Sunday, June 24, 2012

This week: get informed



The August 14 elections are relevant to ALL Collier voters – regardless of party affiliation, or if they have none at all.  That was one of the messages in last week’s post (“Why EVEN YOU should vote on August 14th”), and this comment from a reader was exactly the response I’d hoped for:

I always assumed, as a Democrat, I could NEVER vote in the Republican primary...now I know better and getting my ballot sent to me for a mail-in by going to the online link you provided was a breeze!

This week, there are some great opportunities for you to learn about the candidates and the issues: candidate forums moderated by the League of Women Voters of Collier County, and “Politics in the Park.”  I highly recommend both events.

League of Women Voters' Candidate Forums
Monday, June 25, 2012                                     Wednesday, June 27
5:30PM                                                              5:30PM
·        Property Appraiser - Abe Skinner vs Kevin Lilly - 5:30
·        Clerk of Court - Dwight Brock vs John Barlow - 6:30
·        Tax Collector- Larry Ray vs Steve Wagner - 7:15
·        Sheriff - Kevin Rambosk vs Victor Ortino - 8:00

Board of County Commissioners
·        District 1: Donna Fiala vs Steve Cosgrove
·        District 3: Tom Henning vs Bill McDaniel
·        District 5: Jim Coletta vs Tim Nance

The public is invited to attend the forums in person at the County Commission Chambers, County Administration Building, 3301 Tamiami Trail East (get directions).  You can also can watch it live on Channel 97, the County Government Comcast channel.


“Politics in the Park”
Thursday, June 28
4:00 PM

At this informal event, you can meet and greet candidates for Property Appraiser, Clerk of Court, Tax Collector, Sheriff, County Commission, US Congress - District 19, County Judge, Circuit Court Judge and local Fire District.    

A "Straw Ballot" will be taken for the County Commission, Sheriff, Clerk of Courts, Tax Collector, Property Appraiser, and District 80 and 106 State Representatives. Winners will be announced at the end of the evening, and food and beverages will be available for purchase.

“Politics in the Park” is sponsored by The Collier Building Industry Association in association with the Naples Daily News, NABOR, The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Waste Management and A/C Electric.  It will take place at St. John the Evangelist Life Center, 625 111th Avenue (get directions).

These events are an easy way to get an introduction to the candidates and the issues you will be voting on in August.  I hope you’ll make time to attend.

I also encourage you to take a few minutes to read “Loads of voters are out of the game – and those are the rules,” by Jeff Lytle, Editorial Page Editor, from last Sunday’s Naples Daily News.  It provides the “glass is half empty” side of the “half full” case I made in my post last week.  “Consider,” Lytle writes:

The race for Collier County Commission in Districts 1 and 5 are effectively Republicans-only contests even though there are other candidates on the ballot.  The winner of the Jim Coletta–Tim Nance GOP primary will go on to face a Democrat, John Lundin, whose nickname, on the ballot, is "Robinhood."

In District 1, the winner of the Donna Fiala–Steve Cosgrove primary will go on to face a No Party Affiliation (NPA) candidate, Russell Kish, who disdains campaigning.

Without those marginal candidates in the mix, the real decision-making that will take place in the Aug. 14 primaries would be open to all voters — Republicans, Democrats, Independents, you name it.

That means the decisions will be made by the 19,500 registered Republicans — less than half of the voter total — in District 1, and the 10,500 Republicans — again, less than half of the voter total — in District 5. ...

Countywide, non-Republicans take a hit in the sheriff's race. Thanks to the presence of perennial challenger Vinny Angiolio, an NPA who is not a viable candidate, about 80,000 voters will be out of the real decision-making left to 89,000 Republicans on Aug. 14 when incumbent Kevin Rambosk faces Victor Ortino. ...

So, there you have it. A state law that was supposed to open up primaries when all candidates are from the same party is so easily spoiled by dreamers or manipulated by partisans.

Lytle is absolutely right.  Closed primaries in Collier County are all too often the “main event.”  That’s why I changed my voter registration to Republican despite being a Democrat at heart.  (See my December 2011 post “AnUnorthodox Suggestion” in which I made that case.)

The opportunity for ALL Collier voters to have a say in the Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, Clerk of Courts and (for District 3 votes) County Commissioner elections doesn’t come along very often.  That’s all the more reason to get out and vote on August 14.  

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Important correction of last week's post: early voting in Collier Country is July 30 - August 11, excluding Sundays, not through August 12 as originally posted.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why EVEN YOU should vote on August 14th


Even though Florida is a “closed primary” state, several Collier County races will be “open” on August 14, and it’s important that every eligible Collier resident – regardless of party affiliation – get out and vote.  

This post explains why.  I’ll identify the races you should vote on, regardless of your party affiliation.  And at the end, I’ll tell you how to make sure your voter registration is up-to-date, request a no-excuse-needed mail ballot (which I recommend), and find your polling place (which may have changed due to redistricting). 

NOTE: Your voter registration must be up-to-date in the Supervisor of Elections’ records by July 16 in order to vote in the primary.

Closed ... but with a twist

Florida is a closed primary state, so generally only registered members of a political party may vote in that party’s primary election.  As always in Collier County, there will be quite a few closed primaries in August.

But there ARE times when ANY registered voter can vote in a primary election, REGARDLESS of the political party they are registered in, even if they are registered without a specific party affiliation. 

These are the exceptions to the “closed primary” rule, as summarized by the Florida Division of Elections:

  1. If all the candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner of the primary election will not face any opposition in the general election (i.e. no write-in candidates have qualified), then all registered voters can vote for any of the candidates for that office in the primary election.
  2. If races for nonpartisan (i.e., free from party affiliation) judicial and school board offices, nonpartisan special districts or local referendum questions are on the primary election ballot, then all registered voters, including those without party affiliation, are entitled to vote those races.

Here’s how this will play out in Collier County in August:

Exception 1 results in three Constitutional Officer elections in which ALL COUNTY residents can vote, and one County Commission election in which ALL DISTRICT 3 residents can vote in the August 14 primary. (To find your district, click here.)

Constitutional Officers: All five Collier County Constitutional Officer positions (Clerk of Courts, Property Appraiser, Sheriff, Supervisor of Elections, and Tax Collector) are up for election this year.  Three will be decided in OPEN primaries on August 14, and ALL COUNTY residents, regardless of party affiliation or district of residence, can vote:

Clerk of Courts: Incumbent Dwight Brock (R) is being challenged by John Barlow (R).  As there are no non-Republican challengers, the winner will be decided in an OPEN August 14 primary.

Property Appraiser:  Incumbent Abe Skinner (R) is being challenged by Kevin J. Lilly (R).  The winner will be decided in an OPEN August 14 primary.

Tax Collector:  Incumbent Larry Ray (R) is being challenged by Steven Wagner (R).  The winner will be decided in an OPEN August 14 primary.

The Sheriff race will begin with a CLOSED Republican primary in which incumbent Kevin Rambosk (R) will face Victor Ortino (R).  The winner will face Vincent “Vinny” Angiolillo (NPA) in November.

Our current Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards (R) had no challengers this year, so was automatically re-elected when the qualifying period closed on June 8.

County Commissioners:  Three of Collier’s five Commission District seats are on the ballot this year.  (See “Should you be voting for a County Commissioner in August?,” my May 10 post.)  Districts 1 and 5 will have CLOSED Republican primaries.  The winner in each will face a NPA (no party affiliation) or Democratic Party challenger, respectively, in November. 

But in District 3 (where I live), the only candidates – Tom Henning and Bill McDaniel -- are Republicans.  So under exception 1, ALL DISTRICT 3 residents can vote in the OPEN August 14 primary to determine who the next commissioner will be.

Exception 2, which deals with nonpartisan elections for judicial and school board offices and nonpartisan special districts, results in several OPEN primaries on August 14. 

Judges:  Three county judge positions are up for election this year.  Incumbent Vince Murphy had no challengers, so was automatically re-elected when the qualifying period closed.  Incumbents Eugene Turner and Michael Carr both face challengers, so there will be OPEN primaries for these positions in August. Four Circuit Court positions will be on the ballot as well. 

School Board:  Both incumbents whose positions were up for election – Kathy Curatolo (District 2) and Julie Sprague (District 4) – were unopposed, so were automatically “re-elected” to another term when the qualifying period closed on June 8. 

For the Supervisor of Elections Office’s complete list of candidates in the 2012 local elections, click here

Check your voter registration status and find your polling place

Visit the Collier County’s Supervisor of Elections’ website (www.colliervotes.com).  Click the “Voters” tab, then “Review My Registration” (or get there directly by clicking here).  Your registration must be valid and correct in the Supervisor of Elections’ system no later than July 16 - less than a month away.

Request a mail ballot

With the large number of ballot items, I urge you to vote by mail so you can carefully read the ballot and mark your choices in the comfort of home.  

Even if you received mail ballots in the past, you need to request one again for this year’s elections. 

You can request a form for yourself AND your immediate family members at www.colliervotes.com (click the “Vote By Mail” tab) or by calling the Supervisor of Elections office at (239) 252-8450.

Requests for absentee ballots to be sent by mail must be received no later than six days prior to each election (August 8 and October 31) but why wait? Do it now!  Mailing begins about four weeks before each election.  If you don't receive it, call the SOE at (239) 252-8450.

Summary

Regardless of your party affiliation – even if you have none – several important elections will be decided on August 14.  Take a few minutes now to note which ones you’ll be voting on.  Make sure your registration is up-to-date.  Request a mail ballot (which I recommend), or mark your calendar NOW to vote in person – during early voting (July 30 – August 11, excluding Sundays) or on Election Day (August 14), and make note of your polling place. 

Remember: Democracy is not a spectator sport.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Focused, but appropriately cautious


School boards across Florida have been considering a resolution that would call on the Governor and state Legislature, as well as the U.S. Congress and Administration, to address what many consider an over-reliance on testing in the schools.  Some refer to it as the "anti-testing resolution."  Collier County Board Chair Roy Terry asked the Board to consider that resolution at a Workshop last week.

One by one, our Board members spoke.  While agreeing with the concerns expressed in the resolution, they questioned the factual accuracy, appropriateness and clarity of the language.  A consensus emerged not to adopt the resolution at this time but to wait for discussion at the this week's Florida School Board Association meeting, which several Board members will be attending.

This resolution reflects just a small part of what the Tampa Bay Times calls “a growing national debate about how much testing is too much — and what effect high-stakes accountability has had on the culture of schools throughout the country.

Roy Terry
In explaining why he put the resolution on the agenda for the Workshop, Terry, a former teacher, coach and principal (click here for his bio),  said:

Everywhere you go people are talking about testing and its impact on our educational system.  How much it costs, time taken away from instruction, pressure on students and purpose for the test are all areas of frequent discussion.

The FCAT itself has changed over the years as to its purpose.  Originally, it was to discover student weaknesses and design a program for improvement. 

Since that time the test has become more than just a diagnostic tool, it is now used to:
  1. Determine graduation
  2. Promotion from 3rd grade to 4th grade, schools and districts
  3. Evaluation of teachers and performance based [bonuses]
  4. State funds to reward high performing schools
  5. A plan is in the works to use testing to determine if only students who pass the End of Course (EOC) exam will be funded for that course

There are many other reasons why high stakes testing is not working:
  1. Most new teaching has to do with how to take the test
  2. Due to pressure on students to pass the tests classes that develop creativity are gravely disheartening
  3. Costs to deliver these tests are running in the millions of dollars
  4. Tests are given in April and May in some cases 6 weeks before the end of school (Students think school is over, and [we] lose 6 weeks of instruction time each year
  5. End of Course tests should actually be at the end of the course
  6. It takes another two weeks out of the year to actually administrator the FCAT test

We need to get the message across that there needs to be a better, more efficient way to get this job done.  Whether we adopt [this resolution], develop one of our own or do nothing at all, we need to join the conversation.  Our schools and local control of the educational process [are] being slowly taken from us.  We need to at least let our voices be heard.

I don’t know the answer, that’s for sure.  But I came away from last week’s Workshop confident that our School Board members are focused on the right things, raising the right questions, and yet acting with proper caution. 

This critical issue isn’t getting enough coverage in our local Naples Daily News paper.  But here’s something you can do to stay informed: go to www.google.com/alerts and create an alert for “Florida school board testing resolution.”   Just watch it for a while.  Let me know what you think.  

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Voter suppression


Do most people know that Florida has been mailing “ominous and legalistic” letters to thousands of registered Florida voters questioning their citizenship and eligibility to vote?  
A friend asked the other day if I thought our group of Obama volunteers knew about it, which raised a broader question in my mind: do most people know about the long list of voter suppression laws and efforts our Republican-controlled state government has passed in the last few years? 
 “Will you be allowed to vote on Election Day?” last October talked about that fact, and an excellent Op Ed in today’s New York Times (“Darkness in the Sunshine State”) brings the national audience up to date:
“Few states in the union have done more in recent years to restrict and suppress voting — particularly by groups who lean Democratic, such as young people, the poor and minorities — than Florida.”
It really should be criminal. 
Yet Florida’s not alone.  A recent analysis of potentially restrictive laws related to voting that were proposed nationwide in the 2011 and 2012 state legislative sessions, and that have been passed or remain pending, by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law identified:
At least 180 restrictive bills introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states.
47 restrictive bills currently pending in 12 states.
23 laws and 2 executive actions passed since the beginning of 2011 in 18 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin).
15 states have passed restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election (Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia). These states account for 210 electoral votes, or nearly 78 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.
Of these, 12 laws and executive actions are currently in effect in 8 states (Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia).
Details here, by state.
Please do me a favor.  Make sure everyone you know is aware of this nation-wide effort to make it harder for citizens to vote.  It shouldn’t matter if you are a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent. We should all be outraged that citizens’ right to vote is being systematically restricted for what can only be political purposes.
And there's one more thing you can do, starting now and through Election Day: help register voters and then get out the vote in November.  Find a volunteer event near you, wherever you are, at www.barackobama.com/events.