2012 Election

Be mindful of politics: School Superintendent, Part 2

It seems sometimes that even politically astute voters can forget that public education and politics are hopelessly intermixed. Failure to pay close attention to one part of the equation invites getting blind-sided by the other.

The first post on this topic included a quick review of the candidates for Superintendent of Schools who were sorted through in the primary. Wally Wagoner and Jackie Porter were noteworthy as they attempted to portray themselves as outsiders, as savvy business pros who promised they could make millions of dollars magically appear from a budget slammed with close to $50 million in cuts in the last 5 years.

Readers will recall that Wagoner and Porter ran, together with education insider George Tomyn, in the Republican primary, decided by a small minority of activist Republican voters. It’s a key reminder that Superintendent of Schools is a partisan, elected position for which otherwise unqualified individuals are entirely entitled to run as candidates, win an election, and hold office for four years (see Rick Scott, Governor). If you think it is only about education and “all about the children,” you need to wake up … badly.

[Disclaimer: I have been a supporter, including modest financial support, of Diana Greene’s campaign.]

Everyone likes George Tomyn. I like George Tomyn. What’s not to like? He’s a really nice guy. George Tomyn is also the Republican candidate. Republican. Shall I say it again for you? Republican.

The Republican agenda in Florida for public education has focused on the elimination of the concept – not reform, elimination. The aim is for universal vouchers, converting tens of billions of state and local tax dollars into corporate profits with student-selective, for-profit charter, virtual, and private schools competing with under-funded public schools, the latter destined to become dumping grounds for the students unwanted by selective institutions. The charters and virtuals have already been given carte blanche approval by the state Board of Education which routinely and consistently overturns charter denials by county school boards. A voucher program funded by designated business taxes has been functioning for years and has aggressively expanded into the hundreds of millions of dollars as a centerpiece in the Jeb Bush/GOP education agenda.

Will George Tomyn advocate this agenda? If so, why does he want to be Superintendent of Public Schools? Wouldn’t private school headmaster be a better fit, or charter school educational entrepreneur? If not, why is he a Republican?

If you have lived under a rock for the last 10 years, you may not realize that the Republican Party today is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America and is dedicated to advancing corporate profits. Further, it is laden with woolly extremists who had previously clung to the John Birch Society but are now defined as “mainstream Republicans” in a very skewed worldview. Quite simply, Republicans have ceased to be a mainstream political party as many former GOPers have realized, dropping the nutty and joining the swelling ranks of independent/no party affiliation (NPA) voters, together with disillusioned Dems.

Remember, Tomyn received only 41%, a distinct minority of the total primary vote. Wagoner and Porter who both campaigned as far to the political right as possible, split the base and garnered a combined 59%. There were only 36,000 votes cast and that was considered a high turnout for a primary election. Tomyn bested runner-up Porter by only 3,000 votes. About 2,000 Democrats switched party registration temporarily to be able to vote in the Republican primary races. Tomyn likely benefited heavily. Tomyn likely gained a really thin primary victory when it’s closely considered.

Without belaboring the point further, Tomyn the Republican will have to pay continual attention and offer support for the dysfunctional GOP agenda, not risk alienating the extremists who are the party’s base, and be ever aware of his vulnerability to getting challenged and beaten in the low turnout GOP primary in four years by a far more conservative candidate reflecting the GOP agenda/ideology.

Consider what happened to County Commissioner Mike Amsden who irked the wrong people and apparently wasn’t conservative enough (really? reeeally?). Amsden was replaced as Republican candidate in the August primary by a libertarian from Citrus County named David Moore, a devotee of “menu taxation,” i.e. order services and pay taxes only for what you want. Amsden lost by 778 votes out of nearly 34,000 votes cast.

Tomyn cannot ignore his GOP affiliation for a moment. And it shows at times in his campaign platform and statements.

Diana Greene is running as a Democrat. She has no problem even remotely akin to Tomyn’s. Democrats actually support public education (!), realize how critical it is to preserve and advance a strong system of public education, and would only challenge Greene if she ever began adopting Republican positions (see Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education). Greene will likely face a Republican challenger in every election, but she will face that challenger with the benefit of the full electorate voting in a presidential election year when Democrats post their best turnouts, and party voting boundaries are not a factor as they are in primary elections.

On the other hand, Tomyn would have to clear the thin turnout of activists in a Republican primary if he strayed too far from the party line, a far, far more daunting proposal. Ask Amsden.

Greene would clearly enjoy more political freedom, and her survivability upon taking any controversial stands would be far greater than Tomyn for whom exceeding caution would be mandatory.

Politics matter, and politics will affect policy, leadership, and performance.

Next time, let’s peel back the happy talk about how it’s “all for the children” and see how it’s all about appeasing constituencies in an election.

School Superintendent: Leadership Needed, Part 1

Two qualified candidates for Marion County Schools Superintendent emerged from the August primary; Diana Greene who was unopposed as the Democratic candidate, and George Tomyn who became the Republican candidate. The distinction of “qualified candidates” seems important to note since  in the August primary Tomyn defeated current Deputy Superintendent Wally Wagoner who touted his noteworthy career as a businessman, not an education leader, and current School Board member Jackie Porter who also touted her successful career as a businesswoman, but who lacked a college degree and also never professed to be an education leader.

Diana Greene is presently Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction while George Tomyn is presently Executive Director of School Development, both being career educators who have risen to executive leadership roles and who have spent most of their careers honing their craft in Marion County. No doubt both of them are qualified.

[Disclaimer: I have been a supporter, including modest financial support, of Diana Greene’s campaign.]

The question concerns the leadership qualities that each brings to the county’s largest employer, a $400+ million overall annual budget, a massive daily transportation system connecting over 40,000 students to over 50 buildings in an area the size of Rhode Island, with responsibility for maintaining those buildings and staying current with fast changing technology while negotiating the whims of Tallahassee politicians who are arrogantly confident that their meddlesome ideology knows best, dealing with School Board members who often act like they should be confined to an In-School Suspension (ISS) portable, and struggling amid a budgetary climate that has our district reeling from one body blow after another from decreased funding. No other elected official is as responsible for such a large, complex, politically charged, and difficult enterprise in Marion County. Sheriff? Hah! Not even close. This is the big kahuna job and whoever sits in the high chair better be outstanding.

There are many worthwhile measures of leadership, but the ones that seem most prominent concern

  • leadership experience, particularly “under fire” as in managing difficult issues, positions, and situations;
  • creativity/innovation, in being adaptive to changed and challenging requirements and expectations;
  • vision casting/sharing, as not only seeing through the fog and smoke to envision what can be, but enabling others to share that vision;
  • motivation/communication to a large organization (5,000+ employees) in ways that not only inform but inspire;
  • planning/execution to minimize the number of unpleasant surprises, anticipate changing conditions with multiple plans and strategies, and yet remains involved in implementation without being a micro-manager.

Already a fair amount of ink has been spilled here just in introducing the importance of this race and the context under consideration. In the next few posts, this page will consider this subject of leadership and some of the political matters that seem to be getting overlooked in this contest. Let’s ask things like:

  • Do Republican or Democratic party affiliations matter?
  • Proactive on school funding? (I really hate the word “proactive,” too)
  • Has student testing gone wild?
  • How does it feel to be in the crosshairs?
  • Hey, how about that School Board?

Do you have any questions this page should consider? Let me know in the Comments below.

By the way, you’ve ordered your mail-in ballot already, right? If not, call the Supervisor of Elections Office 620-3290 immediately. It’s extra – 65 cents – for return postage, but it’s definitely worth it. Don’t get caught at the polling place this year with 11 amendment proposals slowing the voting lines to a frustrating standstill. Do it now!

About those 11 amendment proposals, check this and this.

Quick Guide to the 2012 Florida Amendments – Just Say “No”

This year’s ballot is a mammoth mess for voters thanks to the GOP dominated legislature piling all kinds of nonsense into it. With 11 amendments, impenetrable due to longwinded, complex legalese descriptions intended to befuddle even then most astute, the Marion County ballot runs 4 legal sized pages and will require 65 cents postage to mail back. There is a devious reason for this explained in a previous post. At any rate, make sure to show your appreciation to your GOP legislator(s) for their reckless manipulation of voters.

[Pictured are just pages 2 and 3 of the Marion County ballot.]

Counsel from reliable sources is to simply vote “No” on all 11 amendments. It’s good advice. (Marion County voters should stop for the last ballot question and vote “Yes” for community hospital (Munroe) district bonds, a local matter. Also vote “Yes” to retain the three Florida Supreme Court justices; the campaign against retention is a Tea Party/GOP effort to own the Supreme Court lock, stock, and barrel – see Amendment 5 below.)

Here is a quick rundown on why you should vote “No” on each of the 11 amendments.

1. Health care mandate: This is a settled issue, per the US Supreme Court, and was only put on the ballot to make a political point. It was irrelevant to start off, and has now become completely moot. Vote NO.

2. Extra homestead exemption for combat wounded veterans: Nice idea, but amending the Florida Constitution is silly. The GOP has the majority; just pass the legislation if you’re serious, GOP legislators. Vote NO.

3. Revised caps on government revenue: This is a failed idea (see Colorado) that is part of the right wing inspired Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). Colorado suspended it. Florida already has caps based on somewhat sensible criteria. See the post from 2011 on TABOR here. This is proven dumb. Vote NO.

4. Reduces property tax responsibility primarily for commercial, non-homestead property including second homes. This is an unaffordable giveaway, and adds yet another square to the checkerboard of property tax gimmicks for those of doubtful need. Vote NO.

5. Legislature manages the judiciary: This probably wouldn’t pass constitutional muster anyway. Remember separation of powers, kids? The legislature simply wants to run the judiciary so you could forget separation of powers. Yeah, right. Vote NO.

6. Personal medical decisions by politicians: It would hardly be an election without an abortion item on the ballot. This is useless since federal law already covers this issue. It’s primarily intended to get out the Christian/anti-choice vote. Vote NO.

7. Removed from ballot.

8. Government money for religious institutions: This is a mess. It isn’t needed since faith-based operations can already receive government funding through a separate 501(c)3 non-profit. Authorize diverting funding to private, religious schools? Probably unconstitutional, too, but the GOP clearly hasn’t read that document, eh? Vote NO.

9. Property tax exemption for surviving spouse of veteran or first responder: See the comment on Amendment 2 above. There is simply no reason to amend the bloody constitution for this. Give it a rest, GOP! Vote NO.

10. Extra homestead exemption for seniors: This already exists. It simply needs the county to approve it. Most counties have already done something with it. Marion … nothing. Without some income qualification, a lot of rich seniors will get a much lighter tax ride while you pick up the tab. Vote NO.

11. Bigger homestead exemption for low income seniors: Tired of property/homestead pandering yet? Yeah, me, too. Again, this does not require a constitutional amendment. Vote NO.

12. Different student rep on college Board of Governors: This would replace the existing Florida Student Association rep with a whole new council being formed just to pick a different rep. Really? Is this necessary? No. So what should you do? Vote NO.

There are lots of articles on the amendments, few complimentary. Here is a link to a TBO article providing a quick review of the amendments with links to further articles if you want to dig deeper.

Also, highly recommended is the Florida League of Women Voters Voter Guide to the Amendments which is also blessedly brief – download it here.

Also, download the Progress Florida 2012 Voter Guide.

While you’re at the Progress Florida site, be sure to sign up for Daily Clips so that you’re well informed about all developments in Florida politics.

If you haven’t requested a mail-in ballot, do it now. You do not want to be at the polling place on Election Day where people will actually be trying to read and understand this godawful ballot. In Marion County, call the Supervisor of Elections Office at 620-3290 to make your request.

Ballot Bling Sting: 2012 Ballot Amendments seek to deter voting

My mail-in ballot arrived today. Woo-hoo! The end of 2012’s election season is in sight!

No, wait; not so fast! With two double-sided, legal sized pages of ballot, and with three quarters of it filled with a cesspool of dense word turds to form 11 proposed constitutional amendments, voters face a major test akin to an FCAT. In a sense, it may be worse.

Let’s call it “ballot bling” – gaudily accessorizing the ballot with unnecessary, overstated attachments. Let’s also be clear that it has been quite deliberately designed to be absurdly impenetrable, evidence of the latest show of Republican contempt for voting and democracy.

As if Dennis Baxley’s ALEC prompted voter suppression law wasn’t enough in targeting minorities, seniors, and young adults with restrictive new voting rules, his law removed the Sunday before Election Day from early voting in a blatant neo-Jim Crow racially motivated targeting of the “Souls to the Polls” effort by black churches. In addition, he insultingly claimed prevention of non-existent voter fraud, thereby donning a thin thong to mask the elephantine backside of their exposed corruption. Yet Baxley, Gov. Scott, and the Florida GOP cabal went further and further.

As if it wasn’t enough that Tea Party Governor Rick Scott’s selectively rescinded voter rights restoration for ex-felons, removing hundreds of thousands of individuals from exercising their vote who had fully paid their debt to society, Scott and his hatchet men sought feverishly to remove 180,000 more voters using inaccurate, inappropriate databases at the last minute while self-indulgently shrieking about undocumented and unproven voter fraud.

As if corrupt former FL GOP Chair Jim Greer’s admissions that the party has had an explicit internal strategy to deny the vote to specific groups like minorities and young adults, as well as recent revelations about open ballot buying in south Florida, the Florida GOP contracted with a third party solicitation business, Strategic Allied Consulting, that paid canvassers to bring in voter registrations, who happened to “lose” or deter citizens registering as Democrats, and filing (hold onto your hat) fraudulent voter registrations for the GOP, making the concerns about ACORN’s field work in 2008 seem totally tame.

Another Florida GOP move, now entering the curriculum at the Vladimir Putin School of Guaranteed Election Victory, will confront the voter who tries to complete their ballot with its 11 amendment proposals that range from utterly unconstitutional to unnecessary/useless, replete with intentionally confusing and obscure language. Having a master’s degree, I find the amendments incomprehensible. Good luck, average Joe and Jane Voter. Remember, this production didn’t happen by accident, friends.

A little history lesson is in order. There are two ways to amend the Florida constitution, either by citizen petition or by legislative action. The GOP dominated legislature holds the citizen petition process (and broad citizen participation in general) in contempt since things unpleasant to the GOP like the Hometown Democracy Amendment and the Fair Districts Amendment, for example, inconveniently found their way to qualifying. Therefore, the GOP legislators increased the voter majority needed for adoption from a simple majority – 50%+1 vote – to requiring 60% approval. They have also greatly shortened the amount of time to gain qualifying signatures, a massive grassroots effort anyway, that now makes it nearly impossible to accomplish without a huge multimillion dollar war chest to pay for a campaign. And thanks again, Dennis Baxley, for your contempt of citizen initiatives – this was another piece of your fine work to thwart democratic process.

Thinking they had everything lined up, GOP legislators put forth a couple of doozies championed by then House Speaker Dean Cannon in 2010 with the assistance of his leadership team including Dennis Baxley. Their three prize proposals were approved by the dominant GOP legislators and headed to the ballot. But then a lawsuit challenged their misleading and disingenuous titling and descriptions which led to their removal from the ballot by the Florida Supreme Court.

Speaker Cannon went ballistic – ther-mo-nuclear! – condemning the court for interfering in the legislature’s agenda by its … um … doing its job as an independent branch of government. Cannon’s vehemence that one party government should always, always, always prevail would never be assuaged, thereby explaining the current concerted effort to cripple the Supreme Court and any independent judiciary in Florida via the declared war on judicial retention by the Florida GOP (really!) plus Amendment 5 on the ballot which empowers the House to control the judiciary (not that unconstitutionality has ever concerned the GOP legislature and governor … ever).

The current effort was aided by (you guessed it) Dennis Baxley whose voter suppression law included a waiver of limitation on the text of any legislatively proposed amendment; citizen petitions remain limited to 140 words while ballot proposals by the legislature can spew verbiage ad nauseum, as can be witnessed on the current ballot.[1]

This gross prosaic indulgence has a despicable purpose. Voters of all kinds, but particularly those visiting a polling location either as early voters or as Election Day voters, are guaranteed – ga-run-teed! – to languish in the polling place, going cross-eyed trying to figure out what on God’s green earth they’re reading on the ballot, and causing lines to back up further and further and further. Breeding discouragement and ensuring that anyone with any kind of schedule will be spitting angry about the delays, plenty of citizens will be frustrated and/or forced to leave the line and relinquish their vote for 2012.

What to do?

  • First, request a mail-in ballot from the Supervisor of Elections by calling 620-3290 between 8:30am-4:30pm if you haven’t already.
  • Second, vote “no” on every single amendment, as recommended by numerous sources including the Florida League of Women Voters, until you get to the very last item on the ballot.
  • Third, the very last item is not a proposed amendment; it is the Munroe Hospital bond issue, and you must vote “yes” for that one.

Now that was easier, right?

Oops, one more thing:

  • Fourth, tell your friends to do one, two and three above, and then share with their friends.

Smart voters will save this democracy from the fascists and plutocrats yet.

[1] Hat tip to former County Commissioner and attorney Judy Johnson, who has provided totally balanced analyses of constitutional amendments for many years throughout the community, for explaining the reason for the change in text length.

Marion Democrats “fired up and ready to go!”

Today, we welcome guest contributor Delphine Blachowicz Herbert to Daily Marion.

Three hundred Marion County Democrats were “fired up and ready to go” when they packed to capacity the banquet hall of the Ocala Hilton on Sunday night to hear Grace Nelson, the wife of Florida Senator Bill Nelson, lead a salute to women who have been in the forefront of effective change both here and abroad.

The “Annual Proud to be a Democrat Dinner” attendees were welcomed by hostess Dr. Joyce Blake, State Committeewoman and Coordinated Campaign chair, and Reginald Landers, Jr., recently elected Chairman of the Marion County Democratic Executive Committee, both of whom pointed out that the party is “moving on up” and ready to turn Marion County “blue” with the relocation of its headquarters to 601 SW First Avenue in downtown Ocala.

Former Congresswoman Karen Thurman introduced Grace Nelson as “her personal first lady of Florida” and an effective ambassador for women and children across the state and around the world.

“Women know that power is not necessarily in a position,” Mrs. Nelson said, citing the influence of transformative politicians’ spouses such as Eleanor Roosevelt and her friendship with Mary Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona, and Michelle Obama who with Jill Biden fights for the rights of the men and women serving in the military, and against the obesity which afflicts the health of our nation and its youth in particular.

Nelson spoke movingly of her trips to Rwanda with her husband where almost a million people died in three months during the genocidal tribal warfare of 1994. Despite unspeakable atrocities, the women of Rwanda decided to forgive their oppressors with the result that women now occupy 59% of parliament, and the country claims the fastest growing GNP in all of Africa.

“Hate radio started poisoning the minds of the Rwandans,” Nelson said, drawing a parallel with those who kill elsewhere with words rather than machetes.  “This is not the Democratic way nor is it the Republican way,” voicing her concern that our children are growing up thinking that refusal to compromise or even discuss differing points of view is the norm.  Nelson feels that the gaping division between our citizens is a problem even more serious than the economy, the wars, or drug addiction.

“We must see our Earth as my husband did while in space, with no racial, political and religious divisions, just the beautiful home in Norman Rockwell’s portrait where people of all religious backgrounds  subscribe to varying versions of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Democratic candidates spoke briefly following Mrs. Nelson’s address.  They included Clovis Watson (State Rep), J. R. Gaillot (US Congress), Frank Bruno (State Senate), Diana Greene (School Superintendent), Jessica Hadley (County Commission) and Judge Cochran (Supervisor of Elections).

The evening concluded with a salute to eight local women who have worked for the common good in our community.  They are: Mary Sue Rich, Karen Thurmond, Edwina Harris, Sue Lyons, Juanita Cunningham, Marjorie Renfroe, Loretta Jenkins, and Oneida Darley.

Events coordinator Sally Eller Smith was workaholic-in-chief who made the evening a resounding success with serious assists from Michele Kudrna, Stephanie Miller, Eunice Dawkins, Nora Travieso, Sheila Feldman, and Jan Lentz.

The evening concluded with a salute to eight local women who have worked for the common good in our community.  They are: Mary Sue Rich, Karen Thurmond, Edwina Harris, Sue Lyons, Juanita Cunningham, Marjorie Renfroe, Loretta Jenkins, and Oneida Darley.

The energy you saw at the Democratic National Convention last week was on full display on Sunday night as local Democrats showed they are serious about working for good results ni the 2012 election.

where people of all religious backgrounds  subscribe to varying versions of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”/p

Fix Florida’s broken primary election system

If the basic purpose of a primary election is to narrow the field of candidates, it should be no surprise that using primaries to elect candidates directly to office creates problems and reveals a broken system. The expectation is that the most popular candidates emerging from the primary election will face all voters in the November general election, when the electoral decision would be made. Not so in Florida.

Last Tuesday, Florida had its primary election. Voter turnout was typically abysmal for a primary, in the 15-20% range statewide, and even in Marion County where there were several big, hot races getting decided, turnout reached a whopping 27%.

This puny minority of Marion County voters essentially elected 2 School Board members, 2 County Commissioners, a Sheriff (sorry, Bernie DeCastro), a State Representative (HD-20), 2 County Judges, and the Circuit 5 Public Defender. Those are a lot of offices being decided in a primary election when the expectation is a narrowing of candidates, not election to office.

Typically, primary elections help political parties decide its candidate for each office from multiple contenders, as Republicans did in Tuesday’s School Superintendent race for example, winnowing the field from three candidates to one. That candidate will stand against a Democratic challenger in November. This is a helpful and necessary process for any political party. Each party should have a workable, open process that allows party members to decide their preferred candidate, and the primary election does that well.

Still, there are plenty of counties in Florida, like Marion, where one of the major political parties may not field candidates for all offices. Florida provides for open primaries – as in ‘open to all voters’ – in instances where there is no challenger and the primary election decides the officeholder, not simply November’s candidate. However, a loophole allows a write-in candidate to close the voting to party members only. So much for that idea, except on rare occasions like the recent Circuit 5 Public Defender race.

Therefore, many candidates are in essence directly elected to office on primary election day only by members of their own party, and that’s typically a minority representing the party’s hard line activists.

It is no way to run an election. This whole process is routinely despised by intelligent voters from every side of the political spectrum.

This year, by looping the loophole noted above, thousands switched their party registration to “Republican” in Marion County solely to vote in the primary election (although given the choices, it is a mystery to this writer why they went to all of that effort). This level of party-switching simply to be able to vote is another indication that the primary election system is dysfunctional.

Yes, political parties should be allowed to hold popular elections for its members to decide who will be the party’s candidate for any office.

No, political parties should not be allowed to use primary election votes by its members to determine the outcome of any election, pre-empting the general electorate. The right to vote for the officeholder should be extended to every voter, regardless of party, so long as there is a qualified challenger.

No, exclusive minority fractions of the electorate (or of a party!) should not be empowered to elect candidates to office to the exclusion of the majority of the electorate. No party can claim the majority of the electorate in Marion County. Such exclusivist voting fails the sniff test with a mighty pee-yoo!

No, having voters jumping from one party to another, surfing the election cycle depending on how it’s turning, is not a good idea. It corrupts the process of a party trying to identify its nominee, and indicates the overall failure of the system.

The remedy is quite simple. My middle-aged memory being as flawed as it is nonetheless recalls that Ocala Star Banner Editor Brad Rogers had made this case before. Darned if I know when and I’m too lazy to chase down a link that may be several years old. Let me just recycle his wisdom.

Hold the primary election in August and let each party determine its candidate by the vote of its party registrants. If all candidates for an office are from the same party, then the top 2 vote-getters in the August primary election appear on the November general election ballot with one being clearly named as the party’s nominee, and the other as challenger.

Here is how it would have worked in Tuesday’s election.

In the Sheriff’s race, last Tuesday’s winner Dan Kuhn becomes the Republican party nominee while Chris Blair is a Republican party challenger, and then every voter gets to cast a ballot in November to decide.

Or in the School Board races, the top 2 vote-getters would advance to the November election, even if there were only 2 candidates as there were in both races this year. Why?

  • First, it has been common to have more than 2 candidates in a race for School Board, so a primary election will narrow and define the field, even though it is “non-partisan.”
  • If there are only 2 candidates in a non-partisan race, they ought to skip the primary election, not the general! 
  • Finally, the primary election has such poor turnout due to its nature that it simply makes sense to have the broader participation of the electorate in the November general election making the final electoral decision.

Will anything change any time soon? Not likely. But don’t let anyone portray this as some unsolvable problem. Obviously, it isn’t. Power and politics being what they are, little people like you and me don’t really count for much, particularly when the election system is pretty much rigged like this.

Busted! Myth of Tea Party power in Marion County has ended

The results of the Primary Election statewide ought to put to rest the overblown scope of the Tea Party’s political muscle, particularly in Marion County. [Disclaimer: this writer is named a Tea Party Solutions “enemy” and is proud of it.] Since 2010, this annoying meme has cast a shadow over fearful politicos and prevented wise voices from uttering sane thoughts for fear of being branded a heretic by a handful of noisy Republican extremists, latter day John Birchers, and deluded conspiracy theorists.

Even the upset of Ted Yoho over 20+ year incumbent Congressman Cliff Stearns can hardly have been attributed to Marion County’s Tea Party Solutions since Stearns had his strongest support in the district’s population centers, Marion (Yoho was a distant third in Marion behind Stearns and Olerich) and Clay counties. In this four candidate race, Yoho won by huge margins in all the other counties – most over 50%.

The report that Stearns simply sat out the campaign, barely touched his $2 million campaign war chest, and conceded the grassroots to Yoho is nothing new. It reflects the way Stearns has always run his campaigns in recent memory. His invisibility in a newly drawn district was the major factor, not the Tea Party. In fact, even with Stearns’ cavalier indifference toward this new GOP electorate, Yoho barely won. It likely helped more that Yoho has a fun and memorable name, but then how many Yoho signs did you see out there in Marion County? Me, none.

Looking at the local Tea Party Solutions ratings, a bewildering scheme of numerology that may have included an Ouija board and the I Ching, their preferred candidates didn’t exactly excel. Their complete scorecard can be downloaded by clicking here.

For School Superintendent, Jackie Porter was preferred (106%) by Tea Party Solutions with Wally Wagoner second (94%). Despite a 73% rating and having blown off the TPS interview, George Tomyn nonetheless emerged as the clear favorite in Republican voting on Tuesday.

Among County Commission candidates, GOP voters gave a narrow nod to Stan McClain (52-48%) over newcomer Jeff Gold in the District 3 race when Gold had blown off the Tea Party examination process altogether.

The Tea Party seemed to like its own leader Butch Verrando only slightly more (95%) ni the District 5 race than the relatively sane Pat Gabriel (92%) and cash magnet Earl Arnett (88%), with Arnett winning strong with 36% of the vote in a four person field with Verrando receiving the least votes. Remember, these are GOP voters, not general election voters.

In the School Board races, Tea Party folks liked Bobby D in the District 2 race far more than Carol Ely, but Ely won by a huge margin.

They weren’t thrilled by Nancy Stacy (65%) in the District 1 race, even though she is one of their own, but far more than Woody Clymer who also blew off their process and never responded. Stacy won by just 2,600 votes, attributable to absentee ballots from Hwy. 200 and South 441 retirement communities as Clymer had strong support in all of the Ocala city precincts and the north county precincts where GOP voters think. Had it been a November general election where Democrats voted in any significant numbers in Silver Springs Shores and Marion Oaks, Clymer would have won handily.

By now, you get the idea. Tea Party Solutions represents a cranky bunch of extremists who have always been on the fringe of the already arch-conservative Marion County GOP. They do not decide elections. They do not offer meaningful new ideas. They do not matter except for entertainment value.

If you get a kick out of nutty views like how the United Nations is going to take over the United States with “Agenda 21,” then Tea Party Solutions has value. No seriously, this Agenda 21 nonsense is a mainstay tenet of their political faith. Really. Stop laughing. Get off the floor!

Candidates heading into the November election need to get a grip and start acting like the leaders that our county needs. The mythic strength of the Tea Party deriving from one sadly freakish election in 2010 can now be laid to rest. Clearly, even Marion County Republican voters aren’t paying them much attention.

  • HEY! Check out today’s Star Banner editorial which justly finds fault with the gutless weenies on the School Board  and the spineless, two-faced cow pies at the local Chamber and Economic Development Corp. for their failure to lift a finger in support of the two school funding proposals. But Brad, how about a kudo to the YES for Marion Schools team?

Primary election results are largely disappointing

While most primary elections have voter turnouts in the 20% range, the “big” turnout of roughly 27% yesterday provided Marion County with 4 year office holders on the County Commission, School Board, and Sheriff, and virtually ensured defeat of 2 ballot referenda for crucial school funding. The voters who were most influential in the outcomes were retirement community precincts who vote strongly regardless while the ungated are trying to lead normal lives in the real world. The surreal results of the primary election reflect their priorities.

Click here for all of the results.

This page has focused on a few races and issues in this election. A quick review is in order before I cry myself to sleep.

School Board District 1: A post in mid-July regarded Woody Clymer as a sane, experienced, knowledgeable, easygoing, good choice, but found Nancy Stacey to be irrelevant, extremist, acerbic, and combative. The retirees loved Stacey and she was elected by 2,400 votes in a 52-48% victory. If you thought Jackie Porter could be problematic, Nancy Stacey will redefine dysfunctional. At the forum at First Methodist sponsored by Marions United and ETF, Stacey actually conjured up her own conspiracy theory on the spot in response to a question. Four years, folks.

Further, Clymer was the only candidate running for a school board office in the primary election who had the decency, integrity, candor, and wisdom to stand entirely in support of the two school funding proposals. He ran an excellent campaign, and lost.

The parents in “the projects” should expect Nancy Stacey to visit soon so that they can be taught parenting skills as she promised. School Board meetings will become teaching sessions for the Tea Party interpretation of the Constitution, while the students, educators, and administration get hung out to dry amid vain ideological distractions.

School Board District 2: This race was covered in a post last week, finding two candidates that had significant drawbacks. Former principal Carol Ely won this race by a wide margin – 62-38% – over former radio shock-jock Robert “Bobby D” Dobkowski.

While Ely promised to be a less divisive presence, she showed no leadership on the funding issue. Her answers at the forum sponsored by Marions United for Public Education and ETF revealed that she knew the funding was desperately needed, but she refused to take an honest stance like Clymer in the District 1 race and call for their passage. How embarrassing.

Okay, she won. Having been elected for four years, will she start showing some spine now that it’s safe? Hopefully she is prepared to start acting like a leader. That will be needed more than ever. We hope she can rise above the low bar of her tepid, contrived campaigning to stand tall for students, teachers, and public education.

School funding proposals: These referenda were in the background of several posts, specifically the Third of Three Bogus Arguments, and were the focal criteria in considering School Board and Superintendent candidates.

The first proposal for operations funding that would have supported art, music, library/media programs, Reading Coaches, tutoring, credit recovery and summer school programs lost by a margin very similar to the District 1 race, 48-52%.

Frankly, this writer wouldn’t have predicted as positive of an outcome. Given that it was a low turnout primary election, with no Democrat identified in any countywide race, in the deadliest days of August, before school starts, with volunteers as scarce as snowballs, and no one from the School Board and no candidates apart from Woody Clymer actually campaigning positively for their passage, it’s a freaking major, walk-on-the-water, jumpin’ Jesus miracle that it was so close. Talk about an uphill climb! (Disclaimer: Son Ray was a leader of the YES for Marion Schools campaign, and I helped. Yep, you guessed it; I’m biased.) As was posted here when first proposed, it was set up to fail.

If you adjusted just one of these factors, there may have been 2,583 votes garnered to pass this. The abominable lack of leadership among those supposed to provide or seeking to provide leadership looms very large as a factor.

The second proposal for capital funding failed by a wider margin, 41-59%.  The broader gap was likely due to less clarity and some confusion.

The alternative school plan needed considerable explanation. Many thought it was for special needs disabled children when it was for difficult disciplinary students, and people didn’t understand that it capitalized a potential major money-saving investment.

Digital textbook technology is frankly beyond the comprehension of most voters, many of whom still think a mouse is best trapped, not clicked. Uh, tablet computers? Yeah, right. Few understood that it was state mandated and unfunded, and actually an awesome development of a learning tool, not a quirky techno-fad waste of money.

Finally, voters were confused about building expenses since the tax for new school construction had been allowed to expire in 2009, and even recently, the School Board had denied the need for impact fees on new homes, funds also dedicated for school expansion.

Without good information, voters did not know that critical PECO (Public Education Capital Outlay) funds from Tallahassee had been $0 for the last 2 years. In 2007, there were $300 million in PECO funds just for K-12 schools. In 2011-2012, there was no funding for PECO at all. In this year’s 2012-2013 budget, there was $55 million allocated for K-12 but it was all designated for charter schools. (Another $300 million in PECO funds went to state colleges and universities.) The differences between new building, expansion funding, and routine maintenance made this much more difficult to parse.

House District 20: The last several posts have focused on the district and the candidates, some added information about Clovis Watson as City Manager of Alachua, and an update on Watson’s reaping the benefit of tens of thousands of dollars in corporate cash as the candidate recently endorsed and actively supported by the biggest right wing corporate power lobbyists, the Florida Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida (AIF).

As noted in the first post, this district was designed for an African American representative and packed with Democrats. Watson beat opponent Marihelen Wheeler handily 58-42% in an election that only had 11,000 voters casting ballots district-wide. Click here and scroll down for the exact results in HD 20.

Clovis Watson, Jr.: the citizens to whom you owe your election will be watching to see if the corporations own your vote. Please make our deep misgivings go away.


Clovis Watson cashes in with Florida Chamber and AIF

Here is a further update on Clovis Watson’s BFF relationship with the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the two largest, richest, and most powerful corporate lobbyists in Florida whose endorsement of Republicans is as predictable as sunshine in the weather forecast. The final ‘pre-election day’ fundraising report shows the corporate money continues to drench Watson’s campaign while the trickle down due to corporate control of the legislature has yet to make most of Watson’s constituents so much as damp.

In the brief period of July 23 to August 9, Watson recorded $23,615 in contributions. There were 32 contributions of the maximum $500, or $16,000, from Tallahassee corporate lobbying groups, PACs, CCEs as well as out of area corporate groups. The range of donors include major players like Publix, Disney, Duke (Progess) Energy, HCA, NextEra Energy (Florida Power), WellCare, and Wal-Mart.

Watson’s total fundraising for a seat which has been his to lose: $79,993. For corporations, that sum is a trivial expense that offers major return on investment. Citizen donors ought to be having doubts about now.

See for yourself. Click here to review the Florida Secretary of State, Division of Elections reporting page for Clovis Watson. Click the “Campaign Finance Activity” box, pick a reporting period or “all dates,” and then click the box “Submit Query Now.”

Previous posts here have reviewed the district and the candidates, and a follow-up post shared a video and information provided by a reader about Watson’s problematic conduct while City Manager of the City of Alachua.

Watson is being opposed by Marihelen Wheeler, a middle school teacher who has been endorsed by the Alachua and Marion Education Associations, respectively, as well as conservation groups for her strong stands on water issues. By contrast, Wheeler has raised $33,980 in total, and reports not one $500 corporate contributor among the few $500 donations. Most of Wheeler’s supporters have been individuals and small businesses.

The question has not gone away: who will Watson serve, the corporate donors or the citizen voters? If Watson wins tomorrow, citizens will need to take off any blinders and hold Watson accountable. Frankly, it doesn’t look good for the citizens, and it seems like the corporations have bought themselves what should have been a sure Democratic vote in the Legislature.

Update: What’s this, Watson? More?

Just a quick note to readers interested in yesterday’s post about the HD-20 race. You should go to the Comments at the end where you’ll find a long comment from “Public Citizen.” The comment contains a link to a YouTube video that is quite revealing.

Click here for the video

Being in Marion County, we aren’t customarily watching the happenings in the City of Alachua. This additional information is rather stunning and makes you wonder if people in Gainesville are even aware of the tight knit club running the City of Alachua that has included Clovis Watson.

The video is over 40 minutes long, but if you can’t watch the whole thing, be sure to check in at about 26:00 for Grapski’s lunchtime encounter with an egg eating Clovis Watson, pictured in the screen grab above.

You’ll also want to see Watson in a public announcement promising to help turn Alachua “red” for the Republicans at about 31:00. I guess it was during his “Republican” period.

Grapski’s ridiculous, unwarranted arrest at an Alachua  City Council meeting follows, showing just how out of control City of Alachua government can be. Watson wore several hats besides City Manager, at least one self-anointed, making him a key team member.

Charlie Grapski may be one of those royal pains that seem to haunt government operations, but most municipal officials have the ability to handle it without resorting to the deployment of law enforcement to bully citizens. Not so in Alachua; not so for Clovis Watson.

It all took place a few years ago, but take a look and evaluate it yourself.