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Please, Don’t Stop at the Top | Dan Gelber

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Please, Don’t Stop at the Top | Dan Gelber

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Please, Don’t Stop at the Top
Thursday, October 11, 2012 — Dan Gelber

When you review your ballot either in the mail or at the polls, you might think it unusually long and confusing. Don’t feel bad. The ballot was purposefully crafted to be long and confusing. 

In a year when Republican leaders hope to suppress the vote by reducing early voting days by more than half, they also added nearly a dozen constitutional proposals that more resemble a push-poll than thoughtful policy ideas. Their hope is that a longer ballot will create longer lines, making it even harder for people to vote early and on Election Day.

In many communities, the November ballot may be 12 pages or longer. So if you get confused, the legislature’s manipulation will have succeeded.

While you may be most passionate about the race for president, it’s critical that you not stop making your choices there.

Down the ballot, you’ll also see some important “yes” or “no” questions, some related to proposed constitutional amendments, others to the retention of three Florida Supreme Court justices.

The constitutional amendments mostly deserve “no” votes. But the judicial justices deserve a resounding “Yes.” 

For the most part, the proposed amendments have little functional utility. Some would simply enshrine legislative hissy fits into the state constitution. Amendment One, for instance, claims it would stop the implementation of Obamacare, though it is utterly unenforceable. Amendment Five would give the legislature the power to approve - or veto -- potential Florida Supreme Court justices, a measure brought by legislative leaders who felt the high court slighted them in some rulings.

Some measures may sound like something you like, but do things you don’t expect. For instance, Amendment Eight, ironically entitled “the Religious Freedom Amendment,” is actually an attempt to create a constitutional mandate for private, religious school vouchers. If the legislature were to adopt vouchers in the manner its proponents support, it would drain between $4 and $6 billion dollars from public education over the next five years.

And some measures were simply put there as a dog whistle to certain voters. Amendment Four, for example, caps tax increases on non-homestead properties, many of which are second homes owned by out-of-state folks. This proposal might get the Tea Party excited -- until they learn that Florida homeowners will be taxed more to fund this “snowbirds” tax break.

The League of Women Voters recommends you just vote “no” on all the constitutional measures. Their positions are thoughtful and can be found at tinyurl.com/lowvrecs.

If you follow the League’s advice and vote “no” on all (or most) of the constitutional proposals, it is critical that you still vote “yes” to retain the justices of Florida’s Supreme Court.

Normally their retention would be assured, since by all accounts they have served honestly and conscientiously. All three up for review –- Justices Peggy Quince, Fred Lewis and Barbara Pariente –- have been retained overwhelmingly in prior elections. And in the last statewide lawyers’ poll, an astonishing 90 percent of attorneys viewed them as fine public servants. 

But this year, the Kansas-based Koch brothers are funding an expensive smear campaign to convince you to remove them. Their goal is to give Gov. Rick Scott the ability to replace perfectly good justices with three who will support his agenda.

No matter what you think of Gov. Scott, this is an unprecedented and dangerous idea. It totally politicizes a branch of government that inherently needs to be free of politics. How is it good for Florida if our high court justices believe their jobs are at risk if they don’t approve the whims of a governor or some out-of-state billionaires?

I am proud that so many Democrat and Republican public officials -- and leading citizens of all political stripes -- have spoken up on behalf of these justices. You need to as well.

So when you vote, don’t stop at the top. And on the way down, be sure to vote “Yes”  for Justices Quince, Lewis and Pariente, and mostly “no” everywhere else.

Dan Gelber was a State Senator and former House Democratic Leader from Miami.

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