Sunday, October 31, 2010

Republican enthusiasm, edited videos, and defective hippies

On Friday and Saturday, I attended several get-out-the-vote rallies for our Republican candidates and thought I'd share some of the photos and stories with you...

Friday, there was a large rally for Marco Rubio at the Marks Street Senior Center.  As is common at these rallies, staffers were passing out stickers supporting candidates.  Marco's team had a new one I hadn't seen before, but really liked:

We have a new shiny arena, and on Tuesday, we are going to get a new shiny Senator!
State Representative Scott Plakon's daughter Jeanne sang "God Bless America" to kick off the rally and then also sang her own version of "Tomorrow" from the Annie soundtrack.  She changes the lyrics to say "November" instead of "tomorrow."  I've been watching Jeanne sing this song all year.  She used to sing, "I love ya, November, you're only eight months away!" but on Friday she could finally sing "I love ya, November, you're only four days away!"  That got an extra big round of applause.

Here's Jeanne singing "November" at the Orange County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner back in March:

YouTube | Jeanne Plakon  - "The Sun Will Come Out November"

The Republican candidates appeared together on stage - Marco Rubio, Jeff Atwater, Adam Putnam - apparently the new uniform is blue shirt and khaki pants.  They even made several jokes about how they all looked alike:

The Republican Party is so united this year, our candidates are color-coordinated.
Marco Rubio gave a great speech, thanking everyone for supporting him.  He also talked about other races, commenting how great it was going to be "to trade in [an] Alan Grayson and get a Daniel Webster."

One of the reasons I respect Marco so much is that his message has not changed since he got into the race.  In early 2009, I had the privilege of being invited to lunch with several other Central Florida Republicans to talk with Marco about his Senate campaign.  At that point, Charlie Crist was pretty much acting like he had a crown on his head.  I had heard Marco speak at events before, but had never had a chance to meet him directly.  He just plain impressed the heck out of me.  Solid mix of intelligence and common sense, natural political instinct, easy sense of humor, confident but not egotistical (unlike some people, cough cough, Charlie, cough cough).

After that lunch meeting, my decision was easy.  I was on Team Marco.  I hosted a fundraiser in July 2009, one of the first in Orlando for Marco (maybe even the very first).  I remember getting a lot of phone calls and comments about it, asking why I was supporting him when Charlie was "definitely" going to win, and Marco was "inevitably" going to switch to the AG race, Marco was too many points down and "could never" win, didn't I want a political career, etc.

Well, even at that point, every time the media ran a story saying Marco couldn't win because Marco was polling at "X" and Charlie was polling at "Y," Marco's "X" got higher and Charlie's "Y" got lower.  Add that to the easily-observable reality that every time people heard Marco speak, they didn't just like what they heard, they loved it.  And again, he's been faithful and consistent in his stances, see this article from WDBO from the same day as my fundraiser.

I still remember parts of the speech Marco gave at that July 2009 fundraiser (kicking myself for not videoing it!) and was thinking about it while I listened to Marco on Friday.  Same ideas, same goals, same principles.  In a political era where Charlie pinky-swears on national TV that he's a "Jeb Bush Republican" only to abandon the party, flip flop on pretty much everything and everyone (he's now promising Democrats that he will caucus with them), Marco's steadfastness and reliable conservative principles are a giant breath of fresh air.

Side note: how weird - not to mention totally creepy - is it that Charlie called Meek at 4:50 am?  He's so desperate, he's now resorting to political booty calls.  Another thought...first Charlie tried to bully Marco out of the Republican primary, last week he tried to bully Kendrick Meek out of the race.  If current trends hold, Alex Snitker better watch his back, he's next!

At the end of the rally, I shook Marco's hand and told him while I had been confident that this day was possible last year when he was 20 points down in the polls, but now that it was actually here, it felt even better than I had expected.  Big grin from Marco for that comment.

I then went to a rally being held for Daniel Webster at the corner of Bumby and Colonial.  Webster is touring around District 8 with his truck, calling it his "F150 Tour."   I parked across the street and walked over to join everyone.  There were a lot of people there, including a large number of families and children.

View as I walked over to the Webster rally, intersection of Bumby and Colonial
Part of the Webster crowd.  Couldn't get them all in the shot, people behind me and more to the left.  Truck was parked to the right and people all around it too.

Last light of the day shining on Webster's face as he gets ready to give his speech.  Hopefully Tuesday will see the sun set on Grayson's tenure in Congress too!

Webster gave a great speech to a very enthusiastic crowd.

My next Congressman
Right after I took this picture, things got...interesting.  Several Grayson supporters, about 3 or 4 guys, showed up and started yelling and trying to interrupt Webster's speech.  One guy in particular was extremely aggressive, getting right behind the truck and waving his sign behind Webster.  Well, as the Sentinel has already reported, Bruce O'Donoghue (Republican primary candidate for District 8) went and took the sign from the guy.  A Webster staffer quickly went over and calmed the situation down and had Bruce give the guy his sign back.  Bruce walked away, the guy went back to hopping up and down and yelling, a little further back than before, no big deal.

The Sentinel article has the video, so you can judge for yourself...except...notice that the video cuts from right after Webster starts talking to when Bruce approached the guy.  The video editor completely cut out the part where the guy was practically climbing on the truck and waving his sign right behind Webster.  This may not have been a particularly well thought out move for Bruce, but holy heck, he didn't hurt the guy, it was over in seconds, I just don't understand the fuss.  Considering how close the guy was getting to Webster and how aggressive he was acting, I was honestly a little worried about the guy's intentions and was glad that he kept a little more distance after Bruce snatched his sign.

Of course, in the delusional and self-important worldview of Alan Grayson, he is screaming bloody murder about one little sign getting snatched, folded and then handed back, saying that it was an example of "the increasing number of incidents of violence perpetrated by right-wing supporters."  Excuse me?!  What "incidents of violence?"  You mean the tea party movement rallies, where we go around with trash bags afterward and make sure there isn't even a gum wrapper left behind?  The gatherings of Republicans where we do wild things like say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem? 

The Webster crowd included, as I said before, a lot of families and children.  The Grayson supporters that showed up were shouting a lot of ugly, aggressive, offensive things even with those children there.  Grayson clearly didn't have very high standards in who he hired.  Yes, I said "hired:" several of the so-called supporters admitted to us that they had been paid to come and protest.

Contrast that to this video showing the hundreds of volunteers who showed up to walk for Dan Webster a few weekends ago:

YouTube | 1000 Patriot Walk

The funny thing was, most of the Grayson people didn't show up until the event was over and the crowd was dispersing.  There were only 4 or 5 of them who made it before the speeches were over.  There were about 2 dozen or so by the time I had left, but the sun was setting and the crowd was dispersing. 

The really funny thing was that these hired protesters were total amateurs.  Besides being very late, they didn't seem to know what they were supposed to do, milling around confused.  Several of them tried to start chants but they had trouble getting everyone to yell the same words at the same time.  They pretty much just gave up and went back to yelling insults at women and children.  We all saw the irony in the situation, and I commented that I was disappointed in them.  "They just don't make liberals like they used to.  I thought they knew how to do street protests.  We got the defective hippies!"

Regardless, the whole scene just illustrated the vast, vast difference between Dan Webster and Alan Grayson.  I was very proud to fill in the bubble next to Webster's name last week during early voting, and I look forward to being even prouder when I can call him Congressman.

Photo taken by Todd Catella, who describes it as "I see the sun rising on a new political day!"

[more coming later from the Jeb Bush rally Saturday...]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Adorableness from a candidate's family

One of the things I enjoy most about being politically active is the opportunity to really get to know the candidates, as well as their family and friends.  Politics can be a cynical game, but there are some really good, honest people involved and a number of candidates, especially locally, who I feel confident are truly running for the right reasons.

One of those candidates is Teresa Jacobs.  I've been a longtime admirer of hers because of her tough reputation as an ethics watchdog and an independent thinker.  I was proud to vote for her earlier this week during early voting, and I am looking forward to watching her get sworn in as Orange County's next mayor.

Earlier today, the Jacobs campaign sent out an email with messages for Teresa from her husband Bruce and their four children.  Call me a sap, but I just love this stuff.  I think this type of personal, heart-felt message about a candidate is important and certainly a bit of fresh air among all the nutty attack ads out there.

Here are the messages from the Jacobs Family:


When I married you 29 years ago I never in my wildest dreams thought you would ever run for political office. Actually, 29 years ago, I never thought we would have four of the greatest kids in the world. As we move into the last week of the campaign, I want you to know how proud we are of you. Against all odds, you have shown once again, why you are cherished not only by me, and the kids, but the majority of folks that you have met on the campaign trail. I know it has not been easy, but you have has stayed true to your beliefs and have not wavered. This doesn't surprise me, because you have instilled those beliefs in me as well as our children over the years. Come next Tuesday at 8:00 PM, I can't wait to tell people like I have in the past "I am Teresa Jacobs' husband", except this time, I will be saying it to the next Mayor of Orange County.

Love you always,



To say that I am proud of you would be an understatement. Throughout this entire election I have watched you stay true to yourself. I admire your honesty and integrity because I know at times it would have been easier to give up. No matter the outcome of the election you have your family, your friends and a whole lot of other people who are proud of the race you ran. Thanks for being an amazing mom and role model. I can only hope I inherited some of that!

Love always,



I can't believe that the election is just a few days away. I know it has been a long and tough journey but I want to let you know how grateful I am to have you as a mother. The strength and integrity that you have shown, truly makes me proud every time I hear people talk about you. I know for a fact I am one of many who feel this way. You have been a great mom for the past 24 years and I know you would also make a great mayor for the next 8 years!




I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of you. You have sacrificed so much to run for Mayor. I know if you win, Orange County will be a better place because of the core values you have taught us, standing behind what you believe in. We are all so proud of you and love you so very much.

Love Max


Not many people can say their mom is running for Orange County Mayor and I must say I am extremely proud of the job you have done thus far. Throughout this campaign and for the past 19 years of my life you have always taught me to have courage and to never give up. You're not only an outstanding mother but an incredible role model and leader as well. You will make an ideal Mayor for Orange County. I love you,


Awwww.  So sweet.  The little fluffy dog pictured above has not released an official statement, but I assume that he or she is also on Team Teresa. :)

For more campaign family adorableness, check out this ad from Marco Rubio's kids.

More fun with yard signs!

For all my fellow campaign staffers and volunteers, and anyone who's ever gotten in a shouting match about font selection on yard signs...

JASPER, IN—A blue corrugated plastic sign bearing the name of candidate Todd Young has invigorated and galvanized voters in southeastern Indiana's 9th District congressional race, catapulting the Republican to an all but insurmountable lead over his opponent, Democratic incumbent Baron Hill.
The 24-by-18-inch signboard, which political pundits have called an "instant game changer" since its appearance on Jasper, IN's Jackson Street last Friday, features a red, white, and blue color scheme, four stars above Young's name, and the slogan "Promise of a New Tomorrow." It also includes the word "Vote" and a check-mark-filled square next to the candidate's name, a strategy expected to triple turnout at the polls as throngs of voters rush to support Young.
"When I drove by the sign two days ago, I had to pull over to the side of the road and catch my breath," said Jade Williams, 34, a lifelong Democrat and former supporter of Baron Hill. "I'd never felt such a profound connection to a candidate before. Then I saw the powerful red line under his name and knew I had to drive to City Hall immediately and register as a Republican."
"It's the promise of a new tomorrow," Williams added.
While the 9th District seat was considered a toss-up prior to the sign's erection, a tidal wave of support has now emerged for Young, who over the past two days has received key endorsements from Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and former president Bill Clinton.
Experts across the country are calling the small but legible sign a "brilliant political move," and have praised Young's campaign for making the sign double-sided so it can be seen by motorists driving in both directions....
(Click on link above to read the rest of the article)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jeb Bush agrees with me on the Amendments

Looks like Jeb Bush and I are on the same page on the Amendments.  RPOF published on their website this op-ed that Jeb wrote for the Tampa Tribune last week:

We'll soon learn the outcome of some of the most hotly contested elections in recent memory. But the full story of the 2010 elections won't be told only by those who won the U.S. Senate seat or governor's mansion. That's because Florida is one of only 18 states that allows its citizens to amend their constitutions. With that right comes great power but also great responsibility.
This year, Floridians will consider seven amendments to our constitution.
What guidelines should we use in examining these proposed amendments? As governor, I always examined the fiscal impact of proposed legislation. The job of our elected officials includes spending our tax dollars wisely, and I believe citizens have the same responsibility as they consider proposed constitutional changes.
We also need to look at whether or not amending the constitution is the best way to affect change. What are the unintended consequences? Can legislation accomplish the same goal, but give our state the flexibility to meet other needs that might be negatively impacted by a constitutional change?
When I vote absentee, I will vote no on three of the seven proposed changes. The concerns these proposals raise are worthy of serious consideration by Floridians.
Amendment 4 requires voter approval of every change to a city or county's comprehensive land use plan. It has the potential to completely stall our economy, making it harder to create and grow jobs and to responsibly manage growth in our beautiful state. One city in Florida that tried a similar local law has found that the idea – which initially sounded good to local voters – has caused years of costly litigation that burdens taxpayers and drives jobs and business elsewhere. If Amendment 4 does not work in a city of 10,000 people, it is hard to imagine that it will work in a state of 18 million. I'll vote no.
Amendments 5 and 6 change the way Florida draws legislative and congressional district boundaries. While not perfect, Florida's system of representative democracy has resulted in one of the most diverse groups of elected officials in the nation and increased minority participation in government. Amendments 5 and 6 could potentially jeopardize the progress Florida has made in creating opportunities for all individuals to serve in their government. The non-partisan James Madison Institute says that enactment of these proposed amendments would likely result in protracted litigation and districts that are ultimately devised by judges rather than elected representatives.
Florida has learned there is nothing more important than clear, workable elections laws. Amendments 5 and 6 would create murky standards that would become almost impossible to change. I am voting no.
I am voting yes on Amendment 1, which repeals public campaign financing for statewide candidates who agree to spending limits. I've long been an opponent of using our tax dollars to finance political campaigns. Tax dollars should be spent in the classroom, on protecting public safety and providing a safety net for our most vulnerable citizens, not on welfare for politicians.
I am voting yes on Amendment 2, which provides a homestead exemption for active duty military and National Guard who spent the previous year deployed overseas. It's appropriate to provide tax relief to our more than 25,000 Floridians who are protecting our citizens, and I believe this outweighs the estimated fiscal impact.
Amendment 8 addresses unintended consequences I referenced earlier. Several years ago voters approved a proposal which created a maximum class size for our public schools. While admirable in its goals, the impact has been devastating: reduced dollars in the classroom, fewer resources to pay teachers and a false sense we are improving the quality of education through class size reductions. Amendment 8, the "Right Size Class Size" amendment, changes maximum numbers to a school-wide average, maintaining smaller class size but freeing up dollars to focus on our students. I am voting yes.
I am voting yes on the advisory proposal to force Congress to balance their budget, just as Florida must balance our own budget and Floridians, at their kitchen tables, balance their budgets every week.
Since the birth of our country, the power to govern has ultimately resided in the individual – people like you and me. I encourage every Floridian to exercise this extraordinary privilege.
For my discussion of the Amendments, click here:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Check out Mike Yost's new TV ad

It's not too late to help the campaign.  You can donate online at or volunteer by making phone calls, walking a neighborhood, or helping on election day.  The Orange County office is open every day until the election and you can even phone bank from home.  Contact Steve Borum at for more info.  

Thanks, y'all!

RPOF = Trendsetters? Apparently!

We in the Grand Old Party are often unfairly branded as being "not cool."  OK, yes, we're the same party that ran John "More Likely to Break a Hip than BE Hip" McCain for President in 2008, and I've often said that one thing Democrats do better is coming up with catchy T-shirt slogans, sometimes the Republican Party really can be the trendsetter...

Case in point: last night's debate between gubernatorial (Does anyone else giggle a little bit at how the first part of that word is "goober"?  Just me?  OK, then...) debate between Rick Scott and Alex Sink.

After one of the commercial breaks, Scott made a reference to Sink violating the debate rules, getting a message from a staffer on some sort of cell phone (looked like an iPhone) shown to her by her makeup artist during the break.  Campaigns always negotiate and make agreements about the format and rules of a debate beforehand, and apparently the agreement for yesterday's debate included not getting notes (which arguably would include a message displayed on a cell phone).  The Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog posted the agreement both campaigns signed, confirming that Sink was not supposed to get any notes during the debate.

During the debate, Twitter was all aflutter with politico-types discussing who scored what points, what silly things were said, who sounded more like a politician and more like a leader, and then there was this tweet, from one of the moderators of the debate, Adam Smith of the St. Pete Times:
@adamsmithtimes: Alex Sink cheated during Fla gov debate
Smith made that post almost immediately after the debate ended, along with the link to a blog post with the same bold print headline:  "Alex Sink cheated during the debate."  Alex Sink Cheated.  Ouch.  That's a pretty brutal smackdown from the moderator of the debate, especially after she spent most of the hour whining about how she was the most ethical and just-shiny-perfect candidate in the race.

The other moderator, CNN's John King, weighed in too, with a YouTube video of the incident, including what happened during the commercial break when Sink got her illicit little communication, under the title, "Alex Sink caught breaking debate rules:"

Anyway, Adam Smith's initial tweet and blog post got everyone all atwitter (Heh!) and the debate discussion (at least among the people I follow, which is admittedly not a scientific sample, but anyway...) almost completely turned away from all other topics concerning the debate to talk about Sink's violation of the debate rules.

And of course, in the typical super-snarky way of the internet, several people quickly made suggestions for what to call the cheating scandal.  MakeupArtistGate?  Too long.  Then I saw something that was just the perfect description, especially considering that the phone apparently used to pass on the offending message was an iPhone: iCheat.  When I saw that, I immediately thought, oh, that is FANTASTIC.

Curious, I did a search on Twitter after I got home for the term to see who came up with it first.  After going back to the time the debate started, I discovered that the first use of the term "iCheat" to refer to Alex Sink's debate cheating was @FloridaGOP, the official Twitter account for RPOF.

Well done, y'all!  Snarky and very clever.  I was not expecting such creativity from an "official" party or candidate Twitter account.  The term was definitely my favorite of the night, and I made up this little logo (feel free to share, just give me credit):
It's just a parody.  Please don't sue me, Steve Jobs.
Well apparently, the term resonated with the Scott campaign, because they sent out an email last night with "iCheat" as the subject line, and their own cute little graphic:

Sorry, Alex, but AT&T's crappy network is not gonna help you out of this one.
The email, from Scott campaign manager Susie Wiles, mentioned the cheating, quoted Adam Smith's tweet, and said:
...During the debate, there was a moment that crystallized the stakes in this election. Alex Sink broke the rules agreed to by both campaigns prior to the debate when she was shown a message on an iPhone by an aide during one of the commercial breaks. It was especially ironic because she cheated right after an exchange about ethical conduct...

...It is very unusual for a moderator to feel compelled to make such a judgment following a debate, but it is also unheard of for a candidate to so recklessly ignore an agreement.
Floridians deserve a governor who respects their agreements and tonight, after her iCheat episode, it’s clear that Alex Sink will do anything to get elected.
What did you think about the debate?  Do you think Sink "cheated" or is this much ado about nothing?  What about the fact that Sink apparently fired the staffer responsible for sending the message with the makeup artist?  Did he or she deserve to lose their job?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Republicans Kind of Suck - Which Is Why They Will Win Huge in November

Enjoy this amazingly brilliant post from Frank J. Fleming (of the IMAO blog), posted last week on Pajamas Media...with probably one of the most logical explanations of the resurgence of Republicans this year...

Fleming has a great analogy comparing a dog that barks all night (something that "sucks") and a zombie apocalypse (something that REALLY sucks), using it to point out that the Republicans screwed up, which is why they were defeated in the 2006 and 2008 elections, but that the Democrats have surpassed all previously-measured levels of "suckitude:"
AMERICANS: “So, the economy is pretty bad and there’s high [un]employment. You think you can do something about that?”
DEMOCRATS AND OBAMA: “We can spend a trillion dollars we don’t have on pork and stuff.”
AMERICANS: “No … that’s not what we want. We’d really like you not to do that.”
DEMOCRATS: “You’re stupid. We’re doing it anyway.”
AMERICANS: “That’s not going to help us get jobs!”
DEMOCRATS: “Sure it will; millions of them … though they may be invisible. You’ll have to trust us they exist. And guess what else we’ll do: We’ll create a giant new government program to take over health care.”
AMERICANS: “That has nothing to do with jobs!”
DEMOCRATS: “We don’t care about that anymore. We really want a giant new health care program. We’re sure you’ll love it.”
AMERICANS: “Don’t pass that bill. You hear me? Absolutely do not pass that bill.”
DEMOCRATS: “Believe me; you’ll love it. It has … well, I don’t know what exactly is in the bill, but we’re sure it’s great.”
DEMOCRATS: “You’re not the boss of me! We’re doing it anyway!”
AMERICANS: “Look what you did! Now the economy is way worse, we’re even deeper in debt, and we have a bunch of new laws we don’t want!”
DEMOCRATS: “You’re racist.”
AMERICANS: “Wha … How is that racist?”
DEMOCRATS: “Now you’re getting violent! Stop being violent and racist, you ignorant hillbillies! And remember to vote Democrat in November.”
So the Democrats sucked. But not just plain old, usual politician sucked, but epic levels of suck where it’s hard to find an analogue in human history that conveys the same level of suckitude. It was sheer incompetence plus arrogance — and those things do not complement each other well. We’re talking sucking that distorts time and space like a black hole.
It’s Godzilla-smashing-through-a-city level of suck — but a really patronizing Godzilla who says you’re just too stupid and hateful to see all the buildings he’s saved or created as he smashes everything apart...Obama and the Democrats have been so awful, it’s hard for the human brain to even comprehend...
But the Democrats will counter that the Republicans also suck. And while this is true, it’s not really going to help them. As I pointed out before, both a dog incessantly barking and a zombie apocalypse are things that everyone would agree suck. Yet no one during a zombie apocalypse, while hiding out in a boarded up mall, would turn to the other survivors and say, “We don’t want to kill all the zombies; then we’d have to go back to being woken up at night by that annoying dog next door.”
...People do remember how much the Republicans suck, and they know where it tops out … and that is nowhere near as bad as the Democrats are today. Like with the barking dog, it’s annoying, but you know it’s not going to cause the collapse of civilization as we know it. Not so with the zombie apocalypse; who knows how bad that could get if left to continue?  Same with the Democrats and Obama; people have never dealt with anything this horrible their entire lives, and they aren’t that curious to see how much worse it can be...
What do you think?  Are the Republicans doing well in the polls just because the Democrats are reaching new depths of suckiness?  More importantly, have the Republicans learned their lesson and is there any hope that if they win control of Congress again that they won't suck this time around?  (Keeping my fingers crossed!)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cute video from Marco Rubio

This is pretty cute...the Rubio kids doing a little campaigning for their Dad...


Friday, October 22, 2010

Absentee ballots, early voting, and other voting issues

I've been getting emails and Facebook messages from readers who are confused about the law regarding absentee ballots, early voting, and other election issues.  I thought it would be easiest to just put up a post to address the most frequently asked questions and hopefully help everyone make sure they get to vote this year.

If you requested an absentee ballot, you can still mail it in.  There is plenty of time for it to get to the Supervisor of Elections ("SOE").  As we get closer to November 2, 2010, you may want to consider hand-delivering it  directly to the SOE, because mail delays do sometimes happen and if your ballot doesn't arrive on time, your vote will not count.

If you prefer, you can take your absentee ballot to an early voting location and turn it in there.  If you want to vote on a regular ballot during early voting, you will still need to  bring your absentee ballot with you, the procedure is that first, you turn in your absentee ballot so the SOE can void it and they will issue you a regular ballot.

All registered voters can participate in early voting.  It's not just for people who requested absentee ballots and you didn't have to sign up on any list for it.  You can go to any early voting location in your county.

If you still have your absentee ballot on November 2nd, you can either hand deliver it to the SOE or take your absentee ballot with you to your regular precinct. You cannot turn in absentee ballots at your regular precinct on Election Day, instead they will void the absentee ballot and issue you a regular ballot to vote.  If you don't bring the absentee ballot with you, the SOE will check the records to see if your absentee ballot was already turned in.  Depending on the circumstances, they may require you to vote with a provisional ballot. (Remember too, on Election Day, you must go to your assigned precinct, or you will only be able to vote with a provisional ballot.)

And while I know that 99.99% of y'all are good, honest people, if anyone out there thinks they can be clever and get an absentee ballot and then show up at the polls and vote again, the SOE knows exactly who requests absentee ballots, who sends them in, who votes during early voting each day, and who votes on the actual election day.

If your name shows up on more than one voter list, they will catch you.  Voter fraud is a crime.  Don't even think about it.

If anyone has any questions about voting, absentee ballots, or early voting, post in the comments below and I'll do my best to help you out.

Now, get out there and VOTE!  Early voting is happening NOW!  Haven't made up your mind yet?  Here's my recommendations

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Corrine "Delivers"...just not to her constituents

Here's some excellent reporting from the Jacksonville Times-Union about Corrine Brown's abuse of her position to benefit her relatives and cronies:

Pearl Plaza is a nondescript shopping center in Northwest Jacksonville. A large parking lot scattered with a few dozen cars leads up to a handful of businesses, including a thrift store, sandwich shop and a branch location for a statewide public employees' union.

Though the line of storefronts looks like any number of countless strip malls that dot Duval County, it has caught the attention of U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. Since 2008, she has formally requested $1.1 million in federal money for the plaza for "streetscape improvements and renovation."

What makes Pearl Plaza different than the countless other strip malls that don't get federal money? In short, family ties.

Since 2005, Community Rehabilitation Center, a nonprofit group that leases space in Pearl Plaza, has paid $185,000 to Alcalde and Fay, a powerhouse Arlington, Va., lobbying firm that employs Brown's daughter, Shantrel.

Over that time, federal lobbying reports filed with the House of Representatives list Shantrel Brown and two other Alcalde and Fay lobbyists as working directly to obtain "federal funding for the renovation of Pearl Street Plaza," the same reason her mother listed when requesting more than $1 million.

It is not the first time Brown went to bat for one of her daughter's clients. From travel to the Republic of Georgia during a turbulent time for a gas company, to being investigated by the House Ethics Committee for a $50,000 car that ended up in her daughter's name, Brown and her daughter's professional paths have crossed at least twice before...
Besides the obvious ethical issues associated with this type of crony-favoritism, it emphasizes how out-of-touch Corrine Brown is with the actual needs of her District.  Over a million dollars to renovate a strip mall?   How many jobs did that "create or save," other than Shantrel Brown's?  And then look at the larger picture of the $666 million in total earmarks that Corrine Brown sponsored just during the last two years alone...70% of which were for projects outside District 3. 

Did you know that District 3 ranks dead last in Florida and 432 out of 435 Congressional Districts nationwide in poverty, crime, and unemployment?  That's right, District 3 is the third worst place in the entire United States to live if you want to work, learn, or just be safe.  Corrine Brown has been in Congress eighteen years, and under her watch District 3 has been on a downward spiral, even before the current recession. 

Do you have any idea how many tutors could be hired, how many computers could be purchased for schools, how many vocational education classes could be paid for, with even 1% of the money that Corrine Brown wasted? 

Here's a short ad the Yost for Congress campaign put together, talking more about how Corrine Brown has neglected her District while helping out her Washington insider friends:

You can learn more about the Yost for Congress campaign and even donate online at  Thanks :)

The evil Republican follow the law

Last month, I had the honor of being one of the presenters at an election law seminar sponsored by the Republican National Lawyers Association.  Some of the top election and campaign finance attorneys around the state participated in the educational program, which covered topics such as campaign finance regulations, special issues related to military and absentee ballots, ethical rules, and election day procedures and laws.  

Every presenter, over and over, emphasized that our number one priority was to uphold the law and maintain the highest ethical standards in all of our activities.  The Florida Bar already has a very strict and detailed system of ethics and professionalism rules that govern attorneys, and we spent a lot of time discussing how those rules apply to attorneys working on campaigns.  I've attended other similar RNLA election law seminars in the past, including one in St. Louis in 2008.

I have greatly enjoyed every RNLA event I have attended.  The member attorneys are definitely some of the best and brightest in the country, and hold themselves to the highest ethical standards, but they are also a wonderful, friendly, kind-hearted bunch of people.  These are people who sincerely love their country and believe, as I do, that the practice of law is not merely a career, but a profession, and as professionals we must hold ourselves to higher standards.

Besides the RNLA seminars, I have also participated in training volunteers in election day operations for the Republican Party.  The emphasis in our local training, as it was with the RNLA programs, is that we will follow the law in everything that we do.  The front page of the materials I handed out this year states:
"Remember always that you are representing the Republican Party and we support fair and honest elections.  We will be ethical and courteous in all of our activities.
We have been in regular communication with the staff and counsel for the Supervisors of Elections in this area, and make sure that we are in full compliance with all of their regulations.  In Orange County, we are very lucky that our SOE (who is a Democrat, by the way) works very hard to train election staff.  In my experience, the Orange County SOE has been very responsive when any problems have arisen.  This week during early voting, one of my volunteers called in to report that one location was not following the statutory procedure regarding voters bringing in their absentee ballots.  One phone call, and the SOE immediately addressed the problem and had someone give specific instructions to the employees at that location.  They even sent me an email to let me know precisely how the situation had been handled and to thank me for bringing the issue to their attention.

Then yesterday, I noticed I was getting an uptick on my page hits and was wondering why, when I was sent this link:

...the RNLA is currently in the midst of conducting what it bills as an "unprecedented" series of election law training seminars in the run up to the midterms elections. The seminars have been held or scheduled in several states, including Illinois, Nevada, Florida, Washington, California and New York. 

The public gloss the RNLA puts on its seminars is that they're for professional training. In fact, the group offers continuing legal education credits to lawyers who pay to attend them. But according to a blog post by one of the lecturers at its recent Florida seminar, only Republicans are allowed to attend. "Please note that due to the RNLA's sponsorship of this event, that attendance is limited to Republicans," Sarah Rumpf, a Florida attorney wrote on her blog. "If you are not already a member of the RNLA or are not otherwise already known by the [Republican Party of Florida], you will need a reference in order to attend this seminar." 

The seminar speakers seem to have a decidedly political bent as well. The recent Florida seminar featured appearances by Rick Scott, the Republican nominee for governor, and Pam Bondi, the party's nominee of attorney general.
Watch out everyone!  The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is coming to get you!  Bwahahaha! 

We've got all of our diabolically clever attorneys working hard to  pass on our top-secret plans to properly document and report campaign contributions and expenditures, provide proper legal disclaimers on political advertisements, ensure that every voter has full access to the polls free of intimidation, no one engages in campaigning past the 100' boundary around polling places...and oh, don't forget, our magic voodoo schemes to double check that all ballot machines start the day with their counters showing zero.

What are we up to?  Making sure that Republican candidates, party officials, campaign staff and volunteers have access to the current laws and regulations governing Florida elections so they are able to fully and completely comply with those rules.  Oh, the horror!

Yes, it's an eeeeeeeevil conspiracy to tell people to...follow the law.  We've also been known to tell people to be nice to poll workers.  Gasp!  Time to get out the tin foil hats!

So why all the exclusivity?  Simple.  The RNLA has decided that compliance with the law is a top priority and is literally putting their money where their mouth is.  By partially underwriting the expense of these seminars, they vastly increase the number of Republican attorneys who are able to attend and get this information.  As an attorney who practices election and campaign finance law, I can tell you that it is a very specialized practice, and seminars on the subject are rare and hard to find.  

Despite what the TPM writers are trying to suggest, the RNLA doesn't have infinite resources, so it makes perfect sense that it directs those resources to the education of its own members.  Having seen the materials provided at recent RNLA seminars, and helped prepare some of those materials myself, there's nothing in any of those materials that the Democrats couldn't create themselves by looking up the same statutes and case law that we researched.

As far as the "decidedly political bent" of our seminar, TPM again misses the larger picture.  Our RNLA seminar was scheduled for the same hotel and the same weekend as the RPOF Quarterly Meeting, so as to maximize the number of people who would be able to attend.  Many of the attorneys who are counsel for RPOF or our Republican candidates are also active in their local Republican Executive Committees, or would otherwise be attending the RPOF Quarterly in support of a particular candidate.  Rick Scott and Pam Bondi were both already at the hotel for other RPOF events that weekend; they didn't make a special trip to visit our seminar.  Scott and Bondi were not part of the educational component of the seminar, but gave their speeches in between lectures by the presenting attorneys.  The message from Scott and Bondi was the same: to thank us for our efforts to educate attorneys, candidates, and campaign staff and volunteers on compliance with election law, and they both affirmed their personal commitments to fair and ethical election practices. Ooooh, scary.

And just to address the point in the TPM post about the RNLA seminars coming "just weeks" after the Richard DeVos donated money to the RNLA, points for creativity, guys.  The reality is so much less interesting.  The Orlando seminar was planned early this year and the topics and speakers all confirmed by July.  I went back and looked at my archived emails to confirm that.  A lot of people spent a lot of time and energy to plan this seminar to provide education on election law to our members, as the RNLA does every election year, not because some billionaire is pulling strings and ordering us to do his bidding. 

I want to thank TPM for linking back to my blog.  Every view and click brings extra Google Adsense revenue and supports my addiction to Barnie's Hazelnut coffee.  I'm not Townhall or RedState (not yet, anyway), but I love politics and I'm enjoying my little corner of the internets.  Every reader y'all send my way helps support that, so thanks again for the link!  :)

Seriously though, TPM should find some other reason to get their feathers all ruffled.  Maybe they can find a Sunday School class brainwashing little children to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," or maybe there's a third grade teacher out there pushing some nefarious propaganda about "I before E except after C."  (Just in case y'all don't speak Sarcasm, my point is that telling people what the rules are and encouraging them to follow those rules is a good thing.)

Here's the RNLA's response to the TPM tin-foil hat theory article (they're a lot less sarcastic than I am):

RNLA Blog | Liberal Media Seeks to Discredit RNLA & De-Legitimize Voter Fraud Concerns With False Allegations

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

So You Want to Go to Law School

This is for all my fellow attorneys...I'm sure you'll find something that reminds you of conversations we've all had with wanna-be lawyers.  Gotta love all that bright eyed and bushy tailed idealism :)

For the non-lawyers, watch and learn!

The one thing I would have added is a joke about living your life in 6 minute increments.  (Many law firms keep billing records in 10ths of an hour, i.e., 6 minute periods.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My thoughts on this year's amendments

As usual, this year's ballot has a long list of proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution, a non-binding special referendum, and in some counties, a proposed school tax.  My thoughts on these end of the ballot items are below.

First of all, some general comments.  My default setting on constitutional amendments is to vote no unless (1) the amendment actually addresses a matter that is appropriate for the Constitution, and (2) there is a compelling and specific problem that necessitates that amendment, and the amendment actually offers an effective solution to that problem.  Too often, it seems to me that many proposed amendments are solutions looking for a problem, instead of the other way around, or even worse, will create new and bigger problems if they are passed.  The campaigning in support and opposition of Constitutional amendments is frequently misleading, if not downright deceitful.

A few years ago an amendment was passed to require a 60% approval vote for new constitutional amendments, and that's helped a lot, but, in my opinion, we still have far too many issues on the ballot every year that would be better addressed by the legislature or another method than being enshrined in the Constitution.  The prohibition of a specific method of housing pregnant pigs on farms is the most egregious example that comes to mind, but it's by far not the only nonsense someone has tried to put into our Constitution.

The next part of my analysis addresses whether there a good reason for that specific amendment.  A lot of the time, the amendment may sound like a great idea, but when you investigate what it will actually do, you realize that it probably won't be able to solve the problem it's supposed to address.  Keep in mind that the language on the ballot is not the exact or complete language of the actual constitutional amendment, and the actual impact of any given amendment can be affected, sometimes greatly, by the statutes, administrative rules, and bureaucratic procedures that are enacted to execute that amendment.  To me, that is the biggest trick and potential danger of these amendments - what happens after your vote is sometimes drastically different than what you expected.

OK, here we go...let me know what you think in the comments! 

Amendment 1 - VOTE YES
Repeal of public campaign financing requirement. Proposing the repeal of the provision in the State Constitution that requires public financing of campaigns of candidates for elective statewide office who agree to campaign spending limits.
The ideas behind public campaign financing are noble ones: imposing spending caps is supposed to prevent anyone from "buying" an election, and providing funding to statewide candidates allows them to theoretically compete on an even playing field and have the resources to get their message out in Florida's expensive media market without feeling beholden to special interests.  

The problem is that this is not how it works in reality.  No statewide candidate gets elected with public financing dollars alone, and if a candidate has enough money (either from donors or personal resources) to go past the spending caps, the public contribution is not enough to provide a disincentive to that candidate, and  at the same time it's insufficient to allow an opponent to truly "level the playing field."

In essence, public campaign financing takes tens of millions of dollars of our taxpayer money to only partially and ineffectually address a problem that, in my opinion, is far from the biggest challenge facing our elections.  I'm less worried about one candidate having more money in their campaign account than the opponent than I am about many other campaign finance issues.  

Voting Yes on 1 will end public financing of statewide campaigns.  Especially in tough budget times like this, we should have higher priorities for our taxpayer dollars.

I recommend voting YES ON 1.

Amendment 2 - Vote Yes
Homestead ad valorem tax credit for deployed military personnel.  Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to require the Legislature to provide an additional homestead property tax exemption by law for members of the United States military or military reserves, the United States Coast Guard or its reserves, or the Florida National Guard who receive a homestead exemption and were deployed in the previous year on active duty outside the continental United States, Alaska, or Hawaii in support of military operations designated by the Legislature. The exempt amount will be based upon the number of days in the previous calendar year that the person was deployed on active duty outside the continental United States, Alaska, or Hawaii in support of military operations designated by the Legislature. The amendment is scheduled to take effect January 1, 2011. 
My first instinct is that I want to always support anything and everything that supports the troops.  This amendment is supposed to grant an additional homestead property tax exemption for active duty military who are serving overseas.  However, there  is some confusion about how this amendment would be carried out.  One issue is whether all overseas service should count, or just service in war zones.  There are also potential problems with how a qualifying member of the military will be able to prove eligibility, how susceptible this program will be to fraud, and how complicated and expensive the bureaucracy needed to execute this program will be.  

My main concern is that, again, we are facing serious budget challenges, and the impact this amendment will have on a single family is not that great, while the cumulative cost to the tax base will be millions of dollars.  I have a similar objection to back-to-school sales tax holidays - the savings to any single family are very small, but it costs the state millions of dollars.  This amendment also does nothing to help our military members who are renting their residence. 

Still, I understand the challenges that our active duty military face in trying to support their families back home while they serve overseas, and I can definitely see the motivations behind this amendment.  I only question whether this is the best way to accomplish these goals, or if there is a simpler way to provide financial support to our wonderful service members and their families.

Accordingly, I am not going to make a recommendation here.  I believe that you can have legitimate and morally valid reasons for either a Yes or a No vote on this one. 

UPDATED: I have been told that the total cost to the state will be about $13 million, and this is the only remaining tax bill that is still in effect during active overseas duty.  That changes my perspective on this amendment.  However, my concern still exists that this does nothing to assist military families in rental housing, and I still wonder whether there are better ways to financially support our military.  Still, the overall good from passing this amendment outweighs my concerns.

I recommend voting Yes on 2.

Amendment 4 - NO, NO, NO
Referenda required for adoption and amendment of local government comprehensive land use plans.  Establishes that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the governing body and notice. Provides definitions. 
This is the so-called "Hometown Democracy" amendment.  Basically, it requires any change to a local government comprehensive land use plan (aka "comp plan") to go on the ballot and be approved by the voters.  The supporters of Amendment 4 claim that it will protect communities from "out of control growth" caused by all those evil nasty developers.  However, Amendment 4 will not solve that problem, and will create lots of new, bigger problems.  

First of all, let's look at what Amendment 4 will mean on a practical level.  Comp plan amendments require highly technical and legally complicated language.  Normally, your city council, county commission, etc. will have all comp plan requests reviewed by trained staff attorneys, engineers, urban planners, etc. who submit their analysis and recommendations to a planning and zoning board, and then later to the entire city council or county commission.  There are multiple stages of review, discussion, and approval before any change can be made.  Amendment 4 asks the voters to make these decisions on their own.  Constitutional amendments are confusing enough, and their meaning can be even more obscured by the way they are summarized or reworded on the ballot.  Including comp plan amendments would either require putting long and extremely complicated language on the ballots, or shortening the language and risking misrepresentations.

Supporters of Amendment 4 claim that it is needed to stop large, sprawling mega-developments.  However, what will end up happening is that the  big developers will simply hire attorneys, lobbyists, and consultants to promote their project.  Any developer with the resources to build the type of project being scapegoated to promote Amendment 4 will probably also be able to pay for a campaign for your votes.  What will end up being adversely affected are local small businesses, someone seeking to expand their restaurant, upgrade a bookstore, add storage buildings on a back lot, etc.  

Amendment 4 does not stop any development, does not place any restrictions on any specific type of development, does not add any new standards for development.  All it does is add significant expense, complication, and time to the development process.  It does not matter how big or small the proposed comp plan change is, Amendment 4 would require all of them to campaign for voter approval, and would delay any development for about a year to wait for the next local election, if not longer.

There are also no exceptions based on merit of the development.  I can definitely understand the reservations people have about new residential subdivisions, especially considering Florida's currently depressed housing market, but what about the bio-tech industry growing around UCF's new medical school or the businesses moving into Innovation Way?  These are not developments that were contemplated a decade or two ago,  so they wouldn't have been included in comp plan decisions, but they will provide thousands of jobs and help diversify our local economy.  Going a little further back, think about the land use changes needed after a guy named Walt visited Orlando in the 1960s and decided it was a great place for his next theme park.  All development is not bad, and unnecessary restrictions will not stop bad developments but could scare off good ones. 

Other arguments used by Amendment 4 promoters are that current comp plans allow "the amount of homes in our county to double," "100 million people to move into Florida," and other scary-sounding statistics that make it sound like the state will be paved over completely.  These numbers are completely unrealistic.  Development never happens uniformly or all at once across an entire area.  No matter what, we are simply not going to build out every lot that is currently authorized under our comp plans.  When Amendment 4 supporters say things like this, they are including the state's vast undeveloped areas that are currently zoned agricultural, and suggesting that someone would come along and buy every single one of those lots and build houses on parcels that are 2.5 acres or larger (Orange County's current minimum lot size for A-R zoning).  There's not a developer out there that would make that investment.

The truth is that Amendment 4 would actually increase sprawl by making development near metropolitan areas more complicated and expensive, and thereby lowering the costs for developing further away from existing infrastructure, and more likely to adversely impact ecologically sensitive areas.  As long as Florida has sunshine and low taxes, we will always be faced with challenges regarding how we handle growth, but Amendment 4 is absolutely, positively not the right way to address those challenges.  

For additional information, please check out the website for Vote No on 4.

I strongly recommend voting No on 4.

Amendment 5 - VOTE NO
Standards for legislature to follow in legislative redistricting.  Legislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.
Amendment 6 - VOTE NO
Standards for legislature to follow in congressional redistricting.  Congressional districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.  
Amendments 5 and 6 address the way that state legislative and congressional districts are drawn.  Having worked on many local campaigns, I understand the confusion and frustration with gerrymandered districts, how difficult it can be to figure out who represents you, and the worries that voters have regarding the effect such districts may have in insulating incumbents from challenges.

The problem is that, once again, these amendments don't actually fix the problems they claim to address.  In fact, it is my opinion that the ballot language is fraudulently misleading on 5 and 6 and leaves out some very crucial information.  The end result will be significantly more litigation, and the decision making power removed from our elected officials and instead transferred to non-elected bureaucrats and judges.

One of the most important missing words in the ballot language (but present in the actual full text of the amendments) is the word "intent."  The full language of 5 and 6 forbids drawing districts with the "intent" to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party, or with the "intent" to adversely affect minority voting rights.  This requires an attempt to read the minds of those drawing the districts and divine some sort of malicious purpose.

The reality is that no matter how we draw our districts, whether we impose a square grid over the entire state or let a blindfolded chimpanzee draw the lines, it will benefit one party or candidate more than another, even in the absence of any "intent" to do so.  Amendments 5 and 6  do nothing to reform our redistricting process and instead just open up additional arenas for litigation, most dangerously through the potential arguments over what "intent" was present during the process.

Districts are already required to be contiguous, and proportional in population.  The U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution, and many, many federal and state statutes already forbid racial discrimination or interfering with someone's right to vote based on race.  And what precisely constitutes a "language minority"?  Will all dialects of Spanish be treated the same?  Will this amendment be interpreted to require ballots be printed in every language we can identify as currently spoken by a Florida resident?  We have a large Hispanic population in this state, and providing bilingual ballots increases access for a lot of people, but how expensive and cumbersome will it be to also print those ballots in French, German, Polish, Swahili, Greek, Farsi, and (for all the Borat fans) Kazakh?

More troubling, what does it mean to deny minorities the "opportunity" to elect a representatives of their "choice?"  Isn't the act of voting itself how people elect a representative of their choice?  Sounds to me that the proponents of these amendments are suggesting that minority groups vote as a block and can only be represented by members of their same minority group.  It is well documented that gerrymandering has been used for years to create "majority-minority" districts, making it more likely that minority candidates will be elected, if you are following the assumption that minorities are more likely to vote for members of their same group.  Personally, I've always been a big fan of judging people based on the "content of their character, not the color of their skin" as MLK Jr. encouraged.

I strongly recommend voting NO on 5 and 6.

Amendment 8 - VOTE YES
Revision of the class size requirements for public schools.  The Florida Constitution currently limits the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in public school classrooms in the following grade groupings: for prekindergarten through grade 3, 18 students; for grades 4 through 8, 22 students; and for grades 9 through 12, 25 students.  Under this amendment, the current limits on the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in public school classrooms would become limits on the average number of students assigned per class to each teacher, by specified grade grouping, in each public school. 

This amendment also adopts new limits on the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in an individual classroom as follows:  for prekindergarten through grade 3, 21 students; for grades 4 through 8, 27 students; and for grades 9 through 12, 30 students.  This amendment specifies that class size limits do not apply to virtual classes, requires the Legislature to provide sufficient funds to maintain the average number of students required by this amendment, and schedules these revisions to take effect upon approval by the electors of this state and to operate retroactively to the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.
This amendment adds flexibility to the current class size restrictions which were imposed by another constitutional amendment a few years ago.  It would slightly increase the number of students allowed per classroom and calculate the number based on a school's averages, instead of using a strict cap per classroom, as the current system does.

Three generations of my family, including both my parents, have been public school teachers and administrators in Florida.  While class size is only one factor in providing quality education, I definitely agree that overcrowded classes can be detrimental.  The increased burden on the teacher is clear, not just in terms of extra papers to grade but  also the challenges of properly addressing each student's needs and maintaining discipline.

Amendment 8 will not allow overcrowded classrooms.  It increases the caps only slightly, a needed change considering the budget restrictions every school system is facing right now.  Most importantly, is the change in calculation from a strict "how many children are in each class" to a more flexible "what is the average number of children in each class."  Currently, if a first grade class has 18 students at the beginning of the year, and another child transfers to that class two months later, the school is required to incur the expense of hiring a new teacher, providing for a new classroom, and breaking up the children in that class.  

The damage caused by breaking up a successfully functioning class is a major problem.  It is highly disruptive to the learning environment and can be traumatic for the students, especially the very young or those who have learning disabilities or behavioral issues.  How do you explain to kindergartners who have already bonded with their teacher why they have to get a new teacher?  What effect does that have on students who are in the middle of learning to read?  At the higher level, these class size caps have resulted in high school students being unable to take AP or honors classes, impeding their ability to compete for admission to college.

I recommend voting YES on 8.

Nonbinding Statewide Referendum - Vote YES
Balancing the Federal Budget. A Nonbinding Referendum Calling for an Amendment to the United States Constitution. In order to stop the uncontrolled growth of our national debt and prevent excessive borrowing by the Federal Government, which threatens our economy and national security, should the United States Constitution be amended to require a balanced federal budget without raising taxes?
This is a "nonbinding referendum," which suggests that it doesn't mean anything.  There is some hope that passing this referendum with a significant majority would send a message to Washington D.C. that the people of Florida are highly concerned about deficit spending and our national debt.  This type of referendum is also a first step in calling for a Constitutional Convention to actually draft and pass such an amendment.

Honestly, I believe that the wisdom of actually passing such an amendment should be sincerely and thoroughly debated.  The budgets and concerns of state legislatures are very different and distinct from those of Congress.  In times of war or national emergency, deficit spending may be necessary or helpful.  However, those concerns can be addressed if and when a Constitutional Convention is actually convened, and the spending in Washington has gotten so insanely out-of-control that I really would like to send a clear message that we have had enough.

I recommend voting yes on this nonbinding special referendum.

School Tax increases - Vote NO 

Orange County voters will see the following language at the end of their ballot as "Special Referendum:"
Orange County School District Ad Valorem Millage Election. Shall the Orange County School District ad valorem millage be increased by a total of one mill for essential operating expenses in order to preserve academic programs, retain highly qualified teachers, and protect arts, athletics and student activities beginning July 1, 2011, and ending four (4) fiscal years later on June 30, 2015, with annual reporting to ensure proper fiscal stewardship of these funds to the citizens of Orange County?
...and Seminole County voters will see this language as a "County Referendum:"
Shall The School Board of Seminole County, Florida, levy a one-half cent school capital outlay sales tax on sales in Seminole County, Florida, for 10 years, effective January 1, 2012, for the purpose of paying the costs of the projects and other expenditures set forth in the Resolution 2010-02 and adopted on July 27, 2010 consisting of facility construction and maintenance (including safety and security), technology for schools and other authorized capital expenditures?

I recommend voting no on both of these.  For me to even consider supporting a tax increase, three factors must be unequivocally established: (1) a definite end date, or "sunset," to the tax increase, (2) a clear and specific purpose for the tax increase, and (3) a pressing need for the funds that justifies the added burden on the taxpayers.

Here, both the Orange and Seminole proposals include expiration dates, but I am not satisfied that my other two criteria have been met.  The Orange proposal states that the funds are to "preserve academic programs, retain highly qualified teachers, and protect arts, athletics and student activities."  To me, that sounds vague, and easily interpreted to allow the money to be used for almost any of the school system's expenditures.  The reporting requirement to ensure "proper fiscal stewardship" is an empty promise, as school budgets are already a matter of public record.

The Seminole County one bothers me even more.  What the heck are the "projects and other expenditures set forth in the Resolution 2010-02," exactly?  It says that they are "facility construction and maintenance (including safety and security), technology for schools and other authorized capital expenditures," but I am still not entirely clear about where the money would go, especially what exactly those "other authorized capital expenditures" might include.

My biggest concern with both of these proposals is that during this tough economy, we should be extraordinarily cautious about any tax increases and the further depressive effect they would likely have on our economy.  I am proud of the fact that I received my education exclusively from our public school system (kindergarten all the way through college and law school), and as a result I am a strong believer in the merits of our public schools, but I also believe that merely throwing money at schools won't necessarily improve education, and I strongly believe that this is the wrong time for a tax increase.

I recommend voting NO on the Orange County and Seminole County school tax increase proposals.  

What do you think?  Do you agree with me about these amendments?  Why or why not?

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