Major political changes occurred in Florida after 1950. Many northern immigrants, unlike the older natives, were not Democrats by tradition. A small Republican Party had existed in Florida since the 1920s. As the national Democratic Party embraced issues such as civil rights that were unpopular in Florida, Floridians increasingly turned to the Republican Party.
When the state legislature was reapportioned in 1968 to give equal representation to the new population of southern Florida, it was widely expected that it would become more progressive and spend more for social programs. Instead, the state remained conservative. Many of the new residents were retired people or small businessmen and women who, it turned out, opposed the higher taxes required for progressive government programs.
Although both state parties are conservative, the Republicans have often had the advantage because of the national Democratic Party’s liberal image. After 1952 the state regularly voted for the Republican candidates in presidential elections except for the 1964 and 1976 elections. Both Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates have been elected since the 1960s, but in 1994 Florida’s state senate acquired a Republican majority for the first time since Reconstruction. Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles kept his seat in that election by the narrow margin of 51 percent of the vote versus his Republican opponent’s 49 percent. In 1998, however, Republican Jeb Bush was elected governor. He was reelected in 2002. When the Supreme Court of the United States ordered desegregation of schools in its Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, many Floridians approved of Governor Leroy Collins’s policy of peaceful—if reluctant—acceptance.
However, racial tension continued in certain areas, aggravated by the massive influx of refugees from Communist Cuba and the economic troubles of the late 1970s. Angered by their continuing poverty and what they perceived as unfair treatment by the police, blacks rioted in 1980 in the Liberty City section of Miami; the rioting resulted in 18 deaths, both white and black, and more than $100 million in property damage.
In the 1980s and 1990s Floridians had to contend with environmental damage. Florida had 58 hazardous waste sites on the national priority list of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Water quality suffered greatly from unrestricted population growth. Overdevelopment and urban sprawl consumed or polluted water resources throughout the state, and threatened the purity of the aquifer that supplied drinking water for 5 million people in south Florida.
A vocal lay environmental movement achieved some notable successes, including the passage of legislation to control encroachment on the fragile ecosystems that keep the peninsula—one of the world’s few green landmasses at this latitude—from becoming a desert. Large federal and state programs attempted to reverse damage to the Everglades, the vast sheet of fresh water that nourished the entire southern tip but was poisoned by chemical runoff. "Florida" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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