Christie: Blog poll shows Florida voters want to see former Gillum rivals out on campaign trail

ORLANDO, Fla. — Andrew Gillum the Democratic candidate for Florida Governor with his wife, R. Jai Gillum, campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades on Aug. 31. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

So last week, I raised a question that was on the minds of an increasing number of Democratic voters I was running into: Are Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s former Democratic primary rivals going to get out on the campaign trail and stump for him?

RELATED: Christie: Waiting for his Florida Democratic primary rivals to begin campaigning for Gillum

It seemed like a rather basic question; but also a strange one given the stakes in this election. A state Democratic party energized by the charismatic Gillum has most supporters — and political observers — truly believing they have a strong chance of retaking the Governor’s Mansion after a 20-year drought. Not only that, of electing the first African-American to statewide office.

RELATED: Read all of The Post’s endorsements online at www.MyPalmBeachPost.com/2018-endorsements.

I observed that neither former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, West Palm Beach developer Jeff Greene nor former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine had been seen out stumping for Gillum since the early days following his stunning Aug. 28 primary win.

I did mention that Levine stepped up with a press release in defense of Gillum running-mate, Orlando businessman Chris King, over accusations of being anti-Semitic.

Former Democratic primary candidate Philip Levine has provided financial support to Andrew Gillum’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

Afterwards, former Levine campaign operative Christian Ulvert reached out to let me know that Levine’s done more, and shouldn’t be “lumped in” with the others. Ulvert said that in addition to two private fundraisers, Levine has allowed Gillum’s campaign the use of a few of his former campaign offices around the state.

Noted. Financial support is important to political campaigns these days. Especially when it comes getting the message out via pricey advertising. Very important.

Arguably more important, however, is motivating people to actually vote. (After all, that is how Gillum managed to beat three more well-financed opponents in the primary.)

That’s why we asked in a poll last week: “Should Andrew Gillum’s Democratic primary opponents campaign for him in the general election?”

As of today (Monday), out of some 200 reader votes, about 72 percent gave a resounding “yes.” The post also received nearly 370 Likes on Facebook.

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One of Levine’s private fundraisers for Gillum was with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But Bloomberg went further, and actually stumped with Gillum. Following an Oct. 5 event in Coral Springs on behalf of his Everytown for Gun Safety, the possible 2020 presidential candidate appeared in West Palm Beach Oct. 6 at a Democratic Party fundraiser and then with Gillum Oct. 7 at a Century Village Jewish center in Pembroke Pines.

Voters are fickle. That’s why turnout is so crucial. Maybe it won’t matter to Democratic loyalists and crucial No-Party Affiliation (NPA) voters when they don’t see Gillum’s former rivals out on the stump with him, and they will show up at the polls anyway. Maybe.

And if you haven’t taken our poll yet, you can get to it here.

Christie: Waiting for his Florida Democratic primary rivals to begin campaigning for Gillum

Democratic gubernatorial candidates, from left: Andrew Gillum, Jeff Greene, Chris King, Philip Levine, and Gwen Graham participated in an hour-long debate at WPBF television studios in Palm Beach Gardens on August 2. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Has anyone seen former Congresswoman Gwen Graham?

How about former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine?

Where has West Palm Beach developer Jeff Greene been since Aug. 28?

Not since a big Kumbaya “unity” rally in Orlando days after Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s historic victory in the Democratic primary for Florida governor (minus Greene), has anyone heard from three of Gillum’s primary opponents on the campaign trail.

RELATED: Watch Editorial Board interviews of the 5 Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

I mean, one can kind of understand why Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is not out stumping for Republican primary winner Ron DeSantis. Putnam was practically measuring the drapes in the Governor’s Mansion before the Parkland shooting and President Donald Trump reared his ugly head.

But the Dems always gave off this vibe of being respectful, if not friendly adversaries.

So are they low-key campaigning? Maybe recording robo-calls? Or saving themselves — and their money — for the home stretch?

Gillum, the first African-American to secure a major party gubernatorial nomination in the state’s history, picked Orlando businessman Chris King to be his running mate as lieutenant governor. The two apparently clicked and became “bros” while campaigning during the primary race.

There was less “clicking” with Graham, as the consensus front-runner became the focal point of attacks from her all-male competition. Less so by Gillum’s campaign, but more so by a PAC that supported the mayor and whose negative message he refused to publicly disavow.

Graham, the Post Editorial Board‘s pick to win the Democratic primary because it was felt she had the best shot of winning in the general, may still be smarting too much from those attacks to drop everything and campaign for her former rival. Or maybe Gillum just hasn’t asked.

Levine wasn’t heard from until a few weeks ago, when he stepped forward with a statement defending the Gillum campaign after Republicans looked to paint Gillum as an anti-Semite for bringing on King, who had made anti-Jewish comments when he was a college student. This was first dredged up during the primary campaign and King apologized then.

As for Greene, the question is not whether or not he should be out campaigning but whether he is writing any checks to the Gillum campaign, or any other Florida Democratic election efforts. If he has, it hasn’t been substantial enough to be publicized, a’ la fellow billionaire Tom Steyer. But we should remember that during the primary campaign, Greene — who wanted to radically improve public school education in Florida — did promise to financially support the primary winner and other Democrats.

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So, with time to campaign in a tight gubernatorial race coming down to the wire, one has to wonder whether Florida voters — especially those on her home turf of North Florida — will see Graham out stumping for Gillum to help give the party the best chance it’s had of taking back the Governor’s Mansion in 20 years.

It’s tough to see Gillum pulling off the victory without Graham enthusiastically campaigning for him. The same can be asked about Levine, and Greene’s ample checkbook.

But then, no political expert saw Gillum pulling off the primary upset either.

Take our poll here, and tell us what you think they should do.

Christie: Voters questioning Florida’s closed primary elections — again

Even municipal elections, which are non-party races, can be affected by closed primaries on the same ballot. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

It never fails.

Every Florida primary election, thousands of voters from Milton to Marathon vent frustration about heading to the polls (or filling out a mail-in ballot) and once again not being able to vote for the major party candidate.

I understand their frustration. As a registered independent or No Party Affiliation (NPA) voter myself, it’s a little rough feeling like a player who keeps getting left out of the game. But that’s the system we all signed up for here in the Sunshine State.

Florida is one of just 11 states that have strictly “closed primaries” — that is, primaries in which only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican primary, and only registered Democrats in the Democratic primary.

A growing number of Floridians believe state lawmakers should think seriously about joining the 11 states that allow open primaries, in which any voter can cast a ballot in either party’s primary. Or the 24 states that have a mix of rules, with some allowing voters to cross party lines to vote, others that allow unaffiliated voters to participate.

RELATED: Primary election day should be independents’ day as well

Thought Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam would be the best gubernatorial candidate for the Republican Party? Tough.

Thought former Congresswoman Gwen Graham would be the best standard-bearer for the Democrats in the same gubernatorial contest? Too bad.

Or how about voting for your choice of which Democrat or Republican would best represent you in the state House or Senate? Sorry, you’ll have to wait until November.

Not surprising then that an increasing number of Florida voters are losing patience with this current “closed” system that shuts out some 27 percent of registered voters — read that, taxpayers.

That’s more than a quarter of Florida voters who are now choosing to identify as NPA. Why? Because they are tired of major party politics that produce lawmakers doing a poor job of lawmaking. And that’s a trend that many political observers say needs to be addressed.

A small crowd of voters streams into the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office on S. Military Trail in West Palm Beach as the doors open for early voting. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

A couple other factors: the number of registered voters, both Democrat and Republican, who regularly cross party lines during general elections; and the remaining “Dixiecrats” in the state who haven’t voted for a Democrat since Harry S. Truman but don’t bother to change their party affiliation.

Post readers have weighed in this over the past couple of weeks.

From Allen Smith of Port St. Lucie:

Open primaries can lead to shenanigans

In a situation where one party has an incumbent running while the other party has four or five folks contending for the right to represent their party, it is possible and very likely that people registered with the established candidate’s party will cross over and vote for the least likely candidate of the opposing party.

In Michigan, where there are open primaries, this cross-party voting has taken place on numerous occasions; when there are a number of candidates running for a position, just a few votes can make the difference in who wins the opportunity to represent the party.

By swaying the election in the primary, the opposing party can assure victory in the general election. This is called political shenanigans and has prevented many good candidates from being the choice of their own party…

From Ann Malachowski of Tequesta:

Primaries should be open to all

I felt the pain of the letter writer who attempted to vote in the recently held primaries. I also attempted to vote 20 years ago, as a newly transplanted Florida resident, as an independent. Such an archaic, nonsensical law.

There is good news, however. The organization Florida Fair and Open Primaries is trying to add a constitutional amendment to the election ballot to change Florida primary elections from a closed political party system to a voter-nominated top-two open primary system.

I suggest that you look them up sign their petition then get everyone you know to do the same.

From Wayne Whitson of Lake Clarke Shores:

Nonpartisans should not get say in primary

I highly disagree with the letter “NPA voters shut out of primaries” (Tuesday).

Primary elections are “partisan business matters” conducted by the members of Republican and Democratic parties. This is how the main political parties select their slate of candidates for a general election.

If you choose not to be a member of either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, why do you feel entitled to vote in Republican or Democratic primary elections?

Using religion as an example, why should a rabbi or ordained minister (of any faith) be allowed to have a say as to who will become the next pope of the Roman Catholic Church? The obvious answer is: They can’t; they’re not members of the Roman Catholic Church…

And from Leslie Shenkel of Greenacres:

Independent, non-affiliated should not vote in primaries

Many independents and many non-affiliated voters feel they should have the right to vote in the Democratic and Republican primaries. Let me tell them why they don’t and shouldn’t have.

These two organizations are semi-private clubs. Anyone can join the club, but you have to join. I live in Palm Beach County. I can not vote in Miami-Dade County. If I wanted to vote in Miami-Dade, I just have to move to Miami-Dade. No one could stop me, but I would have to move.

Move to where you want to vote. New York, California, Florida, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade or Democratic Party or Republican Party.

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Clearly, this debate isn’t going away.

The two major parties are not going to do anything that dilutes their power and influence. But why should they? As mentioned above, opening their primary makes the process susceptible to bad actors.

Still, as the rolls of NPA voters continues to grow, so do their own power and influence — especially as taxpayers.

And it gets harder for state lawmakers to ignore the cries of, “I want in!”

Tell us what you think by taking our poll, and leaving a comment here.

Christie: 2018 election: Florida’s environment don’t get no respect, no respect at all

Although Florida’s economy is heavily dependent on the environment, most political candidates are loathe to put, and keep those issues out front during a campaign.

The state’s environment could use a little more respect from political candidates this election season.

For the past several weeks, candidates have been trying to figure what issues are most important to voters. With some individual races as tight as they are, every hopeful running — be it for county commission or state senate — knows hitting on that one topic that resonates with voters can move the needle just enough to eke out a win. (Well, that and spending a lot of money on the campaign in the last couple weeks.)

RELATED: Post endorsements for the 2018 primary elections

But what are those hot-button voter issues?

Is it education? We do have a flashpoint issue in school security. There’s is also the much bigger issue of our K-12 public schools being in the bottom fifth in the nation. And Florida’s horrendous teacher pay has actually resulted in a shortage of about 4,000 teachers statewide to begin the 2018-19 school year.

Is it the economy? We do have this issue that, despite all the jobs created the last several years, too many residents complain they need two or three of them to make ends meet. That’s what happens when most of the jobs created are minimum wage. Meanwhile, the cost of housing is going through the roof in many places like, well, Palm Beach County.

Is it the environment? Or as I call it, “the Rodney Dangerfield of primary ballot issues.” Voters are witnessing a red tide causing massive fish kills, and manatee and turtle deaths up and down the Southwest Florida coast. They are watching the ongoing green goo affectionately known as “toxic blue-green algae” find its way into the backyard waterways of Treasure Coast residents. And of course, there’s that long-term, existential threat to our very way of life that everyone fears but few want to talk about: sea level rise. (That’s right, I said it.)

RELATED: The Environmental Issues Facing Florida This Election Season

In a survey released by the USA Today Network and Florida Atlantic University in June, voters said the environment was their No. 3 concern after economy and school safety, respectively. But unlike these first two, environmental issues cannot seem to get and/or maintain traction on the campaign trail.

How can that be, one might ask, when dead manatees are floating into marinas? How can that be when water is submerging roads and parks during King tides? And how can that be when several Martin County beaches — Jensen, Stuart, Bathtub and Hobe Sound  — are the latest to close as blue-green algae and red tide continue to spread throughout the state of Florida.

Venting on social media by irate residents about red tide and blue-green algae has gotten so bad that law enforcement is on edge.

A 250-pound Goliath grouper floats in the water in Sanibel, where red tide is killing millions of fish in Sanibel. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

And on August 13, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over the ongoing toxic red tide bloom.

“The red tide, which grows offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, has drifted toward the coast and is being blamed for killing scores of animals, including manatees, turtles, and thousands of fish,” reported Palm Beach Post staff writer Kimberly Miller.

But around that same time, when he had the opportunity to confront Treasure Coast residents about the blue-green goo that’s ruining their fishing and boating, Scott elected to do the equivalent of a boating flyover — leaving residents and their questions hanging.

Algae in the Caloosahatchee River beside the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam in Alva, Fla. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

The governor-turned-U.S. Senate candidate isn’t much different from his political brethren on this front; though most can seem to muster a bit more face-to-face compassion. Still, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phillip Levine tried to ride his sea-level-rise street cred to the top of the ticket, it didn’t work that well. Sure, voters like that stuff. But who can focus on an environmental threat when another candidate is accusing you of being a supporter of President Donald Trump, and guns are blazing at high school football games?

As a result, the environment gets pushed to the back-burner in a state that built its image off of sunshine and beautiful beaches. The state’s three-legged economy — tourism, agriculture and real estate — is so dependent on the environment that every storm season holds the potential to lay waste to all three. Witness: Hurricane Irma.

But so short is our attention span in this era of breaking news that environmental issues, even when they are staring us in the face daily — again, I mention toxic red tide and green algae — can’t keep a politician’s attention. Today, for example, in the wake of a mass shooting at a gaming tournament on Sunday in Jacksonville, gun control is the topic du jour.

Sigh… maybe it will be different in the general election campaign.

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What do you think?… Should the environment be a higher priority for Florida politicians?

Take our poll, and leave a comment.

Christie: Charter schools don’t need a specific percentage of the special tax increase

The Palm Beach County School Board is expected to approve a ballot initiative to hike property taxes to pay for among other things, arts and music classes, school security and teacher pay hikes. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The Palm Beach County School Board is set to vote Wednesday on a ballot measure that it proposes to put before taxpayers in November.

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That measure, if approved by 51 percent of county voters, will add a special $1 of tax per $100,000 of property value. It will replace the 25 cents that has been levied on county taxpayers since 2014 to pay for arts and music teachers, we all as physical education and choice programs.

The special four-year levy, which has been approved twice overwhelmingly — in 2010 and 2014 — by voters, would be replaced by the new levy.

There’s also another twist: the school board doesn’t want charter schools mentioned in the ballot language.

I agree; largely because adding them is not necessary to make sure that charters are able to participate in the voters’ hoped-for largess. The other is the more obvious lack of accountability.

And therein lies the beginning of the rub.

This is just what it sounds like: an all-or-nothing proposition for the school district.

Faced with yet another unfunded mandate by the Florida Legislature — this time to pay for school security, mental health services — the district has little choice. Board members are also boxed in by lagging teacher pay that has reached a near-crisis point in teacher turnover.

And that won’t be the only argument they’ll have to make to the public.

Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy, at the behest of the board, has come back with a recommendation that charter schools not be given a percentage of the estimated $200 million to be raised annually from the special tax.

Fennoy, to his credit, had earlier suggested that charters should get a designated piece of the pie. The still-fledgling schools chief had read the political and legal tea leaves, and determined that it would be easier to include charters than risk a public fight that could torpedo the ballot measure.

But again, his bosses would have none of it. Fennoy returned last week with another (surprise!) legal opinion that cleared the way for excluding charters from the ballot language

RELATED: In reversal, PBC schools chief says to exclude charters in tax push

It’s a little confusing if you’re a voter trying to figure out whether to support the measure. But that’s politics.

Be that as it may, the school board was correct to send Fennoy back to the drawing board on this one. As I said, his political and legal instincts were good, but this school board has a history of playing hard ball with charters over the issue of accountability. And rightly so. This district has had its share of poorly run charters that it has carried, and allowed to continue operating despite their problems.

The district must, above all else, be good stewards of taxpayers dollars — especially when you’re going back to the well so soon. It’s not bottomless, after all.

Also, this doesn’t mean that charters will get nothing for much-needed security and mental health services. That would be foolish on the district’s part. It just means that charter schools — which are privately run — will likely be allocated dollars and resources much the same way as traditional public schools.

But all of that has to be hashed out, and it’s possible that charter school advocates won’t want to wait for the district to show its good faith. I hope that’s not the case.

Because a public fight would have many voters on both sides of the issue wondering whether the school board is making the right call, and not vote in favor of the ballot initiative.

That would only punish those students who need and deserve the continued support of arts and music classes, and teachers who deserve to finally receive a decent pay raise.

Take our poll and tell us what you think here:

Poll: Should Palm Beach County raise taxes to pay teachers more, boost school security?

Florida teachers are underpaid.

Our state ranks eighth from the bottom in per-pupil spending in elementary-secondary education, according to Census Bureau statistics.

Elementary-secondary teachers in Florida earn an average $49,199. (That’s $9,154 less than the U.S. average.)  Teachers are going into their own pockets an average of $479 every year for classroom supplies, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Now the Palm Beach County School Board is considering whether to ask voters this fall to raise their property taxes as much as $153 million a year, primarily to boost teacher pay. The money would also help pay for the 75 more security officers needed to patrol every school in the sprawling district and for more student mental-health services — both in reaction to the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

But in November 2016, voters approved a penny-per-dollar increase in sales tax to pay for maintenance and construction projects for schools and city and county governments.

Is it too soon to ask voters to dip into their wallets again?

Tell us what you think.

Christie: Follow the money in heated West Palm Beach commission race

Christina Lambert, who won the West Palm Beach City Commission District 5 seat in March, poses for photo with Mayor Jeri Muoio and other supporters. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s been nearly three months since challenger Christina Lambert unseated West Palm Beach Commissioner Shanon Materio by a mere 183 votes in a heated, and increasingly controversial race.

The city hadn’t seen the likes of this kind of nastiness since Mayor Jeri Muoio defeated former Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell in a knockdown, drag-out, no-holds-barred mayoral brawl back in 2015.

RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Ex-West Palm commissioner: Foe’s consultant hid election contributors

And Materio is back for Round 2. According to the Post’s Tony Doris, she has filed three complaints with the Florida Elections Commission alleging that three shell companies were created to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars for political purposes without declaring themselves political organizations — which are required to identify contributors.

The political purpose? Electing Lambert.

The contributors? Voters don’t know. But shouldn’t they, for the sake of transparency?

The proposed One Flagler tower was rejected by the West Palm Beach City Commission last September by a vote of 3-2.

Lambert, a newcomer with business community ties, managed to knock off the more seasoned Materio mainly because she had the money. She also had in her corner Rick Asnani, one of the county’s top political consultants.

That’s all good. Lambert won the seat, and is ensconced on the commission. Ready to vote, among other things, on a rejuvenated plan to create the Okeechobee Business District (OBD). Yep, the same OBD that would allow the construction of the 25-story One Flagler office building pretty much on Flagler Drive.

That’s not all good. A number of city residents — vocal city residents — don’t like the idea of building the tower on an already traffic-clogged Okeechobee Boulevard. They especially don’t like the fact that the issue seemed dead after it was defeated when it came before the commission in September.

But what a difference an election makes.

RELATED: West Palm: Lambert narrowly beats Materio; Shoaf wins District 1

Shanon Materio, former West Palm Beach city commissioner.

Materio has been accused of some stuff too.

“Ms. Materio used a campaign committee that was established in the month of February 2018, just one month before the election, and ran $23,000 in donations through the entity to help her campaign while hiding the donors,” Asnani told the Post. “Prior to that, Materio used a different political committee to send out a mailing that is being investigated by the Florida Elections Commission for potential illegal donations.”

Political operative Bill Newgent, for his part, filed complaints about a series of alleged misfilings and a missed deadline regarding Materio’s campaign documentation, Doris wrote.

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Election campaigns laws exist for a reason. The primary one being so that voters know who is influencing or attempting to influence candidates that are vying to represent constituents.

We know that transparency is a good thing… and “democracy dies in the darkness.”

But this long after the election, is there value in Materio’s insistence on knowing the names of the people or entities that contributed to those three mysterious shell companies created by Asnani?

Goodman: Florida’s system on ex-felon voting not just massively unfair. It’s ‘unconstitutional’

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press via AP)

In 2010, an ex-convict in Florida named Steven Warner cast a ballot in an election. This is illegal, because unless felons jump through the hoops of a lengthy clemency process, felons in Florida are barred from voting for life.

Warner wanted his rights restored, and, after waiting the required five to seven years after completing all the terms of his sentence (prison, parole, probation, fines), he found himself three years later in front of the state’s Executive Clemency Board.

Gov. Rick Scott, who sits on the board along with his cabinet, asked Warner about his illegal voting.

“Actually, I voted for you,” Warner said.

Scott laughed, then said, “I probably shouldn’t respond to that.” A few seconds passed. Then Scott granted the former felon his voting rights.

Warner is white. But the board rejected five other former felons who had cast illegal ballots on that basis. Will it surprise anyone that four of those five were African-American?

This is the sort of arbitrary, imperious and no doubt politically motivated decision-making that U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker cited in the stunning ruling he issued on Thursday evening, declaring Florida’s method of restoring felons’ rights unconstitutional.

The federal judge’s decision is an explosive truth-bomb aimed squarely at a system which gives the governor, much like a medieval king, “unfettered discretion to deny clemency at any time, for any reason.” Or as Scott himself said at one hearing, according to the ruling: “We can do whatever we want.”

“In Florida, elected partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines or standards,” Walker wrote. “The question…is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It doesn’t.”

His powerhouse ruling comes, coincidentally, nine days after state judges approved a measure for November’s ballot which, if approved by voters, will automatically restore voting rights of felons after they’ve served their sentences, except for murderers and sex offenders. It gives the drive for the much-needed Amendment 4 an incalculable boost.

And it is a withering attack on Scott, just as the two-term Republican is expected to announce a run for Senate against Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent.

For it is the miserly system that Scott established in 2011 to enable a few lucky ex-cons to have their rights restored that is flayed in Walker’s blistering decision.

Unlike the Voting Restoration Amendment drive — which has focused on the inequity of denying some 1.7 million Floridians their rights — Walker zeroes in on the extremely arbitrary way in which they might get those rights returned.

“To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority,” Walker writes. “No standards guide the panel.”

To be clear, the judge said it is constitutional for Florida to bar felons from voting for life, if the state wants to continue to be one of the three or four states in the nation to do so. “But once a state provides for restoration,” he writes, “its process cannot offend the Constitution.”

It is decidedly unconstitutional to have a system based on race, he writes. Or a system that’s so arbitrary that the governor can decide whether to grant the right to vote depending on whether that ex-felon is going to vote Republican or a Democrat. It’s unconstitutional to make ex-convicts meet standards of behavior that are never really defined — or as Walker scorchingly calls them — “frankly, mythical.”

The results of Scott’s mean-spirited system are perfectly clear. When Charlie Crist was governor, the then-Republican tried to end the state’s backwardness with executive clemency rules in 2007 that automatically restored voting rights for those who served sentences for lesser felonies. More than 155,000 felons got their rights back.

Scott overturned that, and then some. His 2011 rules, with their five- to seven-year waiting periods and demands for unspecified sterling behavior, are now often cited as the toughest in the nation. In the last seven years, just 3,000  people have received restorations.

And more than 10,000 people are on a backlog of cases waiting for hearings to have their rights restored.

“The context of these numbers is not lost on this court,” Walker writes. “More than one-tenth of Florida’s voting population — nearly 1.7 million as of 2016 — cannot vote because they have been decimated from the body politic. More than one in five of Florida’s African American voting age population cannot vote.

“If any of these citizens wishes to earn back their fundamental right to vote,” he adds, “they must plod through a gauntlet of constitutionally infirm hurdles. No more.”

Walker did not impose a solution — yet. He ordered lawyers for ex-cons and the state to file briefs related to remedies before Feb. 12.

So this ruling makes the second big development within two weeks with the potential to demolish Florida’s shameful status quo that prevents most ex-felons from reentering civil society despite having served their sentences.

On Friday came a third. The Constitution Revision Commission decided to consider the issue after Warner’s explosive ruling. The commission, which meets every 20 years to recommend possible amendments to the state constitution, had already considered several proposals aimed at automatically restoring rights for ex-felons. But members withdrew them after the voting-restoration petition drive got Amendment 4 onto the ballot, fearing that too many similar-sounding ballot initiatives would confuse voters and dilute all of the initiatives’ chances.

Would the same thing happen with a new ballot proposal aimed not at automatic restoration but at fixing the clemency process? That’s one of the next things to watch as the energy for reforming this long-stultified system gains unexpected momentum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christie: Post reader calls for PBC Judge Santino’s removal from bench

Palm Beach County Judge Dana Santino speaks in front of a Judicial Qualifications Commission panel at the Palm Beach County Courthouse on August 2. Santino is accused of violating judicial canons during her campaign. (Meghan McCarthy/ The Palm Beach Post)

The topic of whether Palm Beach County Judge Dana Santino should remain on the bench has been a hot one among Post Opinion readers for months.

And now, one Post reader writes that the Florida Supreme Court should remove her, and Gov. Rick Scott appoint her cheated opponent, West Palm Beach defense attorney Gregg Lerman.

I first blogged about it back in March, positing that same question from readers.

Here’s the skinny on what’s got so many folks agitated:

During a hard-fought and very testy campaign for a judicial seat last fall, Santino stepped over the line in criticizing Lerman. Santino said some pretty nasty things about what Lerman does for a living, i.e. defending criminals.

Turns out denigrating any part of the legal profession in such a way during a campaign is a no-no. Thus, Santino was charged with violating four canons that dictate how judicial candidates are to behave. The 49-year-old former guardianship and probate attorney has admitted that her attacks on Lerman violated two of them.

But, in court papers, her attorney, Jeremy Kroll, insists she has a stellar record of legal service and has learned from her mistakes. So instead of a recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court that Santino be removed from office, he suggested the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) — a six-member panel of two judges, two lawyers and two citizens — save her nascent judicial career. Kroll suggested she receive a public reprimand and a $50,000 fine — the same punishment an Escambia County judge received in 2003 for making similar claims on the campaign trail.

RELATED: County Judge Santino’s future on bench now up to state panel

But in this case, precedent shouldn’t be prologue. And the fact Santino has exhibited good behavior since taking the bench would be like rewarding a driver who caused a major accident for being good driver for the few months until their trial.

Also, there just seems to be something wrong with addressing someone who admitted to doing something so dishonorable as “Your Honor.”

Yes, people makes mistakes. But to repeatedly make such mistakes, then fail to correct those actions, and then not acknowledge them after you’ve won tarnishes a judge and the robe they wear.

At a two-day hearing before the JQC last week, Santino was appropriately contrite and apologetic. But while casting herself as a “political neophyte,” she also deflected blame onto her political consultant, Richard Giorgio.

It just doesn’t wash.

What’s really unfortunate is that Santino might actually make a decent jurist if allowed to remain on the bench. But she might not. And what kind of message would that send to future judicial candidates, as well as the defendants and attorneys that would come before her?

And letter published on Tuesday morning’s Post Opinion page reflects that sentiment:

Dump Santino; put Lerman on bench

Dana Santino has now confessed to the Judicial Qualifications Commission charged with determining her fitness for the county court bench. She says she made a terrible mistake trusting her “hired gun” consultant’s advice and libeling her opponent in last fall’s race, Gregg Lerman, through vicious emails sent to county voters and an infamous “Truth About Gregg Lerman” Facebook page.

An Air Force general I worked for once told me, “Integrity means doing the right thing when nobody’s looking.” What could be a greater “fail” than for Santino to do the wrong thing when everyone’s looking? And then to double down and defend her actions repeatedly when called into question before Election Day, when there still was time to clean up her campaign?

The right thing to happen now is for the JQC panel to remove Santino from the bench. Then when Gov. Rick Scott appoints her replacement, the next right thing to do would be to appoint Lerman to the judge’s chair that he almost certainly would have won outright if not for Santino’s outrageous and illegal conduct.

That would be a remarkable act of statesmanship by the governor, for Lerman successfully sued the governor last year to prevent him from appointing the judgeship in the first place, forcing it onto the ballot so citizens like us could make the decision. It would mean Scott could set aside personal animus and do the fair thing that, intuitively, would very likely have been the will of the voters, had Santino not cheated so brazenly and fearlessly.

What a refreshing and encouraging message that action by our governor would send in this time of cynical partisanship.

STEVE EVERETT, SINGER ISLAND

Goodman: Florida should resist Trump’s bogus vote-fraud fishing expedition (but probably won’t)

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, meets with then President-elect Donald Trump in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

At least 44 states have pushed back against the White House’s jokingly named Election Integrity Commission’s request for detailed voter information — none so colorfully as Mississippi’s “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico” — but Florida is still ostensibly making up its mind.

“We are reviewing [the request],” Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Secretary of State, said Tuesday afternoon in an email.

Here’s a suggestion to Revell’s boss, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner: Just say no.

MORE: Florida one of few states still silent about Trump voter data request

But this being the administration of Gov. Rick Scott, I don’t expect him to take the advice.

Last week, the voter-fraud panel sent a letter to all 50 states, asking their top election officials to send all available information, if publicly available in their state, about voters’ names, birth dates, the last four digits of Social Security numbers and their voting history going back to 2006.

Some of the resisting states simply don’t like the idea of the federal government amassing a master list of voters.

But some see this for what it is: an attempt by President Trump to find the phantom 3 million to 5 million “illegal voters” he claims, without a scintilla of evidence, to have voted for Hillary Clinton. It’s his explanation for losing the popular vote last November.

And at the same time, this sweep looks intended to amass a national database which will be used to spot supposed cases of voter fraud, Republicans’ favorite rationale for passing laws to suppress the vote.

It doesn’t take a deeply conspiratorial imagination to think that. The commission’s letter was written by its vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — perhaps the most avid vote-suppressor in politics.

Just yesterday, Maryland became the latest state to refuse the commission, on the advice of its Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat, who called the request a “repugnant” maneuver to “intimidate voters and to indulge President Trump’s fantasy that he won the popular vote.”

Frosh continued: “Repeating incessantly a false story of expansive voter fraud, and then creating a commission to fuel that narrative, does not make it any more true. There is no evidence that the integrity of the 2016 election in Maryland — or any other state — was compromised by voter fraud.”

Some of the 29 states are offering only partial information because their states prohibit the release of certain items. Ironically, one of the state officials unwilling to fork over everything, as requested by Kris Kobach, is Kris Kobach. He said Kansas won’t share Social Security information with the commission.

That’s Florida’s most likely route. Voter registration information is public record in Florida. In fact, it’s easily downloadable. So Trump’s commission should have no problem scooping up lots of data about Florida voters.

But some things cannot be made public, by law: Social Security numbers, driver license numbers and Florida I.D. numbers. Voters’ signatures can’t be copied.

Apart from that, the Scott administration will probably want to help Trump’s bogus crusade as much as it can. It has a history in this sorry pursuit.

In 2011, Scott ordered his then-Secretary of State, Kurt Browning to “identify and remove non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls.” The non-citizens were supposed to be identified by comparing the voter rolls to the motor-vehicles department  records. Soon enough, the database matching coughed up 182,000 names. But Browning considered it so inaccurate, he refused to pass it along to county election officials. He resigned in February 2012. The new man, Detzner, was happy to comply.

Thousands of Floridians — no surprise, most were Hispanics, Democrats and independents — began receiving letters, informing them they’d be scrubbed from the voter rolls unless they produced proof of citizenship in 90 days. But before long, Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, along with the supervisor in Hillsborough County, refused to participate; the information was too old and too haphazard to trust. One of the targeted voters was a Brooklyn-born, 91-year-old World War II veteran living in Broward County.

Within weeks, all the state’s elections supervisors, including 30 Republicans, refused to take part in the purge, but not before about 85 people were tossed off the rolls. Federal courts eventually declared the scrubbing illegal.

So: We know from our own recent history here in Florida that these database searches for suspicious voters are prone to error.

We also know from plenty of studies that the supposed evil of widespread voter fraud is … well, itself a fraud.

As the Philadelphia-based national political writer Dick Polman (a former colleague of mine) writes:

An election specialist at the Loyola School of Law, Los Angeles, crunched the national numbers from 2010 and 2014, and found a grand total of 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation – out of one billion votes cast.

Elsewhere, the Brennan Center at New York University Law School found that the fraud rate in America is somewhere between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent; it’s more likely, said the center’s report, that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

Elsewhere, two studies at Arizona State University found 10 voter impersonation cases nationwide from 2000 to 2012.

Elsewhere, another national study looked at fraud cases from 2000 to 2012 and concluded that “the rate is infintesimal.”

All told, at least a dozen more studies, and court opinions, have reached the same conclusion. And lest we forget, when Pennsylvania’s ruling GOP tried to enact a photo ID law in 2012, ostensibly to thwart widespread statewide voter fraud, the GOP’s lawyers were compelled to admit in court papers that they were unable to cite a single case.

None of this, sad to say, is likely to sway Rick Scott. Which is too bad for the cause of genuine election integrity.