The Battle for America 2010: Party Time in Florida

With the exception of California, Florida is perhaps the country’s leader in strange and wacky politics, with hanging chads, recounts, and even a 2004 City Council election tie that was finally settled by the flip of a coin at the city’s community center.

And it’s no wonder. For decades, Florida has increasingly become a hearty mix of transplanted snowbirds settling on the east and west coasts, Cuban immigrants and Latino culture claiming the south, southern conservative Democrats rubbing elbows with Georgia, and gun-toting militia types dotting the center -- if not for the sprawling ranch land, then for the proximity to NASCAR.

Perhaps brought together by a general loathing of all things cold, east-coast elites of Boca Raton, Labelle ranchers, mid-life professionals, and the rapidly growing swell of college students have somehow learned to live in relative tolerance with one another. Somehow, it all works.

Enter election season.

Of the twelve candidates originally vying for the governor’s seat, nine are left. Of those, there’s one Republican, one Democrat, one libertarian, one Independence Party of Florida candidate, one write-in, and four with no party affiliation.

Naples millionaire Rick Scott defeated favored-to-win Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Republican primary, and the Democrats chose the state's Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink over investor Jeff Greene as their nominee. By most lucid accounts, one of these two will be moving their La-Z-Boy into the governor’s mansion next year.

However, there are still seven other candidates of varying or no party affiliation who somehow clawed their way onto the ballot to vie for the highest office in the state, which isn’t surprising given that Florida’s diverse population tips the odds in favor of some interesting results when these widely varied groups collide at the polls.

In addition to the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates, the Libertarian Party put forth an unopposed candidate, John Smith, and controversial Florida entrepreneur Josue Larose managed to win write-in status.

Considering Florida’s broad constituency, just what defines the meaning behind the state’s political parties? Who’s representing what, and is Florida a shining example of a true, multi-party system, or a circus ring of made-up parties and cardboard candidates?

As  of August 19, 2010, the Florida Division of Elections website listed no less than sixty-nine registered political parties, some so colorful it’s impossible to pick a favorite: “American Aristocrats Political Party,”  “Florida Whig Party,” “American Film Stars Political Party," and the “Faith & Patience Inc. N.P.G.G.” party, the description of which stubbornly eludes several search engines.

Although all of the parties listed on the Division of Elections website are described as “active,” in truth only a handful actually field any candidates. Besides the better-known Libertarian Party, the currently high-profile Tea Party placed approximately twenty candidates in races throughout the state.

While gubernatorial candidates spend millions of dollars trying to brand their candidates and party ideals, the lack of state regulations governing the formation of political parties seems to invite the influx of new parties that can muddle the electoral process. In Florida, if someone names a chairman and treasurer, and files quarterly financial reports with the Secretary of State’s office, they’re official; there are no fees, and there seems to be no standing regulation on party names or purpose, much less on good taste.