Most people are unaware how laws that barricade a powerful elite behind the walls of power turn our democracy brittle as burnt toast.
Recently, Miami-Dade county commissioners passed a new ordinance making it a criminal offense when signature gatherers for ballot referenda “lie” in the course of collecting signatures from citizens.
The elite don't like ballot referenda, especially when they take aim at the prerogatives of power. But petitioning our government is a constitutional right.
The law promulgated by Florida's most populous county was passed in a fit of vengance against citizens who had the temerity to launch a recall effort against a powerful incumbent county commissioner, Natacha Seijas.
In leaving interpretation of the new measure to police officers who may be called to investigate "lies" in the course of a political action to gather signatures for a referedum campaign, local officials dragged democracy into the murk like alligators pulling innocents off canal banks.
Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer, in a lawsuit asking the court to overturn the measure, is pulling citizens back from the brink. Good for him!
Eyeonmiami frequently commented on the tactics, including illegal ones, used against signature gatherers in Seijas' district, in Hialeah.
Although the recall effort failed, swamped by a tidal wave of contributions from powerful developers and builders who form Seijas' core base, the new law, vetoed by Mayor Carlos Alvarez and over-ridden, introduces the prospect of further intimidation on behalf of a political elite.
Mayor Dermer understands the importance of citizen petitions against their own government. Active involvement in a petition drive to stop the rampant over-development of Miami Beach catapaulted Dermer into public office, where he has served two terms as a popular mayor.
Dermer is right to challenge the outrageous manoever by the county commission to limit citizens’ constitutional right to change their own government.
The Miami Herald has never commented on the very significant way this issue has forced to the surface the ongoing conflict between the development lobby and citizens.
Miami New Times on the other hand reports this week, “Six months have elapsed since County Commissioner Natacha Seijas survied a recall vote. But that hasn’t stopped public corruption investigators from hounding the people involved in the political action committee that targeted her.”
The state attorney’s public corruption division has failed to launch a similar probe against Ken Forbes, whose PAC has already been investigated by the Florida Division of Elections and deemed to be in violation of Florida Elections Law.
Forbes’ PAC tried to launch a retaliatory recall campaign against Pat Wade, one of the leaders of the Seijas recall attempt. Wade serves as an elected representative of a local zoning council.
A related article in Miami New Times calls attention to the inconsistency, “John Wade claims Centorino is not investigating Forbes because Wade and his wife were members of the anti-Natacha Seijas political action committee currently under investigation (by the state attorney’s office). “There seems to be a double standard here,” Wade complains, “as if the state attorney’s office is picking and choosing who they want to prosecute.”
Most people don’t get involved in politics in Miami because they see it is a dirty business. Perception is correctable. What cannot be corrected is when laws are changed to protect a powerful and insulated elite. In this case, it is easy to see why voters would believe that the Miami Dade State Attorney's Office could be manipulated by bitter politicians, and that the law could be used as a cudgel against enemies of the state.
The explanation, on the other hand, by the Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office why it is investigating one political action committee and not the other, is quite simply: inadequate.
Thanks to Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer for standing up in a way that counts.