Jeff Clemens: No mandate for liberal ideology

Newly elected state Sen. Jeff Clemens, a victor by 17 votes over Mack Bernard unless a court rules otherwise, now faces a more important challenge than his race to win.

Clemens will need to make a strategic decision about what kind of senator he will be. His major choices will be to move farther in an anti-business direction, tossing political grenades from the back row of the Senate chamber, or to acquire the political maturity to moderate his voting behavior. We’ll see which path he takes.

Alongside his choice of political ideology looms another decision: whether Clemens will represent all of his new constituents, or follow a more radical course on the hope it will benefit his own political future. The radical course would be for him to choose to be a voice only for the groups and classes of voters who supported him. There is not much middle ground here, and I don’t believe Clemens can have it both ways. He can either strive to represent all his constituents — including a lot of business owners, job-creating employers and managers — or not.

It’s the hope of local and state business leaders that Clemens will swerve away from his own voting record in the state House of Representatives, where his historical voting grade on business issues has been a dismal 35 out of 100. Clemens has also been a leader in the effort to deny businesses the right to contribute money to candidates in federal, state and local elections. However, he thinks it’s OK for unions to spend money in those same races.

When he ran for the House, Clemens favored a personal income tax in Florida, did not support the current cap on medical malpractice awards, opposed privatization, condemned the mining of soil aggregates and minerals, wanted tax breaks for “green” businesses, and did not support “trying to ship” illegal immigrants out of the country. Let’s hope he has grown more moderate and politically realistic since those days.

This new seat is a new beginning for Clemens. He’s a freshman again, and has a chance at a new start. He can follow the extreme path of Barry Silver, Curt Levine or Mark Pafford and be ostracized by legislative leadership, or he can seek a moderate course that will allow him a chance to do some actual good for the people in his district. He can be a force for moderation in the Democratic Caucus if he chooses, or he can throw in with the extremists.

Well, which path will it be, Jeff? It’s not like you have an overwhelming mandate to repeat your voting record in the House. Will you give business a fair shake? BIZPAC Review will be watching through heavy lenses.

John R. Smith

John R. Smith

John R. Smith is chairman of BIZPAC, the Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County, and owner of a financial services company.
John R. Smith

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