendment 12 would create a variety of new constitutional restrictions on lobbying by legislators and statewide elected officials while in office and for six years after leaving. Judges, too, would face a six-year blackout period for lobbying after leaving the bench. The lobbying ban also would apply to certain heads of state agencies.

Considering the lack of trust in government today, it’s hard to imagine what the downside to this amendment is. This largely stops the revolving door that leads from public service to private profit.

To increase public trust in government, vote yes on Amendment 12.

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Dog racing is an anachronism with far too much baggage.

Amendment 13 is fairly simple: It prohibits wagering on dog racing. The effect of this change isn’t very significant. These days dog-track owners make money off card rooms they’re allowed to operate under their pari-mutuel licenses. The amendment won’t affect that line of business.

Dog racing is an anachronism with far too much baggage when it comes to the potential for mistreating animals.

Reason enough for Floridians to vote yes on Amendment 13.

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