Friday, August 29, 2014

Reflections on Tuesday's Elections

Let’s start with the positives: I’m pleased with the outcomes of most of the races. I’m glad Charlie Crist will face Rick Scott for governor and that George Sheldon will face Pam Bondi for attorney general in November. There are substantive issues at stake and an opportunity for important community dialog and debate.

I’m thrilled and relieved that Roy Terry was re-elected to the School Board. The alternative, though a real possibility, was unthinkable. Depending of the outcome of the District 3 election in November, Mr. Terry could be an important mediator between Board members with very different points of view in Board decisions for the next four years.

Though I don’t live in County Commission District 4 and couldn’t vote in that election, I’m glad Penny Taylor won that race. I’m hopeful this will maintain the current ideological balance on the Commission, especially in terms of impact fees and the growth management philosophy of growth paying for growth, which I support.

And I’m glad that each of the three candidates I voted for in the judicial races was elected.

But I am very disappointed and concerned about the outcomes of the races for School Board Districts 1 and 3. As I’ve written and explained in prior posts, I supported Kathleen Greenawalt and Luis Bernal for those positions.

And I am dismayed at the voter turnout and the number of under-votes in the various races. Those are the specific election outcomes I want to look at in this post.

When it comes to citizen engagement in the political process, I look at three metrics:
  • Voter registration - the percent of people eligible to vote who are registered to vote
  • Voter turnout - the percent of registered voters who actually submit a ballot for an election, whether by mail, early vote, or on election day
  • Under-votes - the difference between the number of ballots cast in an election and the number of votes cast in a particular race
An under-vote occurs when a voter votes on less than all of the races for which she/he is eligible to vote. This could happen either because a voter doesn’t see the contest on the ballot, or because the voter chose not to vote for any candidate for that contest, either because she/he doesn’t want to make an uneducated choice or because she/he doesn’t like any of the candidates.

I’ve been told by what I believe are knowledgeable sources that Collier County doesn’t have a voter registration problem. (If anyone has data or a reference on this, please let me know.) While there are no doubt pockets of the county where we could find eligible people to register, that’s not where we need to spend our time and energy.

What we have is a voter turnout problem and, in this election in particular, an under-vote problem.

In terms of voter turnout, only 21 percent of the County’s registered voters (38,774 out of 185,016) cast a ballot. Four out of five registered voters couldn’t be bothered. I find this appalling.

By party affiliation, the Democrats were far worse than the Republicans.

Voter Turnout by Party Affiliation

How many of our snowbirds took the trouble to request and vote a mail ballot?

In terms of under-votes, a full 15 percent of Democrats who voted for a candidate for governor didn’t vote for one of the attorney general candidates.

Democratic Attorney General Primary Under-votes

The School Board and judicial races were nonpartisan and county-wide. Registered voters could vote in those six races regardless of their party affiliation or where in the county they live. And yet look at these numbers:

Judicial Races - Under-Votes

School Board Races - Under-Votes

Only one in five of the one in five who bothered to vote at all voted in the judicial races, and only slightly more voted in the School Board races.

Thousands of our fellow community members who took the trouble to vote for SOMEONE didn’t vote in these races.

There are many reasons for this. Some people who are busy with their daily lives say they don’t have the time or the energy to vote.

Some are uninformed. I was told that someone who doesn’t have children in the public schools didn’t realize they are entitled to vote for School Board.

Some people just don’t care.

We have to do something about this.

To start, I ask each of you to identify someone you know who didn’t vote and find out why. Explain to her or him what YOU think is at stake, and why YOU think THEIR vote is important.

Make it personal.

If we work together, one neighbor at a time, maybe we can build a more informed, engaged community between now and the November elections.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Last Chance for Now!

Tomorrow is Election Day, your last chance (for now) to influence who will represent you in a number of elected offices at the state and local levels.

If you’ve been waiting to vote on Election Day, here are a few things to remember:

  • You must vote at your assigned precinct. Find it here.
  • You must bring a photo ID and a signature ID. The easiest is a Florida driver license, which covers both. Other options here.
  • If you requested but haven’t voted your absentee ballot, bring it with you to vote so it can be cancelled.
  • Polls are open from 7am to 7pm.

Finally, as a reminder, here’s who I voted for on my Democratic Party ballot:


If you know anyone who might appreciate your (or my) recommendations, please pass this along!

Thank you, and thanks for voting!

www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com

Friday, August 22, 2014

An Update on a Previous Post

In an earlier post titled Where are Collier’s Democratic Party and No Party Affiliation Voters?, I reported that my mail ballot had been received by the supervisor of elections’ office, but was “being processed.” I said:
I will keep checking back with this website until I see that my ballot has been counted and not put aside as provisional for some reason. If it has been, I’ll be sure to rectify the problem.
This morning I called the Supervisor of Elections’ Office at (239) 252-VOTE to ask what “being processed” meant. I was told it was nothing to worry about; that if anything had been wrong, I would have been sent a letter telling me so.

If you, too, see that your ballot was received and is being processed, then apparently all is well.

I will check back on Election Day to make sure the website says that my ballot was counted.

Also, a reader pointed out that I used the word “provisional” incorrectly in the post. According to Florida law, a provisional ballot is one that is voted by
“…a voter claiming to be properly registered in the state and eligible to vote at the precinct in the election but whose eligibility cannot be determined, a person whom an election official asserts is not eligible, and other persons specified in the [election] code…”
The important thing to know about provisional ballots is that if you are told by an election worker that you cannot vote, and if, after hearing the reason, you still believe that you are, you may request and comple a provisional ballot. You should then be given written instructions about how to provide the supervisor of elections with written evidence of your eligibility to vote. The county canvassing board will later examine each case and determine whether the provisional ballot shall be counted or not, under the law.

I have revised Where are Collier’s Democratic Party and No Party Affiliation Voters? on the Sparker’s Soapbox website to clarify these points.

Bottom line: If you have any questions about the status of your mail ballot, don’t hesitate to contact the Supervisor of Elections at (239) 252-VOTE.

Who I Voted for on my Primary Ballot: Summary

My analysis of the candidates and races has been spread out over a number of weeks, and I know it’s been hard to keep track.

So by way of a summary, here’s who I voted for on my Democratic Party primary ballot:

If you know anyone who might appreciate your (or my) recommendations, please pass this along!

Thank you!

Where are Collier’s Democratic Party and No Party Affiliation Voters?

With Election Day less than a week away, I thought I’d check in on how things are going. Bottom line: I’m concerned.

As of 4pm on Thursday, August 21, a total of 25,069 ballots had been cast. This represents only 14 percent of registered voters.

Bad as this is, it’s about half of the 25- to 28 percent turnout expected by Melissa Blazier, chief deputy supervisor of elections for Collier County.

In other words, half the people expected to vote in Tuesday’s election have yet to do so.

Since Republicans are by far the majority in the county, it’s not surprising that more Republican votes have been cast than Democrat votes. But look at the difference in voter turnout:


Republicans represent 50 percent of registered voters, but represent 68 percent of the votes cast. So far, 18 percent of registered Republicans have voted.

Democrats represent 24 percent of registered voters, but because of a much lower turnout, only account for 21 percent of ballots cast.

And Others - including No Party Affiliation - are even worse.

Where are Collier’s Democratic Party and Other (NPA, etc.) voters??

Which led me to ask:

Was my mail ballot received?

According to the Supervisor of Elections website www.colliervotes.com, my ballot was received and is being processed. I wasn't sure what "being processed" meant, so I called the Supervisor of Elections' office at (239) 252-VOTE.  I was told it was nothing to worry about; that if anything had been wrong, I would have  been sent a letter telling me so. Good news. Still, I will check back with this website on Election Day to make sure that my ballot was counted.

If you voted by mail, I encourage you to check the status of your ballot, too. Here's how.

Go to www.colliervotes.com and click on Mail/Absenttee and then, in the menu to the right, click on Status of Request. See the photo below.



Enter your last name, birth date and the house number of your residence address where indicated, and click Submit.



On the page that opens, in the middle box on the page, click on Show My Absentee/Mail Ballot Information. In the white-colored box that opens, confirm that your ballot was received by the office. You should see the address to which your ballot was mailed and the date sent. If it was received, you should see the date received and the status.

Or just call the Supervisor of Elections Office at 239–252-VOTE and ask if your ballot was received. If it was not, be sure to do what it takes to make sure it is! And do it soon!

There’s still time, but ...

The last day for early voting is Saturday, August 23. You can vote at any one of the eight early voting locations in Collier County. Find them by clicking here.

Election Day is Tuesday, August 26. On Election Day, you can only vote at your assigned local precinct. Find it by clicking here.

Remember: this is an important election - especially the School Board races - and much is at stake.



On another note: If you are receiving this post by email, did you know you can find an archive of all my past Sparker’s Soapbox posts online at http://sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com? If you know others who might be interested, please send them to that website, where they can sign up to receive future posts by email, too!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Meet the Candidates: Democratic Primary for State Attorney General

Unlike the races covered in my previous posts about this month’s nonpartisan elections, only registered Democrats can vote in the Attorney General primary. In November, the winner will face incumbent Pam Bondi (R) and Libertarian Party of Florida candidate Bill Wohlsifer.

Through August 8, Bondi raised $2.8 million, nearly five times the amount raised together by Democratic Party challengers George Sheldon ($347,106) and Perry Thurston ($222,887), according to the Florida Elections Commission. And Bondi faces no primary challenger. Wohlsifer has raised just $27 thousand.

Which candidate has the better chance of beating Bondi? The most recent polling I could find (Public Policy Polling, 6/10/14) says it’s a close call:
Attorney General Pam Bondi holds small leads for reelection over her potential Democratic opponents- she’s up 38/35 on George Sheldon and 40/33 on Perry Thurston. The high level of undecideds is reflective of the amount of attention most voters pay to down ballot offices. 42% have no opinion about Bondi’s job performance as Attorney General, with those who do have one evenly split at 29% approval and 29% disapproval.
With that said, let’s look at the candidates.


George Sheldon


George Sheldon
George Sheldon is an attorney, legislator and public servant. He received both his B.A. (1969) and J.D. (1978) from Florida State University.
His website reveals a history of service and commitment to children and families:
  • Legislative Aide to Florida Senator Reubin Askew (D) - 1969–1970.
    • Askew served as Florida’s Governor from 1971–1979. According to Wikipedia, “Askew is widely thought to have been one of the state’s best governors. He led on tax reform, civil rights, and financial transparency for public officials, maintaining an outstanding reputation for personal integrity.”
  • Assistant to the Deputy Secretary, Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services - 1971–1972
  • Executive Director, Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens - 1973–1975
  • State Representative, District 69 representing Tampa - 1974–1982
  • Private law practice, lobbying and consulting - 1979–1999
    • Partner - Sheldon, Daly and McGowan, Tampa
    • Of Counsel – Levin, Freedman, Hirsch & Levinson in Tampa and Tallahassee
    • Sheldon & Cusick Associates, Consulting and Lobbying
  • Deputy Attorney General for Central Florida - 1999–2002
  • Private law practice, Stiles, Taylor, Grace - 2002–2003
  • Associate Dean for Students and Alumni Affairs, St. Thomas University Law School, Miami Gardens, FL - 2003–2009
  • Florida Department of Children and Families - 2007–2010
    • Assistant Secretary for Operations - 2007–2009
    • Secretary - 2008–2010; appointed by Governor Charlie Crist
  • Acting Assistant Secretary, Agency for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. - 2011–2013
Regarding his time in Washington, Sheldon’s website says:
At the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), George championed the cause of early childhood development among low-income families, worked to expand the use of trauma informed care and practices in the foster care system, pushed for better prescribing and monitoring practices within the foster care system for the use of psychotropic medications, and led HHS’s efforts in the fight against human trafficking, focusing on the enhancement of survivor services.
As Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, he co-chaired the State’s Task Force on Human Trafficking along with the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and previously co-chaired the Federal Victim Services Strategic Planning Committee. In addition, the campaign website says:
George oversaw the State’s child welfare programs, fostering a 36 percent reduction in children in out-of-home care, and integrating mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence services throughout the Department. While at DCF, the agency achieved the highest rate of adoptions among foster children during each of the three years of his tenure. Moreover, as DCF Secretary he led the effort to reduce Florida’s food stamp error rate from among the highest in the nation to the lowest for three consecutive years. Even Governor Scott’s transition team referred to the Department of Children and Families as the best run State agency at the time.
Earlier this month, supporters of Sheldon’s challenger Perry Thurston filed a lawsuit “that sought to eliminate Sheldon from the … ballot [due to] a technicality involving exactly where he lived,” according to the Miami Herald. A Leon county circuit judge ruled Friday in Sheldon’s favor. An attorney for the plaintiffs said he will likely appeal. Stay tuned.
Several other items of note came to light in my web research:
  • On August 11, Sheldon issued a press release urging the Obama Administration to halt seismic testing off the Atlantic Coast.
  • On July 22, he called on the Public Service Commission to reject power companies’ requests to reduce energy conservation.
  • On July 1, he condemned Attorney General Bondi’s position in the Hobby Lobby case. Bondi had said, “Family-owned corporations such as Hobby Lobby have the right to run their businesses on religious principles, and the Affordable Care Act regulations violated their rights.”
  • Sheldon supports gay marriage. On May 30, he called Bondi’s motion to dismiss a legal challenge to Florida’s gay marriage ban “indefensible,” saying it “flies in the face of recent court decisions.”
  • Sheldon supports the proposed Amendment 2 to Florida’s Constitution regarding medical marijuana. On January 27, he said, “By legalizing a medicinal cannabis alternative, we provide … patients with an option that is less harmful, less expensive, and less subject to widespread abuse. We need to quit devoting government resources to meddling in the lives of people who are suffering and focus our resources on making life better and more productive for the citizens of Florida.”

Endorsements


Perry Thurston

Perry Thurston
Perry Thurston is an attorney, legislator and community activist. He received his B.A. in Finance from Morehouse College (1982) and his J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law (1987).

Thurston, being younger, has fewer years of experience on his professional resume:
  • Banking industry - 1982–1984
  • Assistant Public Defender, Broward County Public Defender’s Office - 1988–1992
  • Private law practice - 1992-present
  • State Representative, District 93 representing Fort Lauderdale and Central Broward County - 2006–2012
    • Democratic Ranking Member, Finance and Tax Council and Criminal & Civil Justice Council - 2008–2010
    • Democratic Ranking Member for Reapportionment - 2010–2012
  • State Representatives, District 94 representing parts of Broward County - 2012–2014
    • House Minority Leader - 2012–2014. In that capacity he played a critical role in the legislative controvery over Medicaid expansion. When the legislative session ended without a decision, Thurston and other Democrats unsuccessfully urged Governor Scott to call a special session to resolve the issue.
Regarding his time in Tallahassee, Thurston’s website says he:
… was a leading proponent for the restoration of civil rights legislation. He has held several workshops assisting ex-felons navigate through the restoration process. He has lead voters’ registration initiatives and conducted economic empowerment workshops for local businesses. He has also spearheaded the resurgence of youth baseball within Broward County’s African American community.
His website highlights his position on issues of importance to Democrats, including:
Education - Educating our children to compete in the diverse global economy will create a bridge for millions to enter the middle class. 
Jobs and the economy - We are committed to preserving and expanding the middle class by creating well-paying jobs, by strengthening demand for all that Florida has to offer, and by creating an educated, skilled, and productive workforce. 
Health Care - Democrats believe affordable, high quality health care is part of the American promise, that Americans should have the security that comes with good health care, and that no one should go broke because they get sick. 
Immigration - Florida Democrats support comprehensive immigration reform to secure our economic future and allow Dreamers and immigrants to step out of the shadows. 
Women and Families - Women’s rights are civil rights, and women’s issues are economic issues. Democrats are fighting for equal pay, an end to gender discrimination, and an economy that rewards the hard work of all Floridians. 
Voting Rights - Democrats are working to reform the broken elections system, and will never stop fighting the voter suppression tactics that deny honest citizens the right to vote. 
Civil Rights - Democrats are committed to standing up for those who continue to be denied the most basic civil rights, including marriage. For too many Floridians, the ideals outlined in the Constitution are still far from a reality. 
Accountability in Government - Democrats believe that changing politics in Tallahassee means ensuring that government is ethical, transparent, and responsive to the needs of the people.
In addition to Thurston’s involvement in the challenge to Sheldon’s residency, these other items of note came to light in my web research:
  • Thurston, too, has had problems with his residency.
  • Thurston, as State Representative and House Minority Leader, voted during the Legislature’s special session against SB 2-A “Establishing the Congressional Districts of the State,saying he would like to see the court draw its own map or give the task to an independent body.
  • He was one of 109 Representatives who voted for HR 3A - “Support for the State of Israel” and one of 105 who voted for HR 5A - “Human Trafficking/Abduction of Nigerian Girls.”
  • Thurston, like Sheldon, criticized Pam Bondi for her lawsuit seeking to overturn Florida’s same-sex marriage ban.
  • His position on Amendment 2 Medical Marijuana is more nuanced than Sheldon’s: “I think the public deserves an opportunity to vote on the issue of legalizing marijuana for medical use. . I happen to think the public would be much better served by changing the law to allow law enforcement to concentrate on violent criminals [i.e. rather than amending the Constitution?] … The prescription of medical cannabis should be a matter decided between doctors and patients.”
  • Thurton’s campaign created a website last month (Bondisbungles.com) highlighting what his campaign manager said are Pam Bondi’s top six bungles.
  • His voting record in the 2014 Florida Legislature includes a vote FOR in-state tuition for undocument immigrants; AGAINST expansion of school vouchers; AGAINST authorizing certain individuals to carry concealed firearms on school property; AGAINST authorizing local school boards to choose school textbooks; AGAINST a bill that prohibits insurance increasese for gun owners.

Endorsements

  • The Sun Sentinel
    “because he could bring passion — something both candidates rarely show — to a needed fight against one of Bondi’s worst actions,” i.e. her support for Rick Scott’s reversal of Charlie Crist’s Cabinet’s 2007 vote to restore the rights of nonviolent felons upon completion of their sentences.
  • Rick Kriseman, Mayor of St. Petersburg
  • Kendrick Meek, former U.S. Representative and nominee for U.S. Senate in 2010

Discussion

Both candidates are well-qualified, though each would bring different experiences to the Cabinet and the responsibilities of Attorney General. While both have experience as attorneys in private practice, Sheldon has broader legislative and administrative experience, whereas Thurston’s experience is limited to the Florida House.

The polls give Sheldon a slight edge over Thurston, but not enough to base a decision on.

Neither candidate has taken shots at the other from what I could find, other than Thurston’s hypocritical challenge to Sheldon’s residency.

This is a really tough choice. Upon reflection, because of his breadth of experience, his interest in children and families, and the fact that he received many more endorsements than Thurston did, I will vote for George Sheldon for Attorney General.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Meet the Candidates: County Judge

We Collier County voters have the opportunity to vote for one of two candidates for County Judge this month: Sal Bazaz or Rob Crown.

Sal Bazaz 

Sal Bazaz
Sal Bazaz has been practicing law in Naples (Sal Bazaz PA Attorney at Law) since 2003, and currently specializes in criminal defense law. His campaign slogan is “Collier County, You’ve Got Bazaz!”

Bazaz lives in Naples with his wife Christina and three children, ages 9, 7 and 5.

On his campaign Facebook Page, Bazaz says, “As an attorney I have seen many instances where the judicial system has failed to hear the voices of those they were to protect. Instead of just advocating the right position, I want, as judge, to be able to implement it.”

His campaign website, Facebook Page, and LinkedIn presence make appropriate use of social media. His Twitter feed @SalBazaz is inactive.

Educational Background

  • JD - Law / St. John’s University School of Law, Queens, NY (2001)
  • BA - Political Science / St. John’s University, Queens, NY (1998)

Professional Experience

  • Sal Bazaz PA Attorney at Law (2003 - present) - Specializes in criminal law services
  • New York and Florida Prosecturor’s Office / Prosecutor (1997 - 2003) - Prosecuted misdemeanors, felonies and violations of probation, sex crimes, theft charges, violent crimes, drug charges and traffic offenses
  • Office of the State Attorney, 20th Judicial Circuit - Florida / Assistant State Attorney (2002 - 2003)

Other

  • Successfully passed the NY, NJ and FL Bar Exams

Campaign Finance

Bazaz raised $7,363 in monetary contributions and no in-kind contributions, and spent $6,633 through 8/8/14. In addition to personal contributions totalling $1,500, his largest contributions to-date were:
  • $2,000 - Paul Zangrillo, Naples, on 2/14/14
  • $1,000 - Gulam Bazaz, El Sobrante, CA, on 3/31/14
  • $1,000 - Shirin Bazaz, Austin, TX, on 3/31/14
  • $500 - Salim Bazaz, Naples, on 2/7/14

Robert L. Crown

Robert L. Crown
Robert L. Crown is seeking to retain his position as a Collier County Court Judge. His campaign slogan is “Re-elect Judge Rob Crown.”

Crown and his wife Terry live in Naples. According to his website, Judge Crown is very proud that his four children are the third generation of Crowns to go through the Collier County Public Schools system.

His campaign website and Facebook Page make appropriate use of social media. He has no LinkedIn or Twitter presence.

Educational Background

  • JD - Law / Stetson University College of Law, Gulfport, FL (1995)
  • BS - Business Administration / Loyola University, New Orleans, LA (1992)

Professional Experience

  • Collier County Court / Judge (2006 - present)
  • Office of the State Attorney - Florida / prosecutor (~2000 - 2006)
  • Private practice / attorney (~1996 - 2000)

Other

Judge Crown was appointed to his current seat on the bench in 2006 by then-Governor Jeb Bush. He was chosen from over twenty applicants for one of two newly-created positions, after vetting by the nonpartisan Judicial Nominating Commission.

Judge Crown was endorsed by the Naples Daily News on August 5. According to the paper:
It’s not often that a sitting judge draws an election challenge. Typically when they do, the opponent has an objection to make regarding the judge’s conduct. That’s not the case here. Even Crown’s opponent in this race can’t point to a reason the judge should be replaced.

Campaign Finance

Crown raised $27,456 in monetary contributions and $90 in-kind contributions, and spent $21,839 through 8/8/14. In addition to a personal contribution of $500, his largest contributions to-date were:
  • $1,000 - Greg Boll, Naples, on 5/2/14
  • $1,000 - Ted L. Hollander & Assoc., PA, Ft. Myers, on 5/12/14
  • $1,000 - Laird A. Lile, P.A., Naples, on 7/28/14
In addition, Crown had eleven $500 contributions and over 150 other contributions, mostly from law firms in the Naples area.

Discussion

Mr. Bazaz doesn’t seem to have made much of an effort with his campaign, and I found no information about him online other than the social media and website presence. In his Naples Daily News editorial board interview he said he loves working as a sole practitioner, but wants to take his years of experience helping people into the court room.

There’s not much available on Judge Crown, either. The Naples Daily News endorsement simply paraphrases what’s on Crown’s own website.

So without more to go on, while both candidates are qualified, I’m most influenced by the fact that Mr. Bazaz hasn’t worked very hard on his campaign. Judge Crown, not taking his incumbency for granted, took the trouble to fundraise, and his contributions indicate broad local support.

For those reasons, I will vote for Robert Crown for County Judge.