Abortion rights are winning in red states. Florida may be the exception.
John Morgan, a prominent Orlando trial lawyer who has spent millions of dollars on his own initiatives to pass medical marijuana and an increase in the minimum wage, could be considered a kingmaker for Democratic ballot initiatives.
Morgan says he won’t get involved in the Florida campaign to allow abortions up to 24 weeks and to overturn the 6-week ban.
When asked by email if he planned to come out of retirement and fund ballot initiatives, he replied: “I am pro choice but this isn’t my fight.”
Morgan’s speech reflects the frustrations of Florida Democrats and activists with regard to the current abortion initiative. They want to protect abortion access, but struggle to raise enough money and collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Even though abortion rights activists have scored huge victories in recent state elections, including the conservative-leaning Ohio voters passing a constitutional provision guaranteeing abortion access, Florida activists don’t seem to be able to feel the same urgency or excitement despite looming deadlines.
Florida has less restrictions on abortion than states nearby like Alabama. This is why the stakes for abortion rights are so high.
Floridians Protecting Freedom is the main group that organized the initiative. As of the end September, it had raised nearly $9 million, but the group claims to have taken in at least 12 million dollars (which will reflect in the next report on fundraising). Most of the contributions came from donors who contributed between $1 and $250,000. The group’s leaders claim that 80 percent of contributions were from Florida donors, causing some to worry about big donors from other states and national groups dismissing Florida.
In comparison, Issue 1 in Ohio, the initiative that enshrined abortion rights into its Constitution, raised over $28 million. This included close to $13 from groups in New York, Washington D.C. and even Tulsa Okla.
Floridians Protecting Freedom also has gathered approximately 500,000 valid signatures. This is far below the threshold of over 891,000 required by the state in less than three month to qualify. It would require 60 percent voter approval if it were to be placed on the ballot.
It is more expensive to find people who will sign petitions at the last minute, as the campaign nears its deadline.
Morgan explained that you not only have to obtain the right number of signatures, but also about 20 percent extra because so many are invalid. The later you get, the more expensive your signatures will be.
Morgan contributed $8 million from his own pocket to the successful medical marijuana ballot initiative in 2016. Morgan gave $5 million four years later to raise the minimum wage in California to $15 per hour through another initiative.
After the Legislature tightened up restrictions on petition collection and signature verification, ballot initiatives became more costly. A campaign to place recreational marijuana legalization next year on the ballot cost more than $39,000,000, mostly for gathering signatures. Morgan’s medical marijuana campaign in 2016 spent nearly $14 million according to state records.
Anna Hochkammer is the executive director of a coalition that organized the ballot initiative for abortion rights. She said the victory in Ohio, a state dominated by Republicans, has given the Florida campaign momentum. Florida is a Republican state, just like Ohio. But Hochkammer said that the Ohio initiative received bipartisan support, despite differing political views on abortion.
Hochkammer explained that the voting patterns are showing that this issue isn’t a partisan one, but a bipartisan one.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2013, support for abortion became a bipartisan topic. In five states, voters voted in favor of abortion rights during the past year, including Republican-leaning Kansas and Ohio.
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis led Florida’s GOP-led Legislature to approve a 15-week ban on abortions without exceptions for incest or rape a few month before the Supreme Court overturned Roe. In the wake of this ruling by the Supreme Court, Republican legislators, who have supermajorities, enacted a 6-week abortion ban.
The state high court will decide the fate of both laws.
DeSantis did not face any backlash when he was re-elected last year. He won with historic margins in counties that are traditionally blue, like Miami-Dade.
DeSantis, as a candidate for the presidency, has moderated his position on abortion in part because Republicans of influence questioned his electability after signing the six-week ban.
DeSantis, during the Wednesday presidential debate in Miami said that anti-abortion organizations need to do a much better job of fighting back when moderators ask about the results of Ohio and other states.
DeSantis stated, “Of everything that has happened to the prolife cause, these referenda have caught them flat-footed.” “A large number of people voting in the referendums are Republicans, who would also vote for a Republican nominee.”
Hochkammer noted that the group had received some large contributions. These included more than $1 million from a Palm Beach-based philanthropist, and a check for $500,000 from New York’s Open Society Fund. She said that Florida donors are making bigger contributions since the election on Tuesday. Morgan has not yet made a contribution.
Hockhammer stated, “People who used to add five zeros now add six.” “Now, the focus is on Florida.”