This is the election of ringers, dirty tricks and vicious mailers — with a touch of voter fraud.
“Nasty is the new normal,” said Dan Gelber, a former Democratic lawmaker from Miami Beach. “Every election seems like it’s worse than the one before. This year, we have so many races, that it seems particularly awful.”
From congressional to legislative to county races, candidates and shadowy political committees have dredged up divorce records, filed court complaints, propped up ringers to run against rivals, hurled charges of corruption or questioned opponents’ sexuality, national origin or addiction to pornography.
The specter of the so-called “Causeway Cannibal” was even invoked in one Spanish language radio spot. It stopped just short of accusing the county’s mayor and a state representative of complicity in a widening fraud scandal centering on Hialeah’s absentee-ballot brokers, known as “boleteros.”
“I am the boletera of Carlos Giménez and Eddy González, and I am here to get your ballot,” a sinister woman says in the radio spot after knocking on the door of an old lady. No evidence yet shows Giménez or González knew anything of the alleged crimes .
The ad was produced by the political committee called “Citizens for a Reality Check,” which Gonzalez’s lawyer unsuccessfully sued. The force behind the committee, consultant Sasha Tirador, got her employee Maykal Balboa to run against the incumbent, who plans to file elections complaints against her and Balboa.
Voters seem to be responding to it all by … voting. More than 123,000 early and absentee ballots have been cast so far. But turnout for primaries is historically low. In 2008, about 191,000 Miami-Dade voters — just 16 percent of all registered voters — cast ballots.
Much of the hardball politics will likely subside after the Tuesday primaries, which pit Democrats against Democrats and Republicans against Republicans before the parties’ nominees face each other in the general election.
Because candidates in primaries generally agree on policy, they’re all but forced to get personal and question the background of their opponents.
But the powder keg of this mean-season primary had even more explosive ingredients.
This is the election of ringers, dirty tricks and vicious mailers — with a touch of voter fraud.
Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the Senate redistricting chairman and incoming Senate president, exalted in his redistricting victory Friday in a letter to his Senate colleagues, sent moments after the court validated the Senate's revised maps.
"Contrary to the fears or perhaps the hopes of the cynics and the critics, Florida’s citizens will now go forward to choose from among their neighbors who will represent them in the Senate and House of Representatives,'' Gaetz wrote. "Those elections will be held on time. Absentee and overseas ballots will be sent well in advance. Early voting will occur as scheduled."
Here's his letter:
In a 17-page concurring opinion to the court decision to validate the Senate map, Justice Barbara Pariente concludes that Florida’s redistricting process, while improved because of the new Fair District amendments, still contain flaws that could result in the will of voters not being served.
“The bottom line is that while the goal of the new amendment is laudatory, it is imperative that there be further exploration of the limitations of time, process, and the language of the ―intent standard,’’ Pariente wrote.
Pariente explored that time constraints imposed by existing Constitutional provisions and concluded they are unrealistic. She said the process by which legislators draw maps with an "intent" not to favor or incumbents or political parties is inherently conflicted and the will of the voters might better be served to require that districts be “competitive” rather than to suggest that political intent be barred.
Pariente showed us again how she has become the court’s most vocal redistricting critic with her treatise on the requirement in the Fair District amendments requirement that the maps be draw with no intent to protect incumbents or political parties.
She then included this list of comparisons – between the invalidated Senate plan, the redrawn Senate plan, the coalition‘s alternative plan, and the Democratic Party’s alternative plan which show that despite Democratic voter performance and registration numbers, Republicans were given the numerical advantage in the maps. “This partisan imbalance naturally raises questions,” she wrote.
Slapped down by one Supreme Court ruling and facing years of partisan legal wrangling over the Legislature’s redistricting plans, the Senate’s top Republican quietly met with the head of the Florida Democratic Party last month to discuss a deal that could end the lawsuits.
It didn’t work. Now, while both sides agree the meetings took place, each suggests the other is misrepresenting the reason the deal was rejected.
Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, told the Herald/Times Monday that he was approached repeatedly by former state Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, who served as an intermediary for Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith.
Within minutes of the opening arguments before the Florida Supreme Court Friday, two justices lashed into lawyers for opponents of the legislatively-drawn map when they concluded that the court rejected more than eight flawed districts when it threw out the Senate map March 9.
“Speaking for the person that wrote it, it was pretty clear that there were certain districts that were specifically invalidated,’’ said Justice Barbara Pariente, the author of the 5-2 opinion that forced the state Legislature to return in an extraordinary session to revise its Senate map.
She suggested that it would be unfair to the Senate if the court were to reopen districts where challenges previously were rejected “or the burden of the challenges were unmet.”
Justice Peggy Quince also raised doubts about the arguments raised by the Florida Democratic Party and the coalition of voter groups that want the court to reject the entire map. "Why would want we want to go back and look at others? We looked at the whole thing,'' she said. "It just doesn't resonate."
But Paul Smith, lawyer for the Florida chapter of the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause, said that the court must make sure that the new map adheres to the Fair District standards approved by voters and the new map clearly does not do that.
Florida voters deserve not to have “another 10 years of partisan gerrymandering” so the court should throw out a congressional map drawn by legislators to protect incumbents, argued Democrats and a coalition of voting groups before a Leon County court judge Wednesday.
Armed with the Florida Supreme Court’s 5-2 opinion rejecting the legislature’s Senate map, lawyers for the a group of citizens, the Florida Democratic Party and the Fair Districts coalition said the congressional map is chock full of the same flaws and urged Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis to reject them.
“If it’s left in place, even for one election, it will have reverberations that will be unfortunate,’’ said Paul Smith, lawyer for the coalition.
Lawyers for Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature, however, told the court to leave the map alone. They said it is a reflection of the delicate balance lawmakers had to make to protect minority voting rights while also complying with the new anti-gerrymandering standards. The court must give legislators the prerogative to draw its own maps and, they argued, if the judge has doubts about the map, he should wait until after the November elections to conduct a trial.
The Republican-led Florida Senate shot back Friday on the three-barrel attack by the NAACP, a coalition of voters group and the Florida Democratic Party with a 106-page brief that attempts to counter claims that the Florida Supreme Court should reject the second Senate redistricting plan and rewrite it themselves.
The court is scheduled to hear the case a week from today and it will then have 30 days to decide to accept or reject the maps or 60 days to write them itself. As a bit of a reminder of the ticking time limits between now the candidate qualifying, which will take place June 4-8, in time for the Aug. 14 primary, Secretary of State Ken Detzner filed a memo to the court that outlined the election year deadlines.
The Senate argues that the alternative map offered by the Democrats “engineers Democratic districts” because it achieves a 20-20 partisan balance and diminished the ability of Hispanics in South Florida to elect candidates of their choice.
The Democrats had argued, in its brief filed April 10, that despite the court’s March 9 ruling that provided a road map for fixing the Senate’s first flawed map, the new version “is still replete with evidence of an intent to favor incumbents and the dominant political party.’’
After being slapped by the Florida Supreme Court for creating a redistricting map that was “was rife with indicators of improper intent,” Senate Republican leaders have hired former justice and Miami lawyer Raoul Cantero to handle their case as they return to the court with a second try.
Cantero, who was apponted by former Gov. Jeb Bush to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, was a member of the bench from 2002-2008 and is now with the White & Case law firm. He will be paid $695 an hour plus expenses. Last summer, the House and Senate had spent close to $1.2 million on legal fees on redistricting, and that was before the public hearings were held and the maps were drawn.
Cantero's contract says he will be representing the Senate on its "remand from the Court and advising the Senate on how to draw legislative districts that comply with the court's opinion." Download White & Case LLP re Justice Cantero redistricting SE19D
The Florida Democratic Party has also hired a former judge, former federal district court judge Joseph Hatchett, who presided over the court's redrawing of congressional district lines in 1992.
The court has not yet received the revised map. Attorney General Pam Bondi has until April 11 to send it to the justices and the court will then have 30 days for review.
Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/florida-redistricting/page/2/#storylink=cpy
The Florida Legislature’s legal team has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to begin the process of reviewing its legislative maps for compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, even before the Florida Supreme Court signs off on a final product.
In a March 30 letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, lawyers for the House, Senate and attorney general asked the federal government to expedite its a pre-clearance of the maps so that candidates will know the district boundaries when they are required to qualify during the week the June 4. Download Preclearance_Senate
Under the Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, Florida must submit its legislative and congressional maps for approval, or pre-clearance, because five counties – Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe – have a history of discrimination against racial or language minorities.
Rep. Scott Plakon wants his supporters to know he’s been working overtime.
Campaign staffers for the Longwood Republican sent out a fundraising note Wednesday, lauding the Legislature for its hard work during an elongated session, and asking for donations to make up for lost time.
By law, state lawmakers are not allowed to raise funds while the Legislature is in session, and 15 extra days of duty has hurt the coffers of some who are facing elections in a few months.
Reads the missive: “Representative Plakon just returned from Tallahassee late last night. Their work in producing a balanced budget and fair legislative districts as our constitution requires has required him and other legislators to be in session far more than normal this year. In fact, they have been in session for all but 3 business days since January 9th.”
But the overtime work (if you can call 90 minutes in the Chamber overtime) was basically self-inflicted.