Do You Know Who Your State Legislators Are?

Jan 31, 2013

The state Legislature, perhaps more than Congress, passes laws that have a direct impact on the day-to-day life of a Floridian: how much you pay in sales tax, how much time you have to vote, how you obtain a gun.

Tallahassee is in our lives every day. It's only 480 miles away. And yet, for many in South Florida, it might as well be on another continent. 

In an informal survey, we asked South Floridians if they knew who their state representatives and senators were. Many had no idea.

Redistricting last year may have had a role in making it more difficult for PIN members to name their state legislators. Above, a map showing pre-redistricting Senate district boundaries (in red) and current Senate district boundaries (in black).

Some identified federal officials, U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, or their members of the U. S. House of Representatives. 

Others were aware that they did not know, their reasons probably common to many. 

David Naney of Fort Lauderdale said he’s “a recent immigrant to the state….I don't even have a permanent residence yet.”

Even for people who are up on current events, the changes in last year's redistricting was tough to keep up with.  While a study of state governments across the country gave a 100 percent to Florida’s redistricting process because of its openness and transparency, it still left some voters confused about new candidates. 

Sara Leviten of North Miami wrote that she forgot who her state senator was “because I think the previous one [Oscar Braynon II] now holds another office.”  Sen. Braynon represented District 33 before redistricting.   That district is now distributed into parts of several, 35, 36, 38 and 39, with Braynon representing a newly drawn District 36.  (Sara, based on your zip code, we think it's either Gwen Margolis or Oscar Braynon still.  Check out this website to find your legislators.)

Ultimately, this may all boil down to the fact that the impact of an individual state legislator is just harder to gauge so fewer voters put in the time to identify them.  Florida has 160 legislators (40 senators and 120 representatives) who meet for only 60 days out of the year and are term-limited to eight years at a time.  Although the governor is also term-limited, he can (and usually does) exert his authority at any time during his term. 

Arnold Slotkin of Hollywood correctly identified his legislators, but confessed that it was:

“only because I am having problems with Citizens Insurance and intend to ask for their help if I can't straighten them out on my own. Before these issues arose I will admit that I never heard the names Chris Smith and Carlos Trujillo.”

So, hate the line at the DMV?  Pay too much to insure your home?  Contact your state legislators.  

This post is part of the Town Hall project, a collaboration between WLRN Radio and The Miami Herald, supported by Global Integrity.  The project includes online discussions and finally a Town Hall on Monday, February 25.  Reserve your seat now.  Our next online chat will be about insuring Florida's homes on Thursday, February 7 at noon on this site with a reporter who has written extensively about Citizens Property Insurance, The Miami Herald's Toluse Olorunnipa.