Florida sees 20-year drought of Democratic governors

Despite recent Republican trend, Florida has long history of electing Democrats

Florida's last three governors -- Rick Scott, Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush (left to right) -- are all Republicans, leaving Democrats locked out of the governor's mansion since 1999.
Florida's last three governors -- Rick Scott, Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush (left to right) -- are all Republicans, leaving Democrats locked out of the governor's mansion since 1999.

MIAMI – Florida's youngest, newest voters have never known their state without a Republican governor.

Welcome to 2018, as Florida Democrats work to reverse more than a quarter century of GOP heads of state, while Republicans work to keep their streak going.

Florida voters last chose a Democrat as governor in 1990, when they elected Lawton Chiles. Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay was sworn in to finish the final term upon Chiles' death in 1998.

Since then, Florida voters have put Republicans in the governor's mansion -- Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist and Rick Scott -- even as Florida evolved into the "swingiest" swing state in the nation. 

To anyone under 40, Florida may seem like a conservative state. But historically, Florida has elected as governor three times as many Democrats as Republicans.

Florida entered the Y2K turn of the century with Republican Jeb Bush as governor. It was the beginning of several social and political forces that helped Republicans maintain and grow their position in state leadership for two decades to follow.

After the 2000 census came the once-a-decade process to redraw political maps based on changing populations. The Florida Legislature had a Republican majority; the legislative district maps that emerged from the process were criticized as gerrymandered and partisan.

Ten years later, Florida voters approved amendments to the state constitution mandating legislative districts be "contiguous and congruent," with the intention of eliminating gerrymandered borders drawn by partisan state lawmakers to favor their own candidates.

The 2012 state Legislature redrew maps that were challenged in court by voter-rights advocates who claimed lawmakers had created even more partisan districts with more gerrymandered boundaries. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in the challengers' favor.

Under Republican majorities, Florida lawmakers have enacted some of the nation's toughest voter ID laws and have maintained a ban on felons' right to vote (though a voting rights restoration amendment is among the changes to the state constitution voters will decide on in November). Democrats contend their party's potential voters are most affected by those laws.

By the numbers, Democrats have a slight advantage in registered voters, though Florida is the most evenly matched state in the nation when it comes to major party registration. Almost a third of the voting populace is registered as "no party affiliation," an official designation.

The numbers below, sourced from Florida's Division of Elections, show the changes in voter registration from 1994-2018. Notice the explosive growth in the number of non-party affiliated voters:

Democrat: 3,245,518
Republican: 2,747,074
NPA: 527,681

Democrat: 4,792,599
Republican: 4,562,533
NPA: 3,489,449

1994-2018 Change
Democrat: +1,547,081
Republican: +1,815,459
NPA: +2,961,768


In the last century-and-a-half, Florida has emerged from a swampy, undeveloped continental appendage to one of the nation's most-populated and diverse patchwork of people. Depending on location, Florida's demographics may mirror that of the Deep South, the Northeast, the Midwest, Latin America or a Caribbean island. The state's history of economic boom-and-bust continues to be shaped by weather and migration. 

In 2018, the race for Florida governor will likely be decided by whichever party gets its voters, plus like-minded independents, to the polls.

The list below shows the seven Republicans and 26 Democrats elected as Florida governors since the Civil War (one other Republican and three other Democrats served as governor but were not elected):

Gov. Rick Scott (2011-18) Republican
Gov. Charlie Crist  (2007-11) Republican
Gov. Jeb Bush  (1999-2007) Republican

Gov. Buddy MacKay (1998-99) Democrat *
Gov. Lawton Chiles (1991-98) Democrat

Gov. Bob Martinez (1987-91) Republican
Gov. Wayne Mixson (1987) Democrat ^
Gov. Bob Graham (1979-87) Democrat
Gov. Reubin Askew (1971-79) Democrat

Gov. Claude Roy Kirk (1967-71) Republican
Gov. Haydon Burns (1965-67) Democrat
Gov. Cecil Farris Bryant (1961-65) Democrat
Gov. LeRoy Collins (1955-61) Democrat
Gov. Charley Eugene Johns (1953-55) Democrat #
Gov. Daniel T. McCarty (1953) Democrat
Gov. Fuller Warren (1949-53) Democrat
Gov. Millard Caldwell (1945-49) Democrat
Gov. Spessard Holland (1941-45) Democrat
Gov. Fred Cone (1937-41) Democrat
Gov. David Sholtz (1933-37) Democrat
Gov. Doyle E. Carlton (1929-33) Democrat
Gov. John W. Martin (1925-29) Democrat
Gov. Cary A. Hardy (1921-25) Democrat
Gov. Sidney Johnston Catts (1917-21) Democrat
Gov. Park Trammell (1913-17) Democrat
Gov. Albert W. Gilchrist (1909-13) Democrat
Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward (1905-09) Democrat
Gov. William Sherman Jennings (1901-05) Democrat
Gov. William D. Bloxham (1897-1901) Democrat
Gov. Henry L. Mitchell (1893-97) Democrat
Gov. Francis P. Fleming (1889-93) Democrat
Gov. Edward A. Perry (1885-1889) Democrat
Gov. William D. Bloxham (1881-85) Democrat
Gov. George Franklin Drew (1877-81) Democrat

Gov. Marcellus Stearns (1874-77) Republican %
Gov. Ossian B. Hart (1873-74) Republican
Gov. Harrison Reed (1868-73) Republican

Gov. David S. Walker (1865-68) Democrat

* Served 23 days as governor after death of Chiles

^ Served three days as governor after Graham forced to resign to be sworn in as U.S. Senator

# Served McCarty's remaining term as governor after his death

% Served Hart's remaining term as governor after his death

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