What would LeRoy Collins do?

Published June 21st 2005 in St. Petersburg Times

Gov. Jeb Bush has often said how much he admires one of his predecessors, LeRoy Collins, for the courage he displayed in confronting racism and the Pork Chop Gang that ruled Florida five decades ago. As he considers HB 1673, the bill to repeal the runoff primary, the governor could wisely ask himself, "What would Collins do?"

Without a runoff, acting Gov. Charley Johns, the Pork Chop Senate president, would have won the election when Collins and another progressive split the first primary vote. There were more voters in the second round than the first, proving that citizens do turn out for a runoff that obviously matters. Johns' election would have been disastrous.

The case against the runoff, which was suspended for the last two elections, is that election supervisors need eight weeks, not three or four, to prepare ballots. This is a pitiful excuse for trashing the principle of majority rule. The first primary could be advanced to July - most campaign venues are air-conditioned these days - or, much better, the law could be changed to provide for second-choice voting: an instant runoff.

A no-runoff regime would strongly tempt candidates from the extreme wings of both parties, not to mention spoilers who would run (or be put into) certain races not to elect themselves but to split someone else's constituency. The example of Ross Perot hindering President George H.W. Bush's re-election campaign comes to mind.

There was bipartisan opposition to HB 1673. It deserves to be vetoed.