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Inside Politics

Florida: The new trendsetter

Jeb Bush
Health care policy

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Congress' historic -- some would say ill-advised -- action in the Terri Schiavo case this week symbolizes one of the most important but least appreciated new political trends of the last decade -- the emergence of Florida as a national harbinger of political trends and issues.

Indeed, there was a time that if you wanted to get a peak at the political future, you only needed to take a look at California. From community college roll-outs and tax-cut rebellions to immigration battles and environmental plans, the Golden State often established important political and policy trends that rippled across the nation.

But over the last 10 years, Florida has finally taken its place alongside California as one of the leading predictors of the political future. No longer a sleepy Southern state, retiree haven or rising Sunbelt state, Florida is now a certified, cutting edge trendsetter when it comes to national policy.

For example, in the late 1990s, Florida's tax cut changes and testing-focused education agenda helped form the foundation for much of President Bush's No Child Left Behind and tax cut plans.

More recently, the Schiavo case and Florida's plans to partially privatize Medicaid are likely to impact both national legislation and individual state plans.

Part of the reason for Florida's growing policy impact is undoubtedly the relationship between its governor, Jeb Bush, and his older brother, the President. The two clearly share ideas, personnel and policy experts, much as you would expect.

But Florida has become a bellwether state even on issues that Gov. Jeb Bush opposes. One example occurred last year when Gov. Bush opposed a state referendum to increase the state's minimum wage.

Nevertheless, Floridians voted and passed the referendum. Since then nearly a dozen states around the nation have followed Florida's lead in considering similar legislation.

No longer just a growing state, but now the fourth largest in the nation, Florida also has far-reaching political impact because of its size and diversity.

Florida is incredibly diverse along almost every major dimension (race, age, income, economy, nationality, geography, politics, etc.), and consequently now sees many of the most forward-looking problems before anyone else.

And, while California, Texas and New York are seen as decidedly partisan places (despite some voting records to the contrary), Florida has developed a generally moderate and bipartisan image in national policy circles.

Hence, Florida's ideas are not as quickly dismissed by one side or the other as partisanly kooky (either kooky liberal or kooky conservative).

So continue to watch California this year for cutting edge ideas and politicking, from stem cell research to gay marriage.

But this fall and next, as Congress (and other states) takes up environmental policy, energy reform, the budget and even faith-based initiatives, watch Florida for perhaps the most accurate state clues to long-term national policy outcomes.

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