Florida Catching Up with Once-Mighty N.Y.

This is my column from Politico today.  What do you think — is New York’s pain Florida’s gain?

The era of the Empire State’s reign over America has come to an end, and a new dawn of political power, in the hands of the Sunshine State, is upon us. After the 2010 Census, New York will lose two congressional seats and Florida will gain two. It will put both states’ delegations at 27 seats and mark the first time that Florida has caught up with once-mighty New York.

It’s a remarkable milestone, considering that a couple of generations ago Florida was a swampy backwater and New York loomed large as America’s dominant state. In the 1930s, for example, Florida sent only five representatives to the House, while the Empire State commanded 45 seats and New Yorker Franklin D. Roosevelt controlled the White House. Since that decade, however, New York has lost —and Florida has gained — seats in seven straight congressional reapportionments.

At the height of New York’s political power, baseball, boxing and horse racing were the major sports in America. Today, boxing and horse racing are relics of another era, and baseball has survived only by reinventing itself as “America’s pastime.” Fittingly, the halls of fame of these three sports are located in Upstate New York. Today’s blockbusters, such as the Daytona 500 and the Super Bowl — which will take place in Tampa and Miami in the next two years — are held in Florida.

The Sunshine State has also welcomed five pro sports expansion teams in the past 15 years, evidence that it is flush with boomtowns from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers to the Interstate 4 corridor. New York, on the other hand, had the second-slowest population growth in 2007. “Upstate New York is in terrible shape,” Cooper Union professor Fred Siegel said. “It’s the only part of the Rust Belt that never recovered.” Even New York City could be losing 20,000 high-paying finance jobs in the next two years, according to Reuters.

Fewer jobs and people mean diminishing political and electoral clout. While New York was the anchor for Roosevelt’s presidential run, Florida swung the 2000 presidential election and will only become more pivotal when it has 29 Electoral College votes in the 2012 election. Presidential candidates will have to pay attention to issues that are important to the state, such as Social Security, prescription drug access, offshore drilling and national catastrophic funding.

“If the Florida delegation stays reasonably unified,” St. Petersburg Times correspondent Adam Smith suggested, “Florida could be critical in shaping national policies.” Florida will also have a stronger voice in shaping major economic issues such as labor and trade. “We’re generally a free trade state,” Smith said, adding, “factories aren’t getting closed down and jobs shipped overseas.”

Meanwhile, in Upstate New York, the GE plant in Schenectady employs one-tenth of the people that it did a generation ago, Kodak and Xerox are faltering in Rochester, and Carrier, the namesake of Syracuse’s dome, shuttered its air conditioning plant in 2004. In the same vein, Florida is a right-to-work state, while New York is not. “There will be a slide away from unionism as political clout shifts to the Sun Belt,” predicted Real Clear Politics associate editor Reid Wilson. Florida’s ascent could accelerate this process.

At the very least, the priorities of Congress will shift as it welcomes more representatives from towns such as Orlando, which National Geographic writer T.D. Allman has characterized as the “megachurching, franchising, exurbing, McMansioning of America.” Smith predicts that a location on the fast-growing I-4 corridor — perhaps “northern Tampa, Pasco County or Flagler County” north of Orlando — will get at least one more seat.

Meanwhile, New York will likely lose two districts Upstate — one Democratic and one Republican — if the GOP keeps its two-vote majority in the state Senate, meaning two fewer representatives with rural or industrial interests. If Democrats take the state Senate, they’ll likely cut one Upstate Republican district and redraw one of the two GOP seats in the New York metro area, resulting in one fewer voice for urban interests.

The Empire State is also losing the ability to bolster its economy through earmarks. “New York’s share of the loot has been dropping markedly,” Siegel said. “The loss of two more congressional seats will only add to that decline.” The best thing New York has going for it on this front is the presence of a political force such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, but even her future is uncertain, thanks in part to the disputed primary in Florida.

New York can boast about a high concentration of influential media and financial services. Demographer Joel Kotkin said the state has “held onto its image of pre-eminence” and that it “doesn’t seem to be aware” of its diminished national clout. But lately Florida has had a way of besting New York.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani saw his presidential aspirations buried in the Florida primary. And even the New York Yankees, winners of 26 World Series championships, including seven during the Roosevelt years, have fallen on hard times: Their latest World Series appearance resulted in a loss to — who else? — the Florida Marlins.

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3 responses to “Florida Catching Up with Once-Mighty N.Y.

  1. When a state loses congressional seats, how do they choose which congressperson gets forced into retirement?

  2. Hello, “ElectoralMap”. Sorry to bother you with Math 101, but 31-2 = 29 (as well as 27+2). That’s because NY’s EV are now 31, not 29 (and FL has 27).
    Take care.

  3. Patrick Ottenhoff

    “Coloneldiego” — Congressional seats and Electoral College votes are two different things. As you know, Electoral College votes = congressional seats + 2 Senate seats. Today, Florida has 25 seats and New York has 29.

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