Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fixing Florida elections to serve the radical right: former state senator Michael Bennett … by gimleteye

The battle to dominate election outcomes by rigging polling days for early voting and reducing the number and location of ballot stations on election day isn't happening in Iraq. It is happening in Florida where a mainly white, aging GOP is pushing back against the changing demographics of one of the nation's most influential and important states.
In 2000, then Florida governor Jeb Bush had already supported through secretary of state Katherine Harris a faulty purge of voter files, denying the right to vote mainly to blacks likely to vote for the Democratic candidate Al Gore. Although Bush's successor, Charlie Crist, by executive order allowed more early voting days, his successor Gov. Rick Scott, cut back the numbers of days from 14 to 8 and Sunday voting was reduced from 2 to 1. Sunday voting, unsurprisingly, mostly serves elderly, poor or infirm black voters who carpool from church to polls. In other words, Democratic voters.

More news rattled "the most exceptional nation" last week when a Florida county voted to eliminate nearly one-third of its voting sites.

According to the website, ThinkProgress; in Manatee County, on party lines the board of county commissioners "by a 6-1 vote to trim the number of precincts, despite unanimous public testimony against the move — and complaints by the lone Democratic Commissioner that it would eliminate half of the polling places in his heavily minority District 2."

The action in a Florida county to further suppress election outcomes in favor of the radical, conservative right is part of an unmistakeable trend, noted by the national press, for Republican dark money to jam up democracy in the states. The highly controversial action in Manatee County shows that the ambitions of the radical right are successfully penetrating to the layer of government least susceptible to outside pressure: local jurisdictions at the county and municipal levels.

With the Citizens United decision by the Bush Supreme Court, it is now impossible to trace the billions of dollars filtering through donors whose identities are concealed. It is, however, relatively easy to trace its presence by noting the reactions and the actors.

The press noted that the Manatee County decision, to reduce the number of precincts from 99 to 69, was justified by the supervisor of elections as a way to "save money". Who was this supervisor of elections? His name is Michael Bennett, and although he is described as a "first time" supervisor of elections, he is very well known in Florida politics as one of the top GOP operators in the state legislature, from which he was term-limited out in 2012.

Bennett, in fact, was a charter member of Florida's GOP "Great Destroyers" who found their purpose in serving the interests of the real estate industry and Big Sugar by dismantling state authority related to growth management. By the time Michael Bennett was term-limited from the state senate, he had succeeded in the goal set out to 1) sharply curtail pollution laws and 2) knee-cap state regulatory authority over local development planning.

The targets were laws passed in the 1980's by a generation of Florida leaders in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to preserve or at least offer the opportunity to preserve through state intervention the chief attributes that made Florida an attractive destination in the first place. The 1985 Growth Management Act was one of the nation's first and most important examples of state authority intervening to measure the impacts of suburban sprawl. Although the Everglades Forever Act was approved in the early 1990's, its genesis was in federal authority through the Clean Water Act, signed into law by a Republican president Richard Nixon two decades earlier but litigated in Florida for nearly as long.

Through the conservative looking glass in Florida, the gains achieved by eliminating state government capacity to regulate and enforce are threatened by changing demographics through which Florida was won by the nation's first black president, Barack Obama, and could tip from red to blue in the future. What the radical right needs is a strong bench, to filter its former operators and leaders in the state legislature, back down into the ranks at the county level. Operators like Michael Bennett whose trail is clearly marked by fact.

In the spring of 2003 then Governor Jeb Bush triggered the outrage of environmentalists and the editorial boards of every newspaper in the state when he, prodded by Big Sugar, undertook to re-write the water pollution law that underpinned a state federal settlement agreement of nearly a decade earlier, establishing a limit on pollution of the Everglades through the application of fertilizer on upstream sugar farms. Although Jeb Bush attended the Everglades signing in the Rose Garden at the Clinton White House -- on the very day the US Supreme Court decided the 2000 presidential election in favor of his brother -- memorializing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, only three years later he set a course against federal authority by approving legislation to change the compact he had signed.

When Big Sugar needed help getting its bill through the Senate, it turned a group of state legislators willing to prove their mettle by taking on the "do' gooders" and state's newspaper editorial boards. There were a lot of hands on deck but one stood out: the state senator from Bradenton, Michael Bennett.

(I can write with some authority on this issue because in 2004, after the hotly contested bill became law -- dubbed by environmentalists as the Everglades Whenever Act -- the organization of which I am now board president, Friends of the Everglades, sued in federal court against the US EPA -- then under the thumb of ideologues in the Bush administration -- because it had meekly allowed the the Jeb Bush transgression without challenge. That lawsuit, finally settled in 2012 in a Miami federal court, is still being contested by Big Sugar and although the 2004 state legislation was never rolled back. In 2012 Gov. Rick Scott celebrated the state's agreement to invest $900 million to meet the EPA's reconsideration of water quality standards in the Everglades as though it was his administration's own idea.)

But this is just the introduction to former state senator Mike Bennett. (to be continued,)


Anonymous said...

Will Rogers said "I belong to no organized political party, I'm a democrat"

It seems the underlying objecting to any effort to streamlined voting, make it more cost effective and equitable always runs into the argument "it disenfranchises the undeserved (read: makes it harder for dis-organized democrats to vote).

Yet in the über blue state of Washington there are no polling places just one's mailbox and I can even register online,...according to friends and family out there, it works just fine.

Anonymous said...

The Mayor is intent on suppressing the vote again by not redrawing ALL of the voting precincts in Miami- Dade County. Given their tract record it is clear that the Elections Department is not up to the task. The solution is simple. Fire everybody in that department, take the money bring in a contractor to get the job done. A computer can draw the new precincts based on a size of 2,500 voters, recognition of municipal and various electoral districts. Have the computer list all the existing polling places, and place them in the new precincts. Begin sending out new voter cards as soon as a polling place is in place. Highlight the precincts with no polling places. In the areas with no polling places have the computer list all schools, libraries, shopping centers, strip malls, and churches. List all the schools and work out a deal for all the public schools needed at the district level. Same thing with the library. For the residual precincts, send out teams to secure deals with shopping centers, churches, meeting halls, strip malls and the like. With the right talent and the will to get it done, it can be done.

Otherwise, we are going to need some enforcement here. The US Justice Department needs to be called in right away.

Anonymous said...

Everyone forgets we received $1,000,000 from the Dolphins which should have been used for this. Unfortunately, it appears the Dems laid down and died yesterday at the BCC when they should have been more organized. Moss was far from helpful because he was one of those convinced his constituents would never be able to figure out where to vote. It was a very sad day for Democracy yesterday. The BCC was the most depressing displays I've seen in our County.

Shame on the entire BCC, the Mayor and both party's for not taking a firmer stand. We are two years behind schedule. The time is now.

Miami Dade County - Where the US Constitution is optional.

Anonymous said...

if memory serves me correctly, former Senator Bennett was the same guy who was caught watching porn at his Senate seat in open chambers that could be seen by the public overhead, including the many school children who visit the capitol each day during session

Anonymous said...

He was just doing "research".

Anonymous said...

Again with the Citizens United crap. Jeez. Why not blame the Koch brothers too? Or the Trilateral Commission. They are all just as likely a villain to your imaginary conspiracy.

Anonymous said...

okay, Lynda Bell